Chai Brady and Ruadhán Jones
The Church cannot shy away from controversial questions about the disconnect with young people and the role of women as it prepares for a national synod, bishops have told The Irish Catholic.
Following their spring meeting, the hierarchy announced that it will work towards a national synod in the next five years.
Bishop Michael Router, who has been on a steering group for the project, said that he felt it was important that Catholics who don’t agree with Church teaching are heard.
“Those are issues that need to be aired and people need to talk about them and it’s an opportunity to do so. There will be a lot of frustration that has built up over the years and people maybe haven’t felt they have been given the opportunity to discuss issues that they think are important to them and to the Church,” he said.
He said that part of the five-year process will provide a way for people to “let off steam”.
“I would hope that people will get by that stage very quickly and that they will see that we are in this together and that we are moving together and we have to find a new way of being Church together and discussing those issues and seeing how we can educate around those issues and maybe elucidate the Church teaching a little bit better,” he said.
Bishop Michael Duignan said the “initial pathway stage will allow time for people to express their ideas and to become more informed as to what such processes are about.
“We’re not talking about a parliamentary process here. We’re talking about a process of genuine, Spirit-led discernment. It’s discernment by the whole people of God.” he said.
Bishop Paul Dempsey said the key to understanding the synod process is to put listening at the heart of the project and look at the context where the Church finds itself.
“There is the decline in vocations, probably a disconnect with young people nowadays and also the whole question of the need to honour the contribution and role of women in the life of the Church.
“What we’re saying is that this journey of synodality, journeying towards a synod, will help us to face many of the challenges that have arisen in recent times,” he said.
Bishop Dempsey said there is “a temptation to see the synod as a once-off meeting in three, four or five years’ time – but it’s about something bigger than just a once-off meeting where maybe the red button issues are going to be discussed.
“Yes the red button issues will have to be looked at and reflected upon but there are bigger issues as well around how does the Gospel speak to our society today, how do we promote the Church’s message, how do we dialogue with a more secular world.
“All of those issues will all be part of the synodal process as well and it is really important to emphasise that,” he said.
Bishop Brendan Leahy said he hoped the process will “open up a time for creative discussions, allowing ourselves to reimagine things going forward.
“The bishops are quite excited about this…But we recognise that this is not just a bishops’ initiative. This is coming from the ground up. We’ve had a lot of people suggesting this step be taken, and that we need to look together for how to go forward as a Church in Ireland.
“So there is a great sense of enthusiasm around,” Bishop Leahy said.