Parishioners “must be heard” in any future Church-State talks particularly regarding the future of Catholic schools, two leading Irish theologians have said.
The call comes after the Irish bishops confirmed they will be discussing the Taoiseach’s proposed “new covenant” between faith groups and secular society planned for July 4.
Despite a commitment to divestment from Church leadership, at grassroots level there are “very, very strong views on the need to protect Catholic education”, Prof. Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick told The Irish Catholic.
“This is not as straightforward as people may think. Local sensitivity and local voices must be listened to and heard in these debates.”
Fr Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, who contributed to the book A Dialogue of Hope – which aims to make a case for constructive engagement between religious believers and secularists – said “there is room for other voices” in the talks.
Speaking of the importance of Pope Francis’ idea of a synodal Church that listens and engages with all the faithful he added: “The hierarchy should be open to debate within the Church as well as in wider society.”
Fr O’Hanlon said that all Church leaders would do well to “encourage open debate” within a Church context. They can then be in a “position to debate in wider society”.
“For that to happen the bishops alone can’t do that, they have to open the floor to articulate and passionate lay people and religious. It’s part of a bigger agenda that has already begun.”
“Certainly it’s true that good decisions can’t be arrived at without participation by the people being affected by them and I would say that refers to things like divestment in education, but it also refers to issues within the Catholic Church itself.”
Beginning on July 4 the plenary discussions will involve a “wide range” of representatives.
Arrangements for the Dublin Castle talks have not yet been finalised but the Department of the Taoiseach said in a statement: “Invitations are issuing to a wide range of representatives of Churches, Faith Communities and Non-Confessional Organisations in Ireland.”
Fr Conway said there is no need to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to creating a new relationship between Church and State that better reflects the needs of Irish society.
He said: “There are many positive examples of Church-State cooperation and co-responsibility in society across Europe. I would be familiar with the German Church situation, where the Church cooperates in education, in childcare, in medical care, in a very effective and positive way and generally speaking has good working relationships with the state.”
According to a statement made by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, Eamon Martin, will raise the matter of the Church-State talks during the plenary meeting of bishops at their Summer General Meeting during June.