Dromore Diocese has had no bishop since 2018. Archbishop Eamon Martin has been acting as Apostolic Administrator throughout the synodal process to date.
Over 700 completed questionnaires were received and a meeting with clergy and about 45 parish representatives took place on 18 May 2022. Archbishop Martin and the Papal Nuncio were also present.
COMPANIONS ON THE JOURNEY
The strongest messages we received can be summarised as follows:
They experience discrimination within the Church. There is no equality between women and men and people are struggling to understand why women are excluded and not treated equally. The role of women in the church is very under-valued, having to accept subservient roles and not being able to be ordained. There are limited roles for women in leadership and church ministry. People have experienced this; it is the strong feeling of many, including our Youth, for whom it was most prominent in their responses.
Clerical sexual abuse
Has left a legacy which is an open wound about which people feel deeply hurt and spiritually betrayed. Within the Diocese of Dromore people have lost trust in the Catholic Church due to the scandals and clerical abuse. They want no more cover-ups, complete openness, and transparency. The scandals have impacted on people’s faith and alienated them from participation in church life.
Want an unconditional welcome and a place in the church. They want the church to be meaningful for them with contemporary ideas but feel the church does not recognise these.
Separated and Divorced Catholics
Have been marginalised and estranged from the church. They feel abandoned and unsupported by it. Mention was made of those with influence & money being able to get annulments while others were left hopeless.
Have also been marginalised and estranged from the church. They feel abandoned and unsupported by it. There is also a view that the church has compounded their problems. However, in pastoral terms individual clerics have been supportive.
There are occasions where listening occurs, creating interest, energy and promise but doesn’t always follow through on what people expected. Guest speakers, ‘experts’ have been employed for parish events, but there are no established faith formation programmes. However, the Lectio Community have a very active and engaged membership with a strong sense of making the Gospel come alive. They are a community who are comfortable with, and who, exemplify Mission, Participation and Communion.
Respondents express a recognition that the Synodal Pathway has opened an avenue, given a voice and hopefully a listening ear to those who feel they wouldn’t normally be part of the conversation. There is a strong expectation that something will be done with all the information. There are clearly people who feel on the margins, who are neither welcomed or included and insist the universal Catholic Church recognise the LGBTQ+ community and separated & divorced Catholics. There is a sense that there is no recognised space for minorities, the marginalised or socially excluded.
Transparency and openness are values that are not only expected but people have zero tolerance should it become apparent that they are missing. The case in point -Dromore Diocese in recent years and the impact of clerical sexual abuse. This is a Diocese with an open wound: “The legacy of abuse has caused deep hurt and damage. Something has to be done to bring healing”.
Most parishes within the Diocese have either a Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) or a PPC in formation. This synodal process has encouraged people to speak out, and creating anonymous questionnaires gave people the courage to speak freely as was evident in the responses.
The Celebration of the Eucharist for those in active participation of Catholic life is paramount. People reflect on life during the pandemic and the sense of being part of the Universal Church through online presence but appreciate that, as we move forward, we need to mindful that the virtual world is just that and there is a fundamental need to be actively part of the community that we live in.
SHARING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR COMMON MISSION
There is an overwhelming respect, recognition, and appreciation for the work of St Vincent De Paul and Trócaire. The outreach, hard work and social interaction with the most vulnerable parishioners is how many see real involvement and walking in Christ’s footsteps.
People would welcome family Masses. The realisation that all baptised persons are called and needed in the mission of the church is not recognised and understood. To make this a reality people need to be informed, educated and supported.
DIALOGUE IN CHURCH AND SOCIETY
As a Diocese we recognise that whilst the dialogue managed to reach some people on the margins, we only scratched the surface.
The key issues that were raised time and time again were the need to recognise the role of women,
welcome of the LGBQT+ community,
the inclusion of married priests
how separated/divorced catholic feel ostracized.
The South Down Ecumenical Clergy Group was established in 1968 to nurture good relationships with other churches. A genuine friendship and fellowship evolved across traditional divides.
Christian Unity Week is seen as the time where this happens, but there was no sense that beyond this week there is an active programme of engagement.
AUTHORITY AND PARTICIPATION
Some Parishes have embraced the universal synodal pathway and are listening to the insight gleaned from the responses and working on this to help future planning. Other parishes are in formation regarding synodality and getting Parish Pastoral Councils up and running.
There has been sharing of information at some of the group meetings, but it is patchy and not cohesive.
There is a need for clear governance structures, especially as several people queried finances within their parish and Diocese. There are many who don’t know how financial governance operates in their parish and this leads to a feeling of exclusion and concern.”
DISCERNING AND DECIDING
Throughout the Diocese there are several established Parish Pastoral Councils, with a number being formed.
It was important that priests/deacons be actively involved in Parish Pastoral Councils and engagement with the people. On the other hand, there was a desire for more lay involvement to support overworked clergy.
FORMING OURSELVES IN SYNODALITY
Throughout the synodal journey people shared their experiences of welcome and inclusion. The way a priest welcomes people at the start of Mass was viewed as particularly significant.
The Youth want to be with their peers and it was noted that youth groups that are well managed and maintained create a space for dialogue and listening. Community fun days and that time just before Mass commences and afterwards is where all age groups engage with each other whether remaining in the church or on its steps. To facilitate this environment and create opportunity for discussion there is a need to have a social place in or around the chapel. People of all ages requested respect and non-judgement. There has been an energy and interest created through this synodal process and it is vitally important that something will be done with this harvest of information.”
As a Diocese we need to take tangible action that demonstrates that people have been listened to but there are also a number of areas where further discernment is required:
Abuse and Scandals – there is a legacy of hurt and enduring damage and a demand for transparency and openness.
Mass – the times of Masses need to be sensitive to modern times & community life.
Family Masses – there was an overwhelming request for the availability of Family Masses and stories were shared how these worked so well in parishes.
The Role of Women – there is a strong assertion of the need for women to be treated with more respect, accepted as equal to men and afforded the same opportunities for inclusion in the life of the Church, including its ministries and leadership. There is clear frustration with the hierarchy in this regard.
The Marginalised – the experience of LGBT+, divorced and separated people and their families in the Church is a matter of widespread concern. There is a strong desire for significant movement to recognise and include them.
Finances– some ambiguity and questions being asked on how they have been managed. In an age of greater transparency and accountability in wider society, the Church is viewed as old-fashioned and out of step. It is also failing to utilise significant expertise among the laity.
Charity and the tremendous work done by SVP and Trócaire remain strong points of the Church, helping to make it relevant and credible to many people.
It is important to make best use of technology for e.g. online and Social Media platforms and to be cognisant of those people on the margins who are not getting the message. It is also time to think more seriously about how we engage with those with disabilities. In all these aspects, the new Diocesan web site should become a core mechanism for communication and engagement.
Volunteering Strategy – the introduction of a Volunteering Strategy with clear structures, advice and guidance for those wanting to be involved.
Co-responsibility – Throughout the responses people referenced to “They need to” and “They should be”. A senior cleric pointed out that, for the most part, there is no ‘they’ other than the faithful themselves. The Diocese does not have a large cohort of staff. The Church, from Diocese to parish levels, requires the active participation of its people.
Diocesan Pastoral Council – There are a few practical and tangible matters that Dromore could address and take forward. To ensure this would happen, there is a need for a Diocesan Pastoral Council to be established.
Finally, we have started the journey and through journeying together, we have stirred an energy and ignited interest across our Diocese.