The Diocese of Kerry covers most of County Kerry and parts of County Cork. There are 146,790 Catholics in the Diocese.
Although the listening sessions were a positive experience for those who took part, the general consensus was that the number and diversity of people participating were disappointing.
Two focus groups – members of the LGBTQI + community, and Parish Secretaries – consisted entirely of women. These groups shared some very positive experiences of Church, including the sense of community. Some did feel however that this sense of community was being lost. They were appreciative of the ministry of clergy.
Some did feel that they were listened to, but only because of the role they fulfil e.g. parish secretaries and Church employees. There was a feeling that there is a glass ceiling which women cannot breakthrough in the Church as it currently exists. This was a source of sadness and frustration for many.
All of the women we spoke to identified LGBTQI+ people as being marginalised and excluded. They are tolerated but kept at a distance, which has caused significant harm and upset. It is felt that LGBTQI+ people have a different perspective to offer on spirituality which has been developed from living on the margins.
Those who engaged were aged between sixteen to eighteen and both male and female. We also engaged with male and female third level students in their late teens and early twenties. For these young people their positive experiences of Church centred around participation in the sacraments, acting as altar servers and participation in school retreats and pilgrimages. Amongst Second Level students, the need to be heard and involved was important for this age group generally but they felt that there were very few opportunities to offer their viewpoint, or that if they offered an opinion it would not be listened to.
Many called for a Youth Council in each Pastoral Area or Parish where they could participate or engage in their faith. For them this is seen as outdated thinking and disrespectful, and they felt that this is not how Jesus would behave. The status quo of the Church on these issues was seen as being an obstacle for them.
Outreach to other communities in the Diocese
The Synodal Team engaged with twelve adult members of the Kerry Traveller Community. As well as naming positive experiences of the Church similar to other participants, the Travelling Community mentioned the importance of traditional devotional practices.
A number of people in addiction recovery were interviewed as part of the Listening Process. The Church represented a place for these people where they found a sense of belonging, regardless of “social status, education or maturity of faith,” with the church building being a place they could go and pray, light a candle and find refuge.
What might the Holy Spirit be saying?
The Church in Ireland bears the weight both of past glories and failures, and is no longer a dominant social and cultural force. The Church carries with her many of the expectations and structures of her past reality, while leaving various contemporary needs unmet. Faithfulness to her mission will inevitability mean difficult changes at all levels of Church life.
By looking honestly at the reality of parish life and society we can adapt accordingly rather than have change imposed upon us by circumstances.