The Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin encompasses County Carlow and parts of counties Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Kilkenny, Wicklow and Wexford.
The Diocese is home to 262,250 Catholics. Of the 56 parishes of the diocese, 34 participated in locally hosted parish gatherings. Some parishes held single parish gatherings. Some clustered together. Others, including beyond the 34 parishes, signposted their people to the online platform for submissions or left out surveys for people to take home. The online survey generated 171 individual and group responses. Significantly, 37% of online respondents were in the 18-29 age group.
A series of focus groups were identified and approached to be part of our synodal listening. The groups identified were the Travelling Community, members of the LGBTQ+ Community, the Prison Community, those in Religious life, Primary (including parents), Secondary and College students, the African Community and the Polish Community.
While participation in the synodal experience was wide and varied, there were a number of groups of people we experienced as missing and yet to be accompanied in a synodal way. We recognise that, although many clergy did gather with their people in parish listenings, there was no bespoke gathering of clergy. This might have been a rich experience and contributed to the discernment of where the Spirit is leading us. Parents of young children were also invited to participate but have not engaged well as of yet. An effort to do so was made by sending home information and some questions with primary school children, but there was very little response to this initiative. Overall, we can estimate that over 3,000 people actively engaged with the synod questions. In the context of the total diocesan population, from a sampling perspective, this constitutes a more than adequate response to have confidence in the findings. The number does not include those who were aware of the process but, for whatever reason, did not or could not actively take part.
The main themes that arose during the Diocese’s synodal gatherings centred around the following:
Sharing the joy and the pain, the highs and the lows of journeying together
There was a genuine attempt across the diocese to engage in the synodal experience and those who responded did so seriously and with integrity. Many people reported, with great energy, that it was good to be asked their opinion. Indeed, for many this was the first time they experienced the Church asking their opinion on issues that they hold dear. This of itself is of significance. There was a richness of experience for those who took part. It was surprising to many that people who hold very different views on the Church were able to speak and listen to each other, with all opinions being expressed. The experience was therefore one of encouragement to keep going and to repeat this way of being together. It felt like a new model of Church emerging; one that requires us to learn the habit of walking together.
Hope, hurt and cynicism
The experience released hurt as well as hope. People expressed their pain, hurt and disappointment with the institutional Church, and at the same time they were hopeful because of the hard work and support of their local parish priests and parish teams. In this way, the experience was difficult but full of promise. It must be noted that there was a degree of cynicism evident among some, including both clergy and lay people.
This was around trusting and believing that this process will lead to the real change that we are being called to as Church by the Holy Spirit. Yet, there was a joy expressed at coming together. Each gathering was the Church in action.
The sustained distress of abuse
A number of issues were spoken of at practically every gathering and in every focus group and were echoed in the online submissions. Those issues were: The hurt and distress caused by the abuse scandals and their legacy. People spoke of their dismay and enduring pain at what happened but also at the way the issue was handled or covered up which constituted a second layer of pain.
The capacity of people to trust the institutional Church is still seriously damaged and prevents many people from being able to identify themselves with the institutional Church and sometimes with the local Church.
A shared leadership of the Church
There was a strong call to include lay women and men in governance and leadership in the Church, both locally and universally. This necessitates the creation of supporting synodal structures, for example parish pastoral councils. There was a named desire for more meetings such as these listening exercises in order to support a greater walking together locally. Alongside this was a call for training for lay involvement in all aspects of parish life.
The role of women and LGBTQ
There was a very strong recognition of the role currently played by women in local church communities. The observation was often made that the voluntary roles in parish life are in the main carried out and led by women. It was also observed that women have ‘a special place in the Church but not an equal place’. These comments came through all age groups. It was particularly noticeable among young people who see the treatment of women in the Church as an anomaly in the context of their lived experience. In the context of ordained leadership, the call for women to be ordained as deacons as well as an end to compulsory celibacy for priests and allowing priests to marry was made by a significant number of submissions. In addition, many references were made to the loss to the Church of priests who have left ministry in order to marry.
Drawing on the example of the welcoming and loving ministry of Christ, there was a very loud and intergenerational call to more compassion and inclusion for people of the LGBTQ+ community. Some members of this community themselves spoke of feeling the need to ‘leave their own identity at the door of the Church’.
A mother of a transgender child said, ‘I am always wondering when someone will take issue with it [being transgender] so it can be quite stressful at times.’ Others observed that while doctrinal approaches would deny them the Eucharist, it was their anecdotal experience that such approaches do not enjoy widespread adherence within the local Church.
However, in regard to gay partnerships, there is deep hurt that these loving relationships cannot be recognised by the Church. As stated by one gay Catholic man, ‘the Holy Spirit moves through my conscious in abject despair that the Church continues to deny those who share the love of God between them the opportunity to invoke the blessing and affirmation of God of their love.’
Rethinking ordained ministry
In the context of ordained leadership, the call for women to be ordained as Deacons as well as an end to compulsory celibacy for priests and allowing priests to marry was made by a significant number of submissions. In addition, many references were made to the loss to the Church of priests who have left ministry in order to marry.
The voice of the Traveller Community, the Polish and African Community
There was a strong desire among this community for priests and parishioners to pro-actively learn about Traveller culture. They spoke of their experience of anticipating the judgement of others as they prepared for important religious events in their lives such as First Communions, Weddings, and Funerals. They expressed the hope that the community would celebrate their culture with them and that they would feel more comfortable and included in the Church.
The submissions from the Polish Community and the African Catholic Family group highlighted the importance for them of sharing, growing, and living their faith within a community. While they feel welcome in their local parishes, there is a need to recognise their desire to be able to have opportunities to celebrate, share and form their faith as individual ethnic groups.
Young people in the Church
The absence of young people and the loss of their particular gifts and life experience to the Church was stated repeatedly across all responses. One of our intentional focus groups was senior cycle students. Over 500 students engaged with the synod questions. Coming through their responses was a great sense of compassion and a desire to be part of a community. Young people themselves named that they have a lot to offer the Church through their gifts, wisdom and skills, and their immersion in contemporary culture.
However, for many the Church is perceived as a place of rules and regulations and as a place of judgement. A huge difficulty for them is the lack of peer accompaniment on their faith journey. If and when they come to Church, they see people who are either a lot younger or older but rarely their own age.
The language and position of the official Church in relation to the LGBTQ+ community is an obstacle for their participation in the life of their local Church. As is the role and place of women. These represent a stumbling block for many in their relationship with the Church. In general, the submissions reflected the diversity of cultures, lifestyles and generations within the diocese and called for all to be welcomed and accepted.
Nourishing and deepening people’s faith and prayer lives
The need for nourishment for people on their faith journeys was evident through the submissions. This includes faith development programmes for young people and adults and programmes or resources that nourish the spiritual life of people.
There was recognition of the huge amount of work and time given to sacramental preparation. On the one hand this was a key positive experience for young people looking back at their faith journey. On the other hand, there was an oft-named concern about what happens after the celebration of these sacraments and the participation of children and families in parish life beyond the sacramental moment. There was a variety of opinion as to where the key accompaniment of children preparing for sacraments should happen – in school, parish, or home.
What might the Holy Spirit be saying?
To continue to reach out from and to the margins.
To remember the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.
Deepening a new habit of walking together as a Church.
Listen together to the voice of the Spirit in the life and diversity of people.
Pay attention to language, life experience and culture.
Come to know Christ and our faith.
Greater participation of lay people in the life and governance of the Church.
Address the role of women in the Church.
Reflect on the experiences of the LGBTQ community.