The following submission is made by a community of the Congregation of Christian Brothers established in Gaillard, France in 2008.
We welcome this opportunity to participate in the Synod process and share our thoughts in response to the questions posed:-
How is this 'journey together' happening today in our local Church?
What steps does the Spirit invite us to accomplish in order to grow in our common journey?
We acknowledge that our experience and knowledge of the Church in France is limited. However, community members are from a variety of different backgrounds (Australia, India, Ireland, South Africa) who have travelled extensively in the course of our ministries. Our submission should therefore be seen as reflecting more on the Church in its global rather than local context.
The Church is in crisis, at least in the western world. Numbers are declining and those who continue to identify with the Church are ageing.
Despite the many good things that are still happening in our Church today, the reality is that the Church is no longer seen as relevant by many – even though at the same time there is evidence that many people remain interested in Spirituality. We believe that one reason for the perceived lack of relevance of the Church is that much of its language and rituals have lost their meaning.
To take just a couple of examples, we still hear references to the ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ of Jesus ‘dying for our sins’ in order to ‘redeem us’ and of his ‘opening the gates of heaven’. Yet what kind of God would seek to be appeased by the suffering and death of someone? Similarly, the use of terms and expressions such as ‘Lord’ and ‘Lord I am not worthy’ together with references to ‘glory’, ‘might’ and ‘power’ when speaking of God in many prayers in common use create the impression of a remote, separate and distant God rather than a loving and caring God.
Further, the very term ‘God’ now carries so much baggage and fixed anthropological interpretations, that we believe the term ‘the mystery we call God’ better reflects our attempts to come to some understanding of the ‘More’ to life and existence.
Then there is the language of the Creed which is recited at Mass. The Nicean Creed was drafted in the 4th century. Leaving aside that it skips from ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ to ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’, thereby ignoring the bulk of Jesus life and teaching, it speaks of God as ‘Father’ for example (although we know God is not male) and of the creation of heaven and earth (and yet we now have a greater understanding of the ever-expanding universe we live in). The point being that we can reformulate such prayers that better express a modern understanding
Whilst Scripture and Tradition are fundamental to our faith, it is also true that both need to be subject to continual re-interpretation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As noted in ‘Divino Afflante Spiritu’, Catholic exegesis freely makes use of the scientific methods and approaches which allow a better grasp of the meaning of texts in their linguistic, literary, sociocultural, religious and historical contexts, while explaining them as well through studying their sources and attending to the personality of each author. However, a literal interpretation of Scripture still appears to characterise much preaching and teaching in the Church.
The ministry of Jesus was characterised by love, compassion and acceptance of others. In the Gospels, references are made to Jesus eating with sinners eg Mk 2:15. He welcomed and mixed with all kinds of people. In contrast the Church can fail to welcome, or seek to exclude, whole groups of people from sharing fully in the Eucharist – eg those in irregular marriage situations, in same-sex relationships, or as has been seen recently in the USA, politicians who support legislation that goes against Church teaching.
Authority in the Church is exercised in a hierarchical manner. There is an emphasis on orthodoxy and what to believe. Alternative voices are suppressed, and discussion about matters of faith that challenge traditional expressions of faith are discouraged. For example, questioning the reality of the Virgin Birth or Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Yet in the case of the Virgin Birth for example, we know that the description of a miraculous birth was a way of the biblical author drawing attention to the significance of the person (eg Samuel, John the Baptist, Jesus). Whether the event was historically true or not is unimportant, what is important is what it says about the person. In emphasising a literal interpretation of Biblical texts, the Church not only distracts from the significance of the text in question, but alienates many thinking people and reinforces the idea that the Church is out of touch with the modern world.
As stated in ‘Gaudium et Spes’ the Church has the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. The modern world has moved, at least in theory, from a patriarchal model of society to one where women are permitted to participate fully and equally with men. The Church has a long way to go to ensure this is the case within the Church.
There is also a reluctance to accept that traditional teaching and practices may need to be modified. For example, it is only now that the Church is considering rescinding the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ 500 years after it was promulgated authorising European conquest of indigenous lands. The teaching in Papal encyclicals ‘Dum Diversas’ and ‘Romanus Pontifex’ authorising the "perpetual servitude" of Saracens and pagans in Africa obviously would not be supported today, so Catholic teaching can change. Perhaps there is a need to revisit Church teachings on issues such as compulsory celibacy of the clergy, as well as on the use of artificial contraception (a teaching largely ignored in any case), on divorce and re-marriage, and on sexual orientation – issues which have alienated large sections of the population, and which do not reflect the love, compassion and acceptance of Jesus mentioned earlier.
Pope Francis has certainly clearly read the signs of the times in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ and identified the need to care for our common home, an issue that clearly resonates with young people. Yet it seems to us that our parishes and much of the church are indifferent to the issue – none of us can recall hearing much mention of the encyclical in a sermon at a Sunday mass we have attended.
The Church also has a rich social justice tradition which has often been described as ‘its best kept secret’. As the US Catholic Bishops have stated “Far too many Catholics are not familiar with the basic content of Catholic social teaching. More fundamentally, many Catholics do not adequately understand that the social teaching of the Church is an essential part of Catholic faith. A failure to present this part of our tradition adequately, represents a missed opportunity to engage with many, particularly youth.
Responses to substantive questions from the Archdiocese of Seattle
regarding the local synod consultation at Assumption Parish
Submitted May 6, 2022 by Mary Kaye Rodgers
What were common or important themes that emerged from the listening sessions?
Over six listening sessions, the following high-level themes emerged:
1. The shortage of priests and what should be done about it. These discussions touched on the ordination of women as priests and deacons, the married priesthood, and the laity as a “baptized priesthood.”
2. The problems of clericalism and the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. The lack of “servant leadership”, the perception of “pray, pay, obey”, and the ongoing scandals and cover-ups were discussed as reasons why the current models of leadership and structure are ineffectual as the Church moves forward.
3. The exclusionary nature of the Catholic Church. The Church needs to meet people where they are. The Church is seen from the outside as judgmental, not welcoming, rule-driven not faith-driven.
4. The Church’s (mis) treatment of marginalized communities. The denial of sacraments and general bias against LGBTQIA+ people is a scandal. There are also issues with the treatment of divorced and lapsed Catholics, and others who are turned away from sacraments and services.
5. Divisions in the Church in the United States driven by politics. The involvement of U.S. Catholic bishops in political matters is dividing the Church and causing harm. This is particularly concerning around issues like abortion and contraception.
6. Reduction in participation in mass and parish life, particularly by younger people. We recognize that COVID has been a compounding factor, but numbers were declining before COVID. We are losing even young people who attended Catholic schools and were raised by active Catholic parents.
Which particular stories or real-life experiences were shared related to the way our church currently journeys together?
An older woman, a self-identified “cradle Catholic,” talked about her confusion as a child, being “petrified” about going against the rules she was taught in religious education. She told a story about her parents, also Catholic, choosing to attend a wedding at a different Christian church at a time when doing such a thing was seen as forbidden. The lesson she took from her parents’ choice was that maybe not every “rule” was the best, and that “loving one’s neighbor” regardless of their religion was more important than capricious rules about stepping foot in other houses of worship.
A middle-aged man talked about becoming Catholic after a 10-year journey, because he was drawn to the Church after Vatican II “flipped the script” and recognized that “every baptized person is a priest of Christ” (referencing 1 Peter 2:5,9). While not all are called to the vocation of ministerial priesthood, all are called to go out and serve. He finds this inspirational and worthy of pursuit in opportunities for lay ministry in the Church.
A mother talked about her child’s sexuality and how she works to reconcile her belief that her child is a child of God, “and if God doesn’t make mistakes, how can someone say my child’s identity is wrong?” and her faith. She struggles with the Church’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ people. She said that our pastor has been greatly supportive and encouraging, and that his ministry has been very important to her remaining active in the Church.
What dreams, desires, and aspirations for our Church were expressed by participants?
We dream of a loving, open, accepting Church where all are welcome. We desire a Church where the lessons of Jesus about faith, truth, forgiveness, and meeting people where they are come before hierarchy, clericalism, and finances. We aspire to a Church centered on the Gospels, the sacraments, faith, mercy, service, openness, and love.
In practical terms, we agree that increased attendance at Mass and participation in the sacraments is something we would all like to see. We hope that we will see more young people and young families in the pews and active in the parish community. We want to see more diversity in our parish, and the Church as a whole. We need to find ways to be more visible and welcoming to our neighbors in the community. We aspire to actively serve not just our parish but those in our community who have true need. We understand that we must address the Church’s stance on many issues if we want young people to be an active part of the church, as many of them have strong disagreements with the current thinking of Church leadership.
What challenges or opportunities do these reflections pose as we journey together?
“Pope Francis has challenged us to tackle justice issues in the world” as one participant said, “but it feels like U.S. leadership is ignoring his directives.” This sentiment was heard in varying degrees and words across all listening sessions. Another participant said that “it seems like the Church is on the wrong side of history and refuses to see it.”
The fundamental frustration heard across all listening sessions is that the Church as an institution is not listening to the people, and that the hierarchy is caught up in making and enforcing rules by whatever means they can. We see “some parts of leadership [that] seem to be committed to undoing the work of Vatican II,” which is “deeply discouraging and deeply frightening,” even with the rare bishop who stands against them. This does not include Pope Francis, who seems to be “walking a tightrope” (according to a participant) in trying to create a “different Church” as he said in remarks on this synod. The leadership of Pope Francis is “inspirational” and “hopeful”; he is “life giving and life affirming” in his ministry. It is not enough to “overcome divisiveness” as another participant said, “we have to find common ground.”
While we have grave concerns about these issues, we also see hope in these discussions. As we find common themes developing, like the desire to focus on love, compassion, and inclusiveness, we are inspired to do the work necessary to move the Church forward and celebrate what it means to be Catholic in our daily lives and in the life of the Church, and to share that message with the wider world.
What did participants share related to the question of “what steps does the Holy Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our journeying together”?
The Holy Spirit invites us as the lay body of the Church to become more active in all aspects of the Church, including leadership and ministry. In order to address the ongoing shortage of priests, the vast majority agree that the Church must at least consider the ordination of women as priests and/or deacons, as well as consider allowing for married priests. In the meanwhile, opportunities for lay ministry and lay leadership need to be created and encouraged at all levels of the Church.
The Holy Spirit leads us to recognize that the Church is the whole people of God. The focus of the Church should be on the people, and encouraging all people of the Church to serve one another and all of humankind, following the example of Christ. We need those with a true servant’s heart - as exemplified by Pope Francis - to guide this change and lead by example. We seek accountability from those in positions of trust, and forthrightness with regard to financial, sex abuse, Indigenous residential homes, and other Church-related scandals.
We are inspired to build a more welcoming Catholic Church. Our “competition” is not Protestantism or even agnosticism/atheism - it is the spirituality that people are thirsty for and are finding everywhere else. People who find peace and enlightenment in meditation, time in nature, study, and the like, are thirsty for the love of God. We need to find a way to evangelize by living the Gospel. We must meet people where they are and we must accept them for who they are. We cannot build a welcoming church without recognizing the harm we have done to many marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQIA+ people, but also divorced Catholics, lapsed Catholics, and others who feel unheard, and then dismantling the systems and traditions that continue those harms.
In discussion regarding the politicization of the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, there was general agreement across all sessions that the Church has become too involved in political issues and that there should be a reconsideration of how the Church interacts with government and politics. “It feels like the only thing they [the U.S. bishops] see as evil is abortion, they’ll strike a deal with any devil if they say they will end abortion.” While the vast majority of the listening session participants said that they do not agree with/believe in abortion, they do see the current focus as a distraction from “the seamless garment” of life, and that there are needs that are going unaddressed or unmet because of that focus. “Education and birth control are what will end abortion” one participant said, while another said “most Catholics use birth control, that’s why we don’t see families with six or eight children anymore, the Church needs to understand that.” Overall, there was agreement that the Church, particularly in the United States, needs to take a significant look at its political involvement and focus on abortion and contraception.
Pope Francis has called us as a Church to a “synodal journey.” Catholics across the world will be coming together in a universal process of listening in preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome. To begin this synodal journey, Pope Francis has called for listening sessions in parishes worldwide beginning in October. Each diocese in the United States will then present a summary of input to the USCCB.
Pope Francis invites all the baptized around the world to journey together in a global listening process called, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
This global consultation process will provide guidance for the Church to discern “the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel” (GS,4).
This process must grow out of the experiences of those in our Archdiocese, and it must reflect the realities of our current time and place. I am here to listen and learn, not to answer. In reflecting on this call to synodality, we are reminded of what God tells us through Jeremiah: If we call to God, he will respond with great things—things far “beyond the reach of our knowledge” (Jeremiah 33:3). Please prayerfully consider becoming a part of this ministry for the greater good of our community and Church.
Tony Flannery - June 19
Yesterday’s meeting in Athlone, as part of the Synodal Path in the Irish Church, was by any standards extraordinary. I certainly never thought that I would live to be part of such a gathering, or to experience such a sense of change and new life and energy in our tired and battered Irish Catholic Church.
The purpose of the meeting was to report on the process that has been going on for some months in parishes, dioceses and among other interested groups. Each unit had sent in their report, and the central body appointed for this purpose went through them all and presented a synthesis to the gathering. They picked out fifteen main headings. Some were what one might expect, like falling church attendance, ageing clergy, absent youth, transmission of the faith, liturgy. But there were others that up until recently would not have been allowed to be spoken at such a gathering — the equality of women, including decision making and all forms of ministry, Catholic sexual teaching, especially in relation to LGBTQ and relationships generally, compulsory celibacy for priesthood, and others.
It was acknowledged by the presenters that most of the gatherings from which these reports had come consisted of the older generation, though to be fair some admirable efforts were made to reach out to marginal groups and youth. What came across clearly was that even the older, still fully committed, people are calling for significant change.
The majority of the bishops were in attendance, and giving their support to this process. At the end Archbishop Eamon Martin gave a guarantee that the final report, which will be put together by the same sub-committee including any additions after yesterday’s discussions, will be presented in full, and without any watering down or omissions, to the Vatican from the Irish Church. It will also be published, so that we can all see what has gone through.
I was at the gathering representing the ACP, and I sat in some amazement at what I was hearing. If you think that for years we in the ACP were unable to have any real and worthwhile dialogue with the Irish bishops, and here we were yesterday seemingly on the same page. Truly the Spirit must be working. For me, having been excluded from all Church affairs for the past ten years, it was a strange experience to be there. But it was good. When I walked in to the room in the morning after arriving the first person who came over to greet me, hand out in welcome, was Eamon Martin. I appreciated that.
It is good to be at this stage in the process, but there is a long way to go, and many of us fear that it still may fail to live up to its promise, and no real change will happen. The reality is that a good many of the changes people are calling for would involve change in Church teaching, even doctrine. Are the Vatican, even under Pope Francis, up to that? And who will succeed him?
We can only hope and pray. I know that if this admirable effort by the Irish Church fails, it will be very discouraging. But if it begins to produce some of the fruits it promises, we could experience a new flourishing in our Church.
To finish on a personal note, I think that in the spirit of what is happening now in the Church, if all the sanctions imposed on me were lifted it would add to the sense of optimism and of real change we felt yesterday. I am asking the Irish bishops and Redemptorist superiors to deal with the matter. Please don’t just pass the buck to Rome in this era of synodality.