Citizens Assembly style representation to prepare for the Synodal Pathway?

Does this methodology (see below, taken from ‘The Problem Remains’ – Sex abuse and the French Catholic Church by Massimo Faggioli) not suggest that a bold creative approach is needed in preparation for the Irish Synod that would capture the whole nation such as that “the people of God should be selected using the model of the successful Citizens Assembly: Selecting 100 women and men to represent ALL the people of Ireland: Old & Young; Rural & Urban; Single, married, LGBTQ”?

The composition of the commission and the methodology it employed in compiling its findings make the report especially notable. Sauvé chose eleven men and ten women for the commission, from different generations and professions, with different kinds of expertise: penal, canonical, and child-protection law; psychiatry and psychoanalysis; medicine and health; education and social work; history and sociology; and theology. It included people of different faiths as well as unbelievers, agnostics, and atheists. It listened to a large group of victims (250 hearings); created a research group on diocesan and non-diocesan archives, to which it had almost total access; commissioned a nationwide survey from INSERM (the French institute of statistics); took advantage of the recent abolition of the pontifical secret that covered canonical procedures that were the object of its investigation; established a team to study the work of similar commissions in other countries; and held dozens of hearings with bishops, religious superiors, and experts from various disciplines, and dozens more with different working groups. “In the interest of impartiality,” as the commission put it, the group did not include any member of the institutional Church or any victim. Nonetheless, the commission made clear in its introduction to the report that victims were always at its center. “The victims have a unique knowledge about sexual violence and only they are able to give us access to the subject. It is their word that served as a leitmotif to the commission’s report. It is thanks to them that the report was able to be conceived and written. It is thanks to them, and not only thanks to those who gave us the mandate, that the work has been done.”

As Véronique Garnier, who works in abuse prevention in the diocese of Orléans and who was herself victimized from the ages of thirteen to fifteen, said upon the report’s release: “Our word is finally shouted.”

Taken from ‘The Problem Remains’ – Sex abuse & the French Catholic Church, by Massimo Faggioli:


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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    “The people of God should be selected using the model of the successful Citizens Assembly …”

    This could be useful, as long as it’s one part of a larger process which enables all who wish to do so to participate in the reflections for the Synod. It should not replace the active participation which is integral to the Synod process.
    I have two comments on the suggestion.
    First: the Citizens’ Assembly made recommendations to the Oireachtas. Would there be a similar other deliberative body to which the Synod Assembly would send recommendations? How would the two bodies be related?
    Second: I have serious reservations about describing the Citizens’ Assembly as “successful,” particularly in relation to the Eighth Amendment.
    In such a process, a lot depends on how the question is presented to the Assembly. In the case of the Eighth Amendment, there was a lot of good material, but a total neglect of an essential aspect of the question. I followed a lot of it, but there was a vast quantity of material in presentations and over 13,500 submissions. Nowhere in all that did I find discussion of a vital question: the reasons why women in crisis pregnancy see abortion as their only realistic option; and how those reasons could be addressed. It seems that the only “solution” offered to the very real difficulties was termination of pregnancy.
    In the submission I sent to the Assembly, I pointed out that the reasons women gave in answer to some surveys were overwhelmingly social and economic, not medical. An appropriate response to these is social and economic, not medical. In fact, the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment said (2:38): “the majority of terminations are for socio-economic reasons that are unrelated to foetal abnormality or to rape.” And still they offered only the medical “solution” of abortion. The Oireachtas and the Irish people bought the only option presented.
    “Do women want abortion? Not like she wants a Porsche or an ice cream cone. Like an animal caught in a trap, trying to gnaw off its own leg, a woman who seeks an abortion is trying to escape a desperate situation by an act of violence and self-loss. Abortion is not a sign that women are free, but a sign that they are desperate.” (Frederica Mathewes-Green, 1992)
    Despite the discussions in the Citizens’ Assembly, the Joint Oireachtas Committee and the Dáil and Seanad, there was never a suggestion that the social and economic reasons behind a majority of situations should themselves be addressed – a solution which would save many women the anguish of concluding that there is no way out but abortion. Addressing the social and economic factors would, of course, involve significant changes in society, but it would address the reality. Instead, government offered only the “quick and easy” (but not for the pregnant woman) “answer.”
    According to Faggioli, the Report from France on sexual abuse recommends “an examination of the requirements of celibacy and proposes an experiment about the ordination of married men to the priesthood.” While such an examination would be valuable, it is not so clear that it would address the matter of sexual abuse of minors.
    Faggioli says that the Report “notes that sexual violence is significantly higher in church settings than in other social circles such as school or camps; only in family settings is the risk of sexual abuse higher.” This suggests that marriage is not a solution to child abuse. I would argue that it would be good to have married and celibate priests, women and men. Not however as a solution to child abuse or to a shortage of priests, but because it would be an enrichment of the church and a rather obvious way to address the right of every Christian community to a full celebration of Eucharist. We would need to find a way to do this without increasing an oppressive clericalisation.

  2. Ger Hopkins says:

    Citizens Assembly – Synodal Pathway…

    Terribly behind the times there, Padraig #1, talking about abortion as a woman’s issue.
    You might even have legal troubles if you keep that up.
    As we know, and as all recent HSE literature on the subject reminds us, men can now get pregnant and have abortions. Or at least people who call themselves men. In HSE terms ‘people with uteruses’ or ‘people who were pregnant’ were the ones who had abortions last year.
    It seems an extraordinarily bad idea from a pro choice point of view to throw away fifty years of feminist theory about abortion as *the* woman’s issue and the ways it ties in to every other thing that is special about being a woman.
    But I’m certainly not going to be the one to stop them.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    Citizens Assembly…Synodal Pathway…

    Thanks, Pádraig, for your careful reflection and laborious research on an issue that does not lend itself to facile comment and that demands difficult and open discussion with those potentially affected. The government seems to have practised dialogue with women to a far greater degree than the church and as in other cases our fear of dialogue has come back to bite us.

  4. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Citizens Assembly…Synodal Pathway…

    Ger, in case you missed it, I wrote about the Citizens’ Assembly, how it offers possibilities, but how, as this particular case illustrates, it failed spectacularly.
    It’s useful to keep this in mind as we (the whole people of God) travel the Synodal pathway.
    Coincidentally (?), last Sunday we read of Bartimaeus, who “sat by the way (Greek: odos).” His encounter with Jesus transformed his life to follow Jesus “in the way (odos).”
    So may we walk the way together (syn-odos) transformed as church, people of God.

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