Synod: Listening is key…
Bishop Denis Nulty affirms that listening to people’s experience of faith and Church at local level is a key first step on the Synodal pathway…
An invitation to get involved.
Short interview with Bishop Nulty, Kildare and Leighlin:
We Are Church Ireland statement
No Synod Transparency from Irish Bishops
Pope Francis has asked us all to take part in the Synodal process and let our voices be heard. But it is our bishops who will finalise the Synthesis or summary for Ireland. So We Are Church decided to ask our bishops do they plan to make public their Synthesis?
We wrote to the Executive Secretary of the Irish Bishops Conference on 21 Jan 2022 and Msgr Joe Mc Guinness replied on 31 Jan 2022:
Thank you for your letter. I will bring it to the attention of the Bishops for discussion at the next General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference in March.
Last week we read the reports of our bishop’s March meeting: But there was no reply to our simple question: Will the Synthesis of the Irish Bishop’s National Conference be made public?
We know that almost all dioceses will be publishing their diocesan synthesis, as strongly recommended by the Vatican’s Synod Office. But the Vatican Synod Office makes no recommendation for publication of any National Synthesis.
No doubt the bishops have a busy agenda. But the Synod is just now being discussed in parishes across Ireland. Transparency and accountability are essential to help restore so much trust that has been lost in our bishops. People should know before they take part whether the National Synthesis will be published or not, as the National Synthesis is the summary for all of Ireland. How else will we know how our views are being presented?
2/3 of Canadian Dioceses Pass Synod Survey
by: Jack Madigan
It started off innocently enough, just wondering what some of the dioceses were doing, whether they were taking it all seriously or just making minimal efforts at implementation. Since this Synod on Synodality was touted as one of the most important initiatives of the Catholic Church, equal to the renewal of Vatican II in the 1960’s, then surely the bishops would be on board and eager to follow the invitation of Pope Francis to embark on a “vast consultation movement”. So, I was curious and thought I’d take a peek at just a few of the dioceses in Canada and how they were progressing on Synodality.
Then I read about the survey Colm Holmes had done of the dioceses in Ireland. He had ten “look fors” in his survey. For example, was there a Synod link on the diocesan Homepage? Was there some sort of orientation presentation, a package of resources for groups or individuals, and an instructional video? Was a contact person named? And was there a link to the Vatican website where all of these resources were available? I found this interesting and thought that, perhaps, I could make a similar survey of the Canadian dioceses.
It turned out to be a formidable but informative exercise that stretched over a number of days in the first week of March. Whereas Ireland has twenty-six dioceses and a population of about 5 million spread over a little more than 39,000 square miles, Canada’s population of 37 plus million inhabits more that 4 million square miles. There are 54 Roman Catholic dioceses. Except for those dioceses located in the larger cities, most Canadian dioceses cover immense geographical areas. The Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, for example, covers a huge area of Eastern Ontario and includes 460,000 Catholics in 130 parishes. The archdiocese also includes the diocese of Timmins, some 720 km. to the north, plus the diocese of Hearst-Moosonee which has a number of parishes only accessible by air or winter roads. This is not an isolated reality in just Ottawa-Cornwall. Many of the dioceses in Canada face the challenges of vast geographical regions serving small parishes. Having spent a major portion of my career in school board administration in remote-rural areas, I can appreciate the challenges associated with implementing directives coming from the desk of an office in the downtown capital city.
It was impressive that 44 of the 54 Canadian dioceses had a link to Synod 2021-2023. In addition, there are a host of links to other important ministries to which the Church responds such as Covid 19 policies, Assistance for Ukraine, Share Lent, Safe Environment, Pastoral Resources, and so on. Of course, the ‘Donate’ button is usually front and centre – although, in an earlier search I could find little on financial transparency. Many Canadian dioceses provided the complete website information in French as well, so it can be assumed that the contact person and other resource persons must be fluent in both official languages. Of course, responding to the numerous diverse cultures and languages in Canada would be a challenge for many dioceses. Toronto, for example is said to be the most multicultural city in the world hosting 230 nationalities and 140 languages.
Help was available from the Vatican. Resources and preparatory documents were all posted there as well as an abundance of other documents. Dioceses did not have to invent their own. Some copying and pasting with a few changes to identify one’s own diocese made it easy enough to provide local resources. Many bishops posted a video, as Pope Francis had done, explaining the importance of the exercise and inviting all to participate.
The word “glitterlinks” came to mind when viewing a few of the diocesan websites. There were hyperlinks to an abundance of documents and other links but no sense of ownership by the diocese of the survey or even a questionnaire to complete.
On a few diocesan websites there was a sense of ‘gate-keeping’ when it came to participating in the Synod discussions and responses. Respondents were asked about such identifiers as their gender, Mass attendance, marital status and parish participation. Yet, in his opening remarks Pope Francis had said, “Enabling everyone to participate is an essential ecclesial duty.” A few dioceses had no questionnaire or survey available online. To be heard one had to be part of a diocesan or parish committee or group.
In fairness, it must be recognised that early March may have been a little late to be checking on diocesan Synod participation. Several dioceses have already completed their survey and the deadline for questionnaire submission was passed so it seems as if the consultation period that is scheduled to end in May, has concluded in some locations. There was no sign of a diocesan synthesis on any site, but this is due in March so perhaps there are committees all across Canada currently working on their diocesan synthesis.
Most have heard of the series of protests and blockades in Canada during the winter months of 2022. A convoy of hundreds of vehicles traversed across the country eventually converging in Ottawa where they erupted into chaos holding the downtown businesses and residents under siege for days until the federal government enacted the Emergency Measures Act. The flag of Canada became the demonstrators ‘freedom symbol’, flying from the backs of trucks, wrapped around the hoods of vehicles and around protestors. Many Canadians were appalled at the way the flag was denigrated. A friend told me he was reluctant to fly it in his yard lest the neighbours think he was somehow supporting the mayhem in Ottawa. So, what does any of this have to do with a survey of Synod participation? Well, a convoy of bishops will be heading to Rome in 2023 and what will be the Synthesis of their surveys? There are so many issues that need to be raised in any Roman Catholic consultation, issues that need to be talked about, issues that are embarrassing and inexcusable for an institution professing to be instituted by Christ. Some people are sceptical. They feel there is ‘gatekeeping’ around important issues, they feel like they are somehow restricted from participating or voting, and are wondering what ‘flag’, what issues the Canadian bishops’ convoy will fly when they converge in Rome in 2023. The Vademecum – the Vatican handbook – strongly recommends that each diocese make their Synthesis public. Will the Canadian bishops publish a National Synthesis thereby providing an official response from Canada?
Many are hoping for the success of this consultation.
To view the results of the Diocesan Synod Survey for Canada: https://www.jfmadigan.ca/Storjour/Diocese%20Synod%20Survey%20-%20Canada.pdf
To view a ranked list of the Diocesan Survey results: https://www.jfmadigan.ca/Storjour/DIOSYN-CDN-2.pdf
Colm Holmes’s focus on what of ongoing Irish synodal discussion eventually will be fed by Irish bishops to next year’s Rome synod is important. The synodal process itself still lies at the mercy of a canon law system that enables clergy to defy and ignore it if they so decide, in their own parishes and dioceses – so who yet knows how many Irish parishes will have that experience this time around?
If a central synod on synodality cannot address this anomaly, how can the hierarchical episcopal system be credible?
At local level, however, wherever open and honest discussion has taken place, that experience itself will change everything and become irreversible – due to the obviously terminal state of the clerical institution as we have known it. Parishes may differ greatly in their emphases, but my own experience was of serious people wanting to address precisely that problem of the looming transition to lay responsibility, as well as the incomprehension and absence of younger generations of families that were solidly Catholic in the recent past.
Non-synodality – a monological clergy – was obviously connected with ‘things hidden’ as well as a distant authoritarianism. Nothing could have been more corrosive of genuine Christian faith and community, so synodality – the habit of constant attentive listening to one another – is the only possible way forward.
Nicola Brady’s understanding of synodality as a spiritual practice embracing our informal as well as formal interchanges can surely be welcomed. That we need one another is as clear from the ongoing falling-apart of our church as it is from the impact of a viral pandemic. For everyone their local ‘scene’ will be at least as important as what happens in Rome.
We cannot be church for one another without also being synodal. Hopefully that too will be carried by our bishops to Rome.
First published in The Japan Mission Journal; Spring 2022; Volume 76; Number 1
Of Synodality and Closed Doors, Pain and Hope
Soline Humbert, born in 1956, is a French-Irish, ministering as a spiritual director since 2006. She has degrees in History, Business Administration, and Ecumenical Theology from Trinity College, Dublin and diplomas in Catechetics and Spiritual Direction. She is a member of We Are Church Ireland. Soline is married, with grandchildren.
When I was asked several months ago to write an article on synodality, I was surprised but I agreed, albeit very reluctantly. I reckoned that after Christmas, when I would be actually writing it, that inner reluctance would have given way to a measure of enthusiasm. However the passage of time has done nothing of the sort, in fact quite the opposite. I also thought that by then I might be able to write about participating in an official synodal experience, but the archdiocese of Dublin is still in preparatory phase, so there was no help there.
I could of course attempt to write something theoretical, impersonal on synodality; after all I have studied ecclesiology and read enough learned articles, and listened to discussions about it. As I sat with and reflected upon this deep-seated reluctance, this lack of enthusiasm which was actually blocking me from even starting writing, what I discovered was a well of pain. For me, to write about synodality in an honest, authentic manner would necessarily mean engaging with this pain and listening to what it is telling me and sharing it, in all its vulnerability. There was no way of ignoring it.
By now, you who are reading this, will have realized that I am inviting you on a kind of journey, an inner exploration which is tentative, partial, not systematized, not offering you a worked out treatise. It will lead where it will….
The first thing which I have noted in myself is that I do not share in the enthusiasm that the word synodality and all that goes with it generates in so many, starting with Pope Francis. One Irish bishop was interviewed a few months ago on radio about it, and he was positively gushing about it. I would of course like to share in that enthusiasm, for it is an uplifting, positive emotion, but the reality is that I can’t.
The official guidelines for the Synod process state clearly that it must reach, include, people on the periphery of the church. I have asked myself: am I one of these people considered to be on the periphery? Yes, on the margins, and how did I come to be there? And where exactly is the center of the church? Is the center where the Pope, the curia, the bishop, the parish priest are? Who defines the center, and therefore the periphery? I like to think that the Heart of Christ is the center, and in that case I know there is room and a welcome for me there.
But in terms of the official, institutional church I am on the margins because the power center has pushed me out there. Or as the authorities would argue, I have put myself there, by my own misguided obduracy. All of my adult life the official church has been a cold house, a very cold house indeed. Whenever I have seen posters about domestic violence warning about situations ‘When home is where the abuse takes place,’ I have thought about the church, my spiritual home ‘where the abuse takes place.’ As long ago as 1995 in a seminar on the ordination of women in Dublin I described myself as having been spiritually abused. I did not say it lightly then, it cost me a lot to acknowledge it first to myself and then publicly. Now, nearly thirty years later I cannot but reaffirm it: There is widespread spiritual abuse in the church. I am not talking only about the kind of spiritual abuses committed by an individual confessor, spiritual director, or religious superior. I am talking about church rules, teachings, practices which do injury to one’s spirit and conscience, which are destructive and anything but life-giving. They are so much part and parcel of the church culture, have been sacralized and decreed as divinely endorsed, they are mostly not even recognized consciously as being abusive.
In a very recent interview Sr Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministries describes how she felt when she was investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith trying to pressurize her to abandon her ministry to LGBTI+ people. She said she felt then like’ ‘a battered woman.’ Indeed, there are countless people like her, like us.
From the time I experienced a sense of vocation to the presbyteral ministry in my late teens I have been at the receiving end of spiritual violence in the church and pressure by the authorities to ‘desist,’ to ‘recant.’ To put it somewhat crudely, I was to acknowledge I was either ‘mad, bad or sad.’ Being young and somewhat naively trusting it took me some time to realize that the church is a deeply patriarchal institution. My sense of vocation to an ordained ministry, the exclusive preserve of males, was perceived as a threat to this patriarchal power and quashed, using all means, including spiritual violence, all forms of exclusion, of silencing and the threat of excommunication.
I am now in my sixties, I have never lost that sense of vocation despite the church authorities’ determined efforts to kill it or to persuade me to abandon it. Pope Francis, who is all in favor of open doors, is only the latest pope to reaffirm that the door to women priests is closed. And while he is also in favor of listening and discernment, he has never extended an invitation to women like me to at least listen to our deep sense of calling and to our journeys with that vocation. Obviously he believes we have nothing of value to communicate, no truth to share, no word from the Spirit. It has been the official church policy and practice to this very day to treat us as non-persons, to shun us, to freeze us out. In a patriarchal church we simply don’t exist.
So what of synodality for women like me? The Irish bishop who was gushing with enthusiasm about the launching of the synodal process was also careful to explain there would be ‘’parameters’ to be respected. I know full well that who I am and what I represent is outside these carefully defined ‘parameters.’ That much has been drilled into me at every opportunity over nearly half a century: ‘You do not belong’ or ‘You can belong, but only on our terms and that means IF you agree you don’t have that vocation.’ Confronted with that ultimatum, I have chosen to sacrifice that kind of belonging to keep my integrity and to being faithful, as I perceive it, to the One who is faithful to me.
What does this synodal process mean for women like me after a lifetime of exclusion, threats, rejections, denigration? What does it mean when Pope Francis calls for openness to the Spirit and to new paths but repeats over and over again that the door is firmly shut in our faces?
Sr Nathalie Becquart in the Vatican Secretariat for the Synod recently said that two things were needed for the synod process: trust and humility.
I have faith and trust in God still. I trust in the Spirit wholeheartedly. But I have no faith left in the present church system and the leaders. It wasn’t always like that: I started off full of trust. And then along the way I realized I had no trust left, it had gradually been eroded by the repeated abuses, deceptions, manipulations, and lies. Once that trust was gone, it was truly gone. Something precious had died. Once trust has been squandered, destroyed, it takes a lot of efforts to rebuild it. People who want to be trusted again must show themselves worthy of that trust. Appeals such as ‘trust us, trust us’ no longer work when they are not backed with very concrete actions. As far as I am concerned, and I can only speak personally, I have experienced nothing, absolutely nothing, to restore my own trust.
What about humility? After all, that and obedience and patience, are deemed the cardinal virtues for women in the church. And yes I know, if I had any humility (as defined) I wouldn’t possibly think for a second God would call me, a (mere) woman, to be a priest. If I still do lack that kind of humility, it’s not for want of having been admonished repeatedly. But is that really what humility is, the humility of Mary of Nazareth and of her Son Jesus? Decades ago I came across a definition of humility by a French priest which made instant sense to me: ‘Humility is knowing one’s place and taking it.’ And with it, the painful realization that there is no place for me in the institutional church as it is.
The Synodal process culminating in the synod of bishops in Rome in 2023 means that the ultimate discernment will be in the hands of some men (males). Many women fear, with good reason, that their voices will not be heard. And many men, too.
Nearly thirty years ago I initiated, with two others, a petition asking for all ministries in the church to be equally open to women and men. It obviously struck a chord because, although it was pre-internet days making the process very laborious, we quickly gathered 10,000 signatures. After the primate of all Ireland Cardinal Daly refused to receive them we raised another 10,000. We divided them and sent them to all bishops in Ireland. A handful acknowledged them.
Pope Francis has said, quoting Yves Congar, that ‘we don’t need another church but a different church.’ It is my profound conviction that a church where men continue to claim to have the final word in decisions and to arrogate to themselves the right to place restrictions on women is just more of the same patriarchal church where spiritual abuses of power are endemic.
Dear Pope Francis, you tell me that this door which was brutally shut in my face by your predecessor Pope Saint John Paul II will remain shut for ever. Why do you want me to take part in this synodal process when you have already indicated that whatever I might share of my spiritual life will be ‘inadmissible’ by you and your fellow bishops, and will make absolutely no difference to that door remaining shut?
Whatever trust and hope I have do not come from a pope but from the One who speaks in the depths of my being: ‘See, I have opened a door for you that no one can shut’ (Revelation 3:8).
Can the synodal process as presently framed and organized give birth to a Church of Communion for which we long, while insisting on closed doors for women? I remain in pain and in hope.
Soline, while ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ will probably disbar you from the Ordained Clerical Club for the foreseeable future, ‘Praedicate Evangelium’ might make you a Pro-Prefect of the Evangelisation Dicastery, or even Prefect of the CDF, from early June. Who knows, Francis’s forthcoming Motu Proprio, ‘De Papae Eligendo’, may give you a vote in any conclave for the next fourteen years as a Cardinal-Deacon. What you lose on the swings you eventually gain on the roundabouts. But mind, you’ll have lots of competition.
(Cardinal Grech Letter to Priests – 19-03-2022 – re Synod 2021-23 & Synodality)
CONGREGATIO PRO CLERICIS
Vatican City, 19 March 2022
Prot. n. 220083
Here we are, two priests and brothers of yours! May we ask for a moment of your time?
We would like to talk to you about a topic that touches us all.
“The Church of God is convoked in Synod.” The preparatory document for Synod 2021- 2023 begins with these words. For two years the entire People of God is invited to reflect on the theme “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. This is a novelty that can . arouse enthusiasm as well as perplexity.
Yet “in the first millennium, ‘walking together’, that is, practicing synodality, was the Church’s habitual way of proceeding.” The Second Vatican Council highlighted this dimension of ecclesial life, so important that St. John Chrysostom affirmed: “Church and Synod are synonymous” (Explicatio in Psalmum 149).
It is well known that today’s worldis in urgent need of fraternity. Without realizing it, the world yearns to meet Jesus. But how do we make this encounter happen? We need to listen to the Spirit together with the whole People of God, so as to renew our faith and find new ways and languages to share the Gospel with our brothers and sisters. The synodal process that Pope Francis proposes to us has precisely this objective: to set out, together, in mutual listening , in sharing ideas and projects, to show the true face of the Church: a hospitable “house”, with open doors, inhabited by the Lord and animated by fraternal relationships.
So that we do not fall into the risks highlighted by Pope Francis – that is, formalism, which reduces the Synod to an empty slogan; intellectualism, which makes the Synod a theoretical reflection on problems; and immobilism , nailing us to the security of our habits so that nothing changes – it is important to open our hearts and listen to what the Spirit suggests to the Churches (cf. Rev. 2:7).
Obviously, in the face of this journey, some fears may assail us.
First of all, we are well aware that priests in many parts of the world are already carrying a great pastoral burden. And now- it may seem – one more thing “to do” is added. Rather than inviting you to multiply your activities , we would like to encourage you to look at your communities with that contemplative gaze of which Pope Francis speaks to us in Evangelii gaudium (no. 71) so as to discover the many examples of participation and sharing that are already taking root in your communities. In fact, the current diocesan phase of the synodal process aims to “gather the wealth of experiences of lived synodality” (Preparatory Document, 31). We are certain that there are many more of these experiences than what might appear at first glance, perhaps even informal and spontaneous experiences. Wherever we listen deeply to each other, learn from each other, value the gifts of others, help each other and make decisions together, there is already synodality in action. All this should be emphasized and appreciated, so as to increasingly develop that synodal style which is “the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church, the People of God” (Preparatory Document, I 0).
But there may also be another fear: if so much emphasis is placed on the common priesthood of the baptized and on the sensus fidei of the People of God, what will become of our role as leaders and of our specific identity as ordained ministers? Without a doubt, it is a matter of progressively discovering the fundamental equality of all the baptized and of stimulating all the faithful to participate actively in the journey and mission of the Church. In this way we will have the joy of finding brothers and sisters who share with us the responsibility for evangelization. But in this experience of the People of God, the special charism of ordained ministers to serve, sanctify and animate the People of God can and should also come to the fore ma new way.
In this sense, we would like to ask you to make a threefold contribution to the current synodal process:
– Do everything so that the journey rests on listening to and living the Word of God. Pope Francis thus recently exhorted us, “let us be passionate about Sacred Scripture, let us allow ourselves to be dug into by the Word, which reveals the newness of God and leads to loving others without tiring” (Francis, Homily for Word of God Sunday, January 23, 2022).
Without this grounding in the life of the Word, we risk walking in the dark and our reflections risk becoming an ideology. Instead, by basing ourselves on the Word put into practice, we will build the house on rock (cf. Mt 7:24-27) and we will be able to experience, like the disciples of Emmaus, the surprising light and guidance of the Risen Lord.
– Let us strive to ensure that our journey is marked by mutual listening and mutual acceptance. Even before any concrete results, deep dialogue and true encounters are already a value. In fact, there are many initiatives and potentials in our communities, but too often individuals and groups run the risk of individualism and self-referentiality. With his new commandment, Jesus reminds us that “this is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). As pastors, we can do much so that love might heal relationships and heal the wounds that often affect the fabric of the Church, so that the joy of feeling that we are one family, one people on a journey, children of the same Father and therefore brothers and sisters to one another may return, beginning with the fraternity of priests.
– Take care that the journey does not lead us to introspection but stimulates us to go out to meet everyone. In Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis has given us the dream of a Church that is not afraid to get its hands dirty by involving itself in the wounds of humanity, a Church that walks in listening to and serving the poor and the peripheries. This “outgoing” dynamism towards our brothers and sisters, with the compass of the Word and the fire of charity, fulfills the Father’s great original plan: “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21). In his latest Encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis asks us to commit ourselves to this unity, together with our brothers and sisters of other Churches, the faithful of other religions and all people of good will: universal brotherhood and love without exclusions, which all and everything must embrace. As servants of the People of God, we are in a privileged position to ensure that this does not remain a vague and generic guideline, but is made concrete where we live.
Dear brother priests, we are certain that starting from these priorities you will find ways to give life to specific initiatives, according to local needs and possibilities because synodality is truly God’s call for the Church of the third millennium. Setting out in this direction will not be free of questions, fatigue and setbacks, but we can be confident that it will return to us a hundredfold in fraternity and in fruits of evangelical life. We need only think of the first Synod of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Who knows how much effort there was behind the scenes! But we know how decisive that moment was for the nascent Church.
We conclude this letter with two passages from the Preparatory Document that can inspire and accompany us almost like a Vademecum.
“The ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions, in keeping with the mission she has received, depends largely on the decision to initiate processes of listening, dialogue, and community discernment, in which each and every person can participate and contribute.” (n. 9).
“We recall that the purpose of the Synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands”” (n. 32).
Thanking you for your attention, we assure you of our prayers and wish you and your communities a joyful and fruitful synodal journey. May we be close to you and journey with you! And welcome, through us, the gratitude also of Pope Francis who feels very close to you.
Entrusting each of you to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Good Way, we cordially greet you in the Lord Jesus.
Mario Card. GRECH
Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops
Lazzaro You HEUNG SIK Archbishop-Bishop em. of Daejeon
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
‘Dear brother priests, we are certain that starting from these priorities you will find ways to give life to specific initiatives, according to local needs and possibilities because synodality is truly God’s call for the Church of the third millennium. Setting out in this direction will not be free of questions, fatigue and setbacks, but we can be confident that it will return to us a hundredfold in fraternity and in fruits of evangelical life. We need only think of the first Synod of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Who knows how much effort there was behind the scenes! But we know how decisive that moment was for the nascent Church.’
The Killala Synod, and the Root and Branch Synod, and the German Synodal Path are among signs of synodal life, and all persistently point in the same direction: 1. Ordination of Women, 2. Ordination of the Married, 3. Warm inclusion of LGBT church members. All three of these would magnificently diversify and enliven the church.