Synodality Synthesis: Interesting series of articles in the Irish Times.

  1. Irish Catholics demand changes in church

National synthesis document sent to Rome is church altering, says McAleese


Demands by Irish Catholics for major change in the church’s attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, those who are divorced or remarried, and single parents have been sent to Rome. They have also urged the removal of the mandatory celibacy rule for priests.

In a covering letter sent with a report outlining the demands, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin told Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, that it pointed “to many challenges for the handing on of the faith in this country, including a need for inner healing and hope, especially among those who have suffered abuse by church personnel and in church institutions”.

The document, he said, called for “fresh models of responsibility and leadership which will especially recognise and facilitate the role of women, as well as men. Our listening process has identified the need to be more inclusive in outreach, reaching out to those who have left the church behind and, in some cases, feel excluded, forgotten or ignored.”

Former president Mary McAleese last night described the document as “explosive, life altering, dogma altering, church altering”.

The National Synthesis document was based on reports prepared by all 26 Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland following widespread consultations with many thousands of the faithful since last October. Subsequent reports were all published in June and, with 29 other submissions, were collated into the synthesis sent to Rome and launched yesterday. It is part of worldwide preparations in the Church for a Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis for October of next year.

The National Synthesis document calls for radical change in the church’s dealings with women, up to and including ordination to the priesthood. It calls for major changes in its treatment of LGBTI+ people, the divorced and remarried.

It had come “not from the hierarchy, not from Rome, but from the people of God”, facilitated by the “openness of the process” which “was never the case before”, said Ms McAleese. It illustrated “the momentum of the people of God for change”.

“Clearly there was a very, very strong movement for reform and change and this is reflected fairly and truthfully” in the synthesis document, she added. “There’s no denying those voices now. I hope when it is received in Rome it will be fully honoured.”

LBGTI+ focus group

In particular, she referred to the LBGTI+ focus group which prepared its own uncompromising report, published with but separate from the Elphin diocese report. That focus group report had since “gone viral” she said, while “its powerful voice drew particular attention in the national synthesis document”.

She congratulated Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran for his integrity in publishing that focus group report in its entirety, as agreed with its participants, and for ensuring it would go to Rome as written. “What he did was courageous in the extreme,” she said.

At a Mass in Knock yesterday, during which the document was launched, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh Michael Router and a member of the synod steering committee which prepared it, said he had been “struck by the pervasive desire to feel a deeper sense of belonging to the church and the call for it to be more inclusive”.

Fr Tim Hazelwood of the Association of Catholic Priests’ Leadership team described the document as “stunning and outstanding”. It was “not trying to uphold any of the old negatives of the past”, he said.

2. Catholics call for Rome to make radical changes

Desire for change in attitude to LGBTI+ people and removal of celibacy for priests


Irish Catholics have called for major change in the Church’s attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, the divorced, remarried and other marginalised groups, as well as removal of the mandatory celibacy rule for priests in a report sent to Rome on Monday.

Published yesterday afternoon, the National Synthesis Document followed extensive consultation with thousands of Irish Catholics across the island since last October and culminating in reports published last June from each of the 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland as well as 29 separate submissions from interested parties.

It is part of a worldwide consultation process in the Church initiated by Pope Francis in preparation for a synod of bishops at the Vatican planned for October 2023.

Ireland’s National Synthesis Document said that on this island and “across the various submissions and syntheses many issues emerge consistently, including a strong desire for women’s involvement in leadership and ministries – ordained and non-ordained – and additionally, a concern around the Church’s approach to the LGBTQI+ community and to the hurt experienced by its members.”

It continued that “there is also a call for greater lay involvement and participation” and that “co-responsible leadership needs to be embedded at every level through Parish Pastoral Councils, Diocesan Pastoral Councils and other structures that enable this. At local level we need to ensure the voice of women will be truly integral in our decision-making. We must secure effective participation by the poor and excluded, and other marginalised groups.

“The role of women in the Church was mentioned in almost every submission received. In those responses there was a call for women to be given equal treatment within the Church structures in terms of leadership and decision making.”

Many women, it said “remarked that they are not prepared to be considered second class citizens any more and many are leaving the Church” while “several of the submissions called for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and the priesthood. Their exclusion from the diaconate is regarded as particularly hurtful.”

The document continued that “many young people cannot understand the Church’s position on women. Because of the disconnect between the Church’s view of women and the role of women in wider society today, the Church is perceived as patriarchal and by some, as misogynistic.”

Many young people, it said, “do wish to engage with Church, yet deficiencies in current pastoral practice have resulted in a marked disconnect between them and the Church. The question of how the Church might accompany them has emerged as an urgent one.”


There was also “a wide awareness that the traditional co-operative faith-transmission model of the parish-home-school is no longer working. Many submissions suggest that the Spirit is prompting the Church in Ireland to remove sacramental preparation from schools in favour of parish-based formation programmes.”

There was “a clear, overwhelming call for the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Church, expressed by all ages and particularly by the young and by members of the LGBTQI+ community themselves. This inclusion would in the first instance involve less judgemental language in Church teaching, following the compassionate approach of Pope Francis which has been transformative and is appreciated, again, by young people in particular.”

It said, “there were calls from a LGBTQI+ focus group for an apology from the Church” and how “the visceral clarity of this particular focus group gave life to the rather more tentative and generalised positions on inclusion offered elsewhere, pointing to the value of hearing directly the voices of the excluded or disaffected.”

It noted how, more generally, “there were requests for re-examinations of Church teaching and a revision of its understanding of human sexuality in light of recent scientific and sociological research, alongside a recognition of the lived realities of LGBTQI+ and other couples.”

Where the divorced and remarried were concerned “the Church’s ‘rules and regulations’ were seen as draconian” while another group identified as feeling excluded from the life of the Church “was single parents,” it said.

Boring, monotonous, jaded

The document recognised “other minority, yet strong, voices that believe the Church, rooted in the Catholic Tradition, should not conform to secular standards when it comes to questions regarding gender, sexuality, and relationships. For others, the Church has no credibility in modern society as long as discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality exists.” Submissions, it said, “highlighted the importance of a broad and inclusive understanding of family in terms of the composition and formal status of family units” and that in recognising “the diversity and validity of family types, frequent mention was also made of the importance of those who are single and whose needs and capacities are sometimes overlooked.”

There were calls from both young and older participants “for optional celibacy, married priests, female priests, and the return of those who had left the priesthood to marry. Clericalism in all its forms was frequently associated with hurt and abuse of power by participants in the process.”

Some felt “the Church’s liturgies are boring, monotonous, jaded and flat; that they no longer speak to people’s lives. There was a desire expressed by respondents for the full participation of the laity throughout the liturgy; and for a wider more diverse group of people, including women, to take part.”

Many also felt “that decision-making and authority are exercised solely by priests and bishops.” This provoked “discontent in them, frustration and anger with the processes of decision-making and exercise of authority at all levels in the Church,” it said. Yet “some still feel that the laity should not have a voice in the decision making of the Church/parish; that this is primarily the ‘priest’s role’. They are happy to be ‘volunteers’.”

The National Synthesis document remains remarkably true to the mood of that national assembly and its origins in the diocesan reports and other submissions.

3. Fears bishops would water down document prove to be unfounded

Major milestone in history of Catholic Church in Ireland as overhaul urged

A year ago, it would have been unthinkable that a document like the National Synthesis calling for such radical change in the Catholic Church would have been sent from Ireland to Rome. Few among even the more earnest Irish Catholics would have anticipated such an event.

That said, the great unspoken reality among a majority of Irish Catholics, for more years than they care to be reminded, was that they held such strong views on the inferior position of women in the church, on its harsh language towards LGBTI+ people, its “draconian” stance on the divorced and remarried, on single parents, its insistence on the archaic mandatory celibacy rule, the boring sermons and liturgies, its utter disconnect with young people.

The problem was “the bishops” – it was widely believed they would never allow such views percolate to Rome. That would not do at all. The impression it might give! The suggestion that a revolting Irish laity had wrested control from the bishops? OMG, as the (absent) young people might say, this was “not the look” you want for Rome.

Consultation role

As recently as last month that fear surfaced again of what the bishops might do to temper the 26 diocesan reports calling for change, as well as most of the other 29 submissions. Those same old familiar never-to-be-forgotten feelings surfaced again when Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin warned that discussion around the National Synthesis should “not diminish the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, but rather affirm and enhance it”. Shock, horror. It seemed the very many thousands of practising Catholics, mostly over 60, who had taken part in consultations leading to the synthesis – ranging from 13,000 in Dublin to about 5,000 in Limerick and about 300 in Achonry, one of the smallest dioceses on the island – were headed for frustration once again.

Some concluded that the “heartening” atmosphere at the national assembly of the Irish Catholic Church in Athlone last June, including the bishops, was to be betrayed.

Not so. The National Synthesis document remains remarkably true to the mood of that national assembly and its origins in the diocesan reports and other submissions.

That this has happened illustrates the greatly diminished authority of church authorities, due to their handling of clerical child sex abuse, but also the arrival at the episcopal table of younger colleagues with no baggage and a refreshing honesty.

Articulate women

Credit, and it is the accurate word, must also go to those articulate women who have trenchantly argued the case for equality for their gender in the church down the years as well as speaking forcefully on behalf of marginalised groups such as LGBTI+ people; women such as former president Mary McAleese, Ursula Halligan of We Are Church Ireland and long-time advocate for women’s ordination Soline Humbert, among others.

Nor should the contribution of the Association of Catholic Priests over the past 10 years be underestimated, particularly of co-founders Fr Brendan Hoban and Fr Tony Flannery, who is himself now 10 years out of public ministry in the church because he called for the changes subsequently repeated in the National Synthesis document. His continuous exile to limbo is itself a scandal and smacks now of mere, petty revenge. It is an ongoing and grave injustice and he should be reinstated to full ministry. (Highlighted by ACP Website Editor)

It is to be hoped that Ireland’s National Synthesis document contributes to the significant change necessary and which most people of goodwill believe essential to emerge from the Synod of Bishops in Rome next year, and for which it was prepared as part of worldwide consultation with Catholics.

Regardless, this is a moment which marks a major milestone in the history of the Catholic Church on this island as well as being hugely significant as part of its preparations for the Assembly of Assemblies it plans for Ireland from 2026 onwards.

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