Speaking notes from the Irish delegation attending the Continental Assembly of the Synod in Prague

07 Feb 2023


This speech was delivered by Julieann Moran and Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon on behalf of the Irish delegation during the second working session of the Continental Assembly of the Synod in Prague.

Speaking Notes

The Voice and Work of the Spirit is Resonating

In Ireland preparations were already underway for a national synodal pathway when the diocesan phase of the Universal Synod was announced.

This Synod on Synodality places a renewed emphasis on the sensus fidei fidelium and as such, is a cause of great joy, encouragement, and hope for all who love the Church as the People of God. The Working Document resonates with a universal enthusiasm for the renewal of the Church, despite the diversity of challenges. This is surely the voice and work of the Holy Spirit.

There is clearly a need to ‘enlarge the space of our tent.’ Can we truly be an evangelising Church if we do not heed Isaiah’s prophetic image to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters who have become disaffected and discouraged? The Irish delegates are aware of the trust that has been placed in them to carry the voices of those who have spoken in truth and in love.

Across both political jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the last number of decades have seen divisive conflict including suspicion and sectarianism within the Christian family, together with a radical demographic, economic, and social transformation. This new social reality, together with the painful legacy of clerical and institutional abuse and involvement of Church bodies in the harsh institutionalisation of women and children, have had a profound effect on the Church in Ireland.

The Church and Conversion

During the Diocesan phase of the Synod, the Pobal Dé – the People of God in Ireland – listened deeply and heard many testimonies from those who, sadly, have been wounded within the Church. Women and men courageously came forward to speak about the sexual, institutional, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse by members of the Church in Ireland. Their voice went to the very heart of what is needed for our Church: conversion. In hearing their prophetic voice, we recognise that abuse is an open wound and will remain a barrier to communion, participation, and mission until it is comprehensively addressed. However, if there is clear action, with the courage to go deeper and to fully understand the causes, the Church in Ireland – and universally – can become the “field hospital” that Pope Francis desires us to be.

There is an anger, a sadness, a sense of loss – including, in some cases a loss of faith – which is felt most acutely by those who were abused; but it is also felt by the lay faithful, by priests, bishops, religious men and women; by those who have remained, and by those who left because they no longer hear the Good News in a Church that failed so many.

Isaiah’s image of ‘enlarging the tent’ speaks to the heart of what we have identified in our synodal listening: the theme of inclusion and exclusion.

Many women communicated their pain at being denied their agency in the life of the Church and spoke of feelings of exclusion and discrimination. Women play a critical role in the life of the Church but so many men and women have spoken of the Church “excluding” the fullness of the gifts of women. Many submissions during the Diocesan phase called for women to be admitted to the diaconate and priesthood.

Those who are in loving relationships that don’t accord with Church teaching, including people identifying as LGBTQI+, and those in second unions, also spoke of their hurt, particularly around harmful and offensive language used in Church circles and documents.

There is also a call for greater inclusion of migrants and refugees; of people living with disabilities; of young people; of single parents.  Some of those who love the pre-Vatican II liturgy also spoke of their sense of exclusion. Indeed, the earth itself, which Pope Francis reminds us is “among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” has also been wounded by exploitation and a lack of due care.

The prophetic image of the tent is truly asking us if our tent is a symbol of inclusion or exclusion, a symbol of home or exile, a symbol of woundedness or healing.

Healing Calls to Action

Pope Francis has said: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle … The mission of the church is to heal wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good.” This resonates very much with what God is saying to the Church in Ireland at this time.

Fr Richard Rohr has commented: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it…Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history.” Let us not export our unresolved hurt any longer but rather own the pain that is part of our story.

Our God of love is calling us to justice, reconciliation, and healing. God is calling us to be humble and prophetic on behalf of those we have hurt. Reform and renewal is difficult because sometimes we have to unbind our wounds, delicately re-opening them in order to establish the truth of what happened, and why it happened, and learn from it. Only in this way can we fully heal, be reconciled and find renewal.

Carefully chosen words spoken with humility and sincerity help, but they are not enough. We need to continue our efforts to provide times and spaces for lamentation, to grieve this shared pain and loss. We recognise all these wounds in Christ crucified. A synodal Church can help to redress and bind these wounds. It can help us to be reconciled with ourselves, with God, with one another, and with creation.

The joy expressed by so many who took part in the synodal process, and their hope that it will continue and become embedded in Church structures, is real. We affirm Pope Francis’ commitment to the path of synodality and believe that much abuse could have been prevented had we been truly synodal, open and listening to the voices and gifts of all our family.

There is a deep longing for a more inclusive and welcoming Church. People wish for this enlarged tent to be experienced in liturgy, language, structures, practices, and decision-making. The co-responsibility of all the baptised must therefore be recognised and practised, to overcome clericalism and to ensure full and equal participation of women in all aspects of Church life and ministry and decision-making.

The Church is called to discern with the all-embracing compassion of the Body of Christ. This will demand the courage and wisdom of the Spirit to review and inspire any necessary doctrinal, structural, canonical, and pastoral changes, without destroying communion or losing sight of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Participation emerges as the first step towards communion and mission. Enlarging the tent requires the charisms of all, especially the laity, who can reach people in all areas of life.

Communion requires the proclamation of the Church’s social teaching, particularly Laudato si, which emphasises the gospel call to care for the earth and for one another. This calls for the life of the Church to be a place of genuine compassion and inclusion. It also calls for an enlarged appreciation and equal valuing of a richness of ministries, not only the ordained ministry.

The Church in Ireland is associated with great missionary movements down the centuries. The mission of evangelisation must be as important to the synodal Church as communion and participation. The call to mission is a call to hope. Synodality is emerging as the style for this hope – the style of a Church united around the synodal process, and anchored in an ecclesiology that can build and maintain communion.

The Church in Ireland, which has embarked on its own synodal pathway, rejoices in this moment of universal synodality as we journey together in faith, hope, and love.

Notes to Editors

  • The four delegates travelling from Ireland to attend the Continental Assembly in Prague are:
    • Dr Nicola Brady, Chairperson of the Steering Committee
    • Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon, Convener of the Task Group for the Irish Synodal Pathway
    • Archbishop Eamon Martin, President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
    • Ms Julieann Moran, General Secretary of the Irish Synodal Pathway
  • A further ten delegates will attend the Assembly online. They are:
    • Dr Gary Carville, Executive Secretary for the Council for Justice and Peace, and for the Council for Ecumenism, of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
    • Ms Ciara Ferry, Senior Supervisor and Communications Leader of Net Ministries Ireland
    • Mrs Janet Forbes, ADYC Co-ordinator Archdiocese of Armagh and Member of the Synodal Pathway Task Group in Ireland
    • Ms Ursula Halligan, Joint Co-ordinator of We Are Church Ireland
    • Fr Declan Hurley, Administrator of St Mary’s Parish, Navan, (Diocese of Meath) and Co-Chair of the National Steering Committee
    • Sr Kathleen McGarvey, OLA, Provincial Leader of the OLA Sisters in Ireland
    • Deacon Frank McGuinness, Diocese of Elphin
    • Mrs Paula McKeown, Director of Living Church (Diocese of Down and Connor) and Deputy Chair of the National Steering Committee
    • Ms Helena O’Shea, Director of Youth 2000 Ireland
    • Mr Stephen Sherry, Seminarian for Clogher Diocese
  • In October 2021, Pope Francis launched a Synod on the theme of synodality, which was a global process with the whole People of God.  The first stage of this process was a worldwide listening in each Catholic diocese (known as the Diocesan Stage).  Between October 2021 and May 2022, faith-based conversations and consultations took place across the island of Ireland and, by 29 May, dioceses and other groups submitted their responses to the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  Each submission was reviewed in a spirit of prayer and discernment over the weekend of Pentecost (June 2022) by members of a National Steering Committee, and the emerging themes were presented to representatives at an assembly in Athlone on 18 June.  A National Synthesis from the Catholic Church in Ireland was then prepared and sent to the Synod office in Rome.
  • At the end of October last year, the Secretariat of the Synod, published its Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod, which was a further synthesis of the 112 National Syntheses from the Catholic Church around the world, along with submissions from other religious congregations and groups.  Entitled Enlarge the Space of Your Tent, this Working Document has been the subject of discernment and reflection back in each diocese around the world.  Delegates from each Catholic Bishops’ Conference will now take part in a Continental Assembly in order to continue the synodal process of reciprocal listening and consultation.
  • Organised by CCEE (the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences), in collaboration with the Czech Bishops’ Conference and the Archdiocese of Prague, the first part of the Assembly, from 5 to 9 February, will be attended by 200 participants, representing the entire People of God (laymen, laywomen, religious men and women, deacons, priests, and bishops).  156 of the delegates are from the 39 Bishops’ Conferences from across Europe.  Each national delegation is composed of the President of the Bishops’ Conference and three other delegates.  An additional 44 people will be present as invited guests representing various ecclesial realities from across Europe.  A further 390 delegates will also participate in the Assembly online (ten from each Bishops’ Conference) who will be able to follow the work of the plenary sessions through an online platform and make their contributions during the group work stages of the assembly.  On the last two days of the assembly (10 to 12 February), the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences will meet “to collegially re-read the lived synodal experience from their specific charism and role.”
  • There will be seven continental documents prepared from the continental assemblies, which will be sent to the Secretariat of the Synod for the next stage of the synodal process, which will be the production of a further working document for the Synod.  On 16 October 2022, Pope Francis announced that the Synod, which will take place in Rome, is now taking place in two stages.  The first will be from 4 to 29 October 2023, and the second in October 2024.  In announcing the extension to the Universal Synod, Pope Francis said, “the fruits of the synodal process under way are many, so that they might come to full maturity, it is necessary not to be in a rush.  Therefore, in order to have a more relaxed period of discernment, I have established that this Synodal Assembly will take place in two sessions (16 October 2022, Saint Peter’s Square).”

Further information about the Continental Assembly of the Synod can be found at www.synod.ie and www.synod.va

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