Mental health and related issues such as suicide and depression were the biggest issue raised by secondary school students in Limerick in the first opinion poll of its kind ever carried out in this country.

More than 5,000 people across the city and county from varied backgrounds gave views on a wide range of issues in advance of a three-day synod organised by the Catholic diocese of Limerick, which opened at Mary Immaculate College yesterday.

It’s the first synod organised by the Church in 50 years, and 400 delegates — mostly lay people from 60 parishes in the diocese — voted on how the Church should respond to issues including homelessness, clerical abuse, attitudes to the LGBT community, equality of women in the Church, and married priests.

At the less serious end of the spectrum, there was 94.7% support for the idea of having a cup of tea after Sunday Mass to help foster greater community spirit and help newcomers settle and meet their new neighbours.

Electronic voting is taking place on every item on the packed agenda.

One proposal yesterday, calling for more reaching out to those hurt by the Church, through abuse or lack of respect for people’s sexual orientation, was overwhelmingly passed, getting 91.2% support.

The proposal called for a faith and justice group to be established in the diocese to reach out to various groups hurt by the attitudes and teachings of the Church. These include women who have had abortions; members of the LGBT community; and people who have spent time in Church institutions.

Synod director Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon said the involvement of teenagers in the synod and the sounding-out of their opinions over the past year during the consultation process, was hugely important. “We had a number of gatherings with hundreds of young people — secondary school students — prior to the synod as part of the consultation process.

What they were saying was the biggest issue was mental health among young people — depression and concern around suicide rates. That struck me, as I had been working in youth ministry, and I asked a teacher why is this such a big issue now? I wouldn’t have heard that as often maybe 10 years ago, and the teacher made a very good point. She said now young people have permission to name it.

“Ten or 15 years ago it was an issue, it was there, but for some reason they did not feel free or comfortable or confident to name it as an issue. Now they have got that permission, maybe through the media, allowing them to speak about mental health as an issue in their lives.

“Now that they have the courage to speak about it and name it, we must have the courage to respond and that is a big challenge for us in this synod.”

On a vote, 92.6% supported the proposal that the Church reaches out in the area of mental health; and has greater engagement with the marginalised, the homeless, prisoners, and Travellers.

Issues to be discussed today include bringing ceremonies out of church buildings, such as by celebrating Mass in fields at harvest time. Equality for women in the Church; celibacy; married priests; the taking of communion by people in second relationships; divorce; and remarriage will be dealt tomorrow.


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