Landmark church report highlights desire for female priests, optional celibacy, and inclusion for all 

Landmark church report highlights desire for female priests, optional celibacy, and inclusion for all 

Bishop Michael Router, and Dr Nicola Brady, chairperson of the Irish Synodal Pathway steering committee, launch the national synthesis of the Catholic Church in Ireland, marking a significant milestone for progression within the Church.  Picture: John McElroy

A report from the Catholic Church in Ireland has said many want female priests, optional celibacy, and the full inclusion of the LGBTQI+ community.

The document summarises a nationwide consultation at all levels of the church, as part of a global synod on the institution’s future

During consultations, there were calls for women to be given equal treatment within church structures in terms of leadership and decision making.

"Many women remarked that they are not prepared to be considered second class citizens anymore, and many are leaving the Church“ it said. “Several of the submissions called for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and the priesthood.” 

Many young people who participated “could not 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.

There were calls from both young and old participants for optional celibacy, married priests, female priests, and the return of those who had left the priesthood to marry.

Inclusion 

There was a clear, overwhelming call for the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Church, including calls from an LGBTQI+ focus group for an apology from the Church.

“This submission suggested that even though the Church rarely condemns gay people these days, it indirectly creates an atmosphere where physical, psychological, and emotional abuse of gay people is tolerated, and even encouraged,” the report stated.

It was evident that sexuality, sexual ethics, and relationship issues informed people’s decisions to be involved in church life.

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”.

“There are 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,” the report said.

 “For others, ‘the Church has no credibility in modern society as long as discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality exists’.” 

On the margins 

There is an absence of young people in church life, and other youth organisations provide a home for young people that is more welcoming than in parishes. Many young people were critical of the Church regarding the role of women, clerical celibacy, and its handling of the abuse crisis.

Most young people disagreed with the Church’s teaching on sexuality and the Church’s position on sex was considered as a barrier to participation by some young people.

The Catholic Church Pre-Synodal Assembly took place in Athlone in June, in response to the universal synod conveneyed by Pope Francis for 2021-2023, which also contributes to the work of the National Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland (2021-2026).  	Picture: John Mc Elroy.
The Catholic Church Pre-Synodal Assembly took place in Athlone in June, in response to the universal synod conveneyed by Pope Francis for 2021-2023, which also contributes to the work of the National Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland (2021-2026).  Picture: John Mc Elroy.

Many feel the church’s liturgies are “boring, monotonous, jaded and flat; that they no longer speak to people’s lives”.

The Church increasingly finds itself pushed to the margins of popular culture, the report said.

“Dramatic economic and social change was seen to have had a profound impact on the structures and processes of the Church, its place within Irish society, and thus on the perceived capacity for participation and mission.” 

Abuse 

“The physical, sexual an emotional abuse and its concealment by the Church in Ireland was described as an ‘open wound’”, the report said. 

“The Church is invited to interrogate how its own structures and modus operandi contributed to this crisis.” 

There was a “huge sense of loss” among respondents over the scale of abuse by those in the Church. Institutional abuse in contexts such as Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries, and orphanages, is inherent to the deep hurt of this wound. 

Strategies of concealment of institutional abuse by the Church have further wounded survivors.

There was a palpable sense that despite many efforts by the Church, a ‘reckoning’ had not yet taken place, and the synodal process generated a clear imperative to place this issue at the heart of any Church renewal and reform.

The submissions highlighted the “morale-sapping effect of negative media treatment of the Church, while recognising the invaluable service of independent media in exposing abuse and failures of accountability within the Church”.

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