2012 Open Forum Notes

26th Pobal Dé Conference – 18th February 2012

Theme: ‘How Can We Rebuild Our Church?’

“Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” This was the call of Jesus heard by St. Francis of Assisi. We in our time too, see that the Church is falling into ruin.

Church leaders blame the advance of secularism for the falling away from the practice of religion. There is a perception that Church leaders themselves have drifted away from the way of life revealed by Jesus Christ. What has happened to the new commandment of love? What do men and women, young people, see today when they look at the Catholic Church? What impression does it create? And does it matter who ministers, who celebrates, who decides, if Christian communities have no future?

Early in its history the Church organized itself as a monarchy. Those who adopt such styles of authority are not known for their openness and transparency, nor for their inclusiveness. They speak in language understood by few. They do not understand the anxieties and concerns of ordinary people. This can be changed.

The Catholic Church is one of the bearers of the message of Christ. Within that community can be proposed, especially to our young people, a belief and a purposeful way of life based on the teaching of Christ and his example of generous service.

We celebrate in 2012 the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The plans for commencing the repair of the house of God may be found in the documents of that inspiring Council.

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Open Forum Conference Notes

Context: With an attendance of over 80 people, the Conference theme was addressed by three speakers as follows:

Sr. Anne Codd
Fr. James O’Halloran
Garry O’Sullivan

The papers presented by each speaker are available but this report does not propose to reiterate the points addressed. It will however present an overview of the question and answer session that followed each presentation, which were lively and robust.

Following the inputs from the speakers, conference participants broke into small groups to address the question;

‘What can we do to rebuild our Church?’

There were ten groups and each group presented two key points back to the main forum which was followed by an open discussion session. The outcomes from this session are outlined in this report. Comment and input was wide ranging but the paper reflects a summary of the debate and discussion which took place

Finally it should be noted that this report is intended to augment and complement the recording of the conference undertaken by Eist on behalf of Pobal De. Discs are available and provide a comprehensive and detailed note of all conference proceedings and outcomes.

A: Conference Speakers – Questions and Answers

Sr. Anne Codd
Questions Raised:

Where is the ‘movement’ happening?

Dialogue has to be two way, but being told we are not permitted to discuss some issues prevents real dialogue. It is reminiscent of the ‘thought police’ approach.
The sense of community beyond the Parish structure is questionable and there is a sense of disconnection with structures beyond the Parish. For example the idea for the establishment of the Diocesan Pastoral Councils was dropped. Why? This will not be resolved until the relationship between the Priests Council and the Diocesan Council is addressed.

If the Church of Ireland is happy to welcome us into their Church and participate in their celebrations, why can we not do the same and return the compliment?
In relation to the Hierarchy, what do they think about the way the Church has developed? What are they going to do? We are getting no real leadership from the Hierarchy.

Overview of Ann’s Response to Questions:

Anne did not wish to get into defending the Church but did not accept the concept of ‘thought policing’ indicating that “nobody can ‘unbaptise’ me”. The discipline of the Church however is another matter.

The movement, through the Parish Councils for example, are indicators of life. There is a real problem in our theological methods, there being a need for us to become theologically learned and knowledgeable to enable us to argue the case.

As a model of working for change, Anne made reference to the ‘Swiss Cheese’ method – we can only push walls when we fill the spaces available to us. Local authority can go wherever the local incumbent takes it – get informed, find the norms, call people – including pastors – to conversation.

Finally, in the system as a whole there is enormous fear, pain, uncertainty and disenchantment. No one has ownership on this. We all have to work together.

Fr. James O’Halloran
Questions Raised:

Can you see us being part of the decision making?

In relation to the basic community celebration of the Eucharist, when there is no priest present it can be a wonderful experience. The Church is all about sacrifice. How does community celebrate the Eucharist and what it means?
In communities of East Africa, small communities of women gather around issues, based in villages and are interdenominational. They are struggling to survive in the face of the local church. They do not see the connection between the Church and what they are trying to do.

In relation to equality, on the agenda of events for the International Eucharistic Congress there is a theme on ‘Communion in Marriage and Family’ which will be addressed by 3 main speakers, none of whom are women. We need to speak out against such occurrences of exclusion.
Have you come across communities in Ireland where there is apathy and how do we overcome it?

Overview of Fr. James Response to Questions:

In relation to being a part of the decision making processes, sadly he does not see us being part of it. Church renewal needs to come from the ground up but there is a sense that with Parish Councils, we are putting the roof on before we have addressed the foundation. There is a need to speak out and speak your word.

It is important to be ecumenical and inclusive in the celebration of the communion of the Eucharist. There are many examples of small human communities, such as those in East Africa, and these are critically important. They are ecumenical communities.

There are communities where there is apathy and as a means of addressing this Fr. James would encourage groups of all kinds, whether religious or secular. There is a need for communities of communities. There is a difference between groups and communities, the former can come and go, but communities tend to remain. The building of communities, however small can begin to address apathy.

We need to rebuild and revitalise. Hierarchical community is an oxymoron and a contradiction in terms. We need to befriend one another in God. God is community and Jesus modelled that community. If we are not a part of the decision making how can we be a part of the community?

Garry O’ Sullivan

Questions Raised:

Do we not have a duty as the baptised to go out and be energised?

Relationships v’s Structures – should it always be an either or situation?
If we wait for everything to fall we will have nothing left. Do we not need to start constructing now?

The Association of Catholic Priests ignores the laity. How many believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well when the Embassy in the Vatican is being closed?
Looking at the historical clerical church and a time of different rearing, we need to ask the question ‘do we work on human relationships?’ as we can no longer talk to each other. We have listened but we cannot get on and get over it.

What roles can the Catholic and mainstream media play in relation to church?
Do we not need good teachers within our church? There are Christian communities that are thriving – can we not learn from this?

Overview of Gary’s Response to Questions:

We do have individual responsibilities – we should be out there and trying to energise and revitalise in our own way. We are all different and we all come in different ways. It would be good to see a whole Christian community which is inclusive and all encompassing.

If structures are good, relationships will follow. If relationships are good and true, they will not tolerate poor structures. Are we going to go for relationships or go for structural change which is not coming from the top down?

Media have a very real role to play. In particular we need a strong Catholic media as secular papers become less interested. We do not have a good history of discussion and debate. We need to address this and media have a role to play in this.

B. Conference Participants – Their Views

Addressing the question ‘What can we do to rebuild our church?’, the feedback from the small group sessions highlighted the following as possibilities and options for the future:

Use a languagethat is understood by all, particularly younger generations. It should be a language that can be used by all and easily applied to the scriptures and liturgies. Inappropriate language, such as that which excludes the female, can be offensive and can cause exclusion.

Acknowledge the positive and good in contemporary life and build on this. There is a lot which is good and this can form the basis for moving forward.
Develop communities, including the family as a community. Continue to build, develop support and nourish our communities. Reflect this back to our understanding of the Kingdom of God, bringing prayer life into communities.

Conversation and dialogue within and between communities needs to be supported. Open dialogue is critical for reflection and understanding. There is a need for multiple fora’s for dialogue, building relationships and providing for diverse opinion and voices to be heard.
Facilitate and support adult faith development and education in response to the needs of people to connect scripture with their daily life. This needs to come from the ground up rather than a top down approach. Theological education will facilitate greater understanding of faith and spirituality and its connection with daily living. Adult catechists could support the church development and could be further augmented by child catechists, similar to the Sunday school model.

There needs to be accountability at a number of levels – financial, parish councils, etc. And appropriate structures need to be put in place to accommodate effective accountability.
Small groups such as family mass groups, prayer groups, etc, need to be supported, developed and let grow. This includes adapting them to needs of people, e.g., timing of when they meet should accommodate those working. These are the new models for the church and facilitate a move away from hierarchies and monarchies.

Greater information exchange on practice and experiences can be supportive of ongoing development. Open up the church and in doing so we provide opportunity for faith formation and development. Reclaim the broad church.
There is a need to reach out particularly to young people and those outside of the church. This includes those who have lapsed and the marginalised. The hierarchy needs to understand that the church is not relevant to groups such as these. Let us make it a church of many in real terms.

There is a personal responsibility at individual level for us all to reclaim the baptism of Christ, open up to the spirit of prayer and put Jesus and inclusiveness at the centre of all that we do.
There is a need to be cognisant of structures and relationships – can one service the other; are they mutually exclusive or inextricably linked. Development of solid relationships can support the development of appropriate structures, but similarly good structures can support the development of good relationships.

Finally, there was a clear sense that the voice of the people as outlined through the feedback above should not be lost. There is a need to build on the discussions of the conference, taking the thinking and comment forward and continue to build a voice for the people within their church.

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