Many lay people find the Catholic Church to be ‘judgemental and condemning’
A team of vocational, missionary and catechetical experts has been assembled to compile a synthesis of reports from the dioceses of England and Wales on the synodal process so far.
Earlier this year, lay people were invited to meet and discuss issues within the Catholic Church as part of a “listening” process that is part of the preparation for the Synod on Synodality convened by Pope Francis and planned for next year.
The diocesan syntheses were submitted to the bishops on the Friday before Holy Week and a national syntheses team began drafting the final document for England and Wales which will be sent to Rome by August 15 this year. .
According to an initial analysis of diocesan reports for The tablet there is a “sense of unity of voice” with which lay Catholics have spoken.
“Emerging themes could have been written before the synod was even convened: the role of women, poor communications, insufficient efforts to engage young people,” says Frank Callus, president of A call to action, which promotes respect and dialogue in the Church. He reports that there are substantial reasons to hope for results from the synodal process.
However, inevitably, serious problems have already arisen and will have to be solved.
Callus writes in a Tablet blog: “In this sense, at least, the synod confirmed what we already knew. And that, paradoxically, is not the object of the synod. It was not a popular vote to change the Church or an opportunity to defeat those who occupy another part of the bandwidth that is modern Catholicism. It is a prayerful reflection on what God calls us to be. What has been produced is the first iteration, the first expression of a plea for a Church closer to the Gospel, more in tune with the Sermon on the Mount.
In many of the responses to the Synod there was a strong feeling that the Church should be there for everyone. However, many lay people expressed the view that the Church seems to judge and condemn and that there should be more emphasis on commonalities with others rather than differences.
Too often the Catholic Church has been seen as censured. Secularists have called for a more tolerant attitude towards people considered to be in irregular relationships and members of LGBTQ+ communities
“It seems that the laity are setting an example for bishops in shaping the Church towards the model of the field hospital envisioned by Pope Francis,” Callus writes.
Many felt that the Church generally does not respond well to change, with authority and decision-making being centralized. There have been examples of this at all levels, from the institution of the new translation of the Mass and the banning of the Extraordinary Rite, to the individual pastoral decisions of priests.
Callus also describes from diocesan reports a general feeling that the Church has lost its voice in the public square. Moreover, an issue that appears in almost all diocesan reports is that of the development and formation of the laity. “The laity and clergy of England and Wales were ill-prepared for this synodal process, and the past few months have demonstrated a lack of knowledge and understanding of some basic elements of ecclesiology.”
The place of women in the Church and particularly in terms of leadership and ministry roles was evident in the vast majority of reports. “In a Western European society with equality legislation for half a century, the Church’s position on women was seen as anachronistic and harmful. The vast majority of lay people who contributed to the synodal discussions felt that the Church, rather than leading society in terms of justice, was actually undermining its own moral legitimacy.
The clerical sex abuse scandal was mentioned in the vast majority of reports. “The impact on the Church was still being felt and many considered that it had caused incalculable damage. In almost all cases, the issue was presented in a separate statement in the report. It has often been presented both as a cause for many to leave the Church and as a difficulty in carrying out the primary role of the Church in evangelism,” reports Callus.
His analysis comes after the first meeting of the national synthesis team in April. The team’s initial results were presented to the Bishops at their meeting in Cardiff last week.
A national gathering of the synod of bishops and lay people who helped produce the submissions will soon take place in St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, when a first draft of the national summary will be considered.
Members of the National Synthesis Team are Sarah Adams, Director of the Department of Adult Education and Evangelism for the Diocese of Clifton, Dominic Belli de Menevia, Papal Biographer Dr Austen Ivereigh, Dr Mary McCaughey, Lecturer in Theology at St Mary’s College, Oscott, Dr Mark Nash, director of the Southwark Evangelical and Catechetical Agency,
Rev Jan Nowotnik, mission director for the episcopal conference, Sr Elaine Penrice FSP, daughter of St Paul and director of the national office of vocations, canon Christopher Thomas, secretary general of the episcopal conference, Kate Wilkinson of Liverpool and under the episcopal trusteeship of the Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson and Bishop of Leeds Marcus Stock.