Today, Catholic LGBT and ally pilgrims from the U.S. are bound for Ireland, sponsored by New Ways Ministry. Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, will be the spiritual leader of this pilgrimage group traveling to the “land of rainbows and wedding bells.” Once there, we will celebrate Ireland’s successful referendum last year that legalized marriage equality, as well as meeting with two Irish Catholic LGBT groups along the way.
We will arrive to good news out of Limerick, where Catholics just concluded a diocesan synod last night after 18 months of listening and of dialogue. Last weekend, 400 delegates gathered for the synod, which was described by Bishop Brendan Leahy as the “distilling of the wisdom of the listening that has gone on across the 60 parishes of our diocese of Limerick.”
Delegates considered 100 proposals about church teaching and practice that emerged from a listening process, which included meetings with 1,500 people and other input from more than 5,000 people. The Irish Times reported on one proposal related to LGBT Catholics:
“A proposal to reach out to those hurt by the church including women who have had abortions, members of the LGBT community and people who have spent time in church institutions was overwhelmingly supported on the first day of the synod.
“Some 52 per cent of the delegates ‘strongly supported’ the proposal with 38 per cent expressing more general support.”
Fr. Eamon Fitzgibbon, synod director, commented afterwards about the importance of recognizing the harm church leaders have caused LGBT people:
” ‘We are all too well aware of people who have been hurt by the church in the past. I suppose even most recently with the marriage equality referendum, a lot of people voiced hurt and concern, for example with how the LGBT community might have felt alienated.’ “
Before the synod met, Bishop Leahy acknowledged that the church must admit its wrongs in order to do “our part to repair and remedy.” He told The Irish Catholic:
“We need to acknowledge the failure and disappointment we see in our own wounds, those at the heart of the Church, in all that has not been right in the Church, in the complex situations of the world around us.”
Leahy told the Limerick Post that the synod was an opportunity to apologize to those hurt by the church and to reach out out them “as much as we can.” You can read more of the bishop’s worthwhile thoughts about why he called this synod and what impact it could have by clicking here.
This gathering was the first diocesan synod in Limerick in 80 years and the first in Ireland in 50 years. Beyond the six themes around which delegates conversed (Community & Sense of Belonging; Faith Formation; Pastoral Care of the Family; New Models of Leadership; Liturgy and Life; Young People), “universal issues” were considered such as LGBT issues and even the ordination of women.
Most delegates were lay Catholics, including a significant number of women, with clergy and religious numbering about 100. Bishop Charles John Brown, papal nuncio to Ireland, who bore an Apostolic Blessing for the event from Pope Francis, also attended. Synod Director, Fr. Fitzgibbons, noted that besides parish delegates, representatives from “education, healthcare, communities within the city, inter-faith delegates – Polish community, immigrant delegates” were included. Bishop Leahy described the process to the Limerick Leader:
“It was launched in 2014, and then opened up a whole journey of contacting and building bridges with all kinds of people, to discuss the future directions of our Diocese. That was step one. We now actually have the event itself, which will be for three very full days of deliberations, discussions, and that will be a very, very important moment.
“After that comes the actual making up of all that policy as it were; once the decisions are taken and recommendations are given to me, then I have the task of producing a programme for government – somebody used that image and there is an element of that about it – I have the task to make that policy and implement it basically.”
Bishop Leahy seems to respect Catholics’ voices, as he called this synodal process a “people-led journey” because the “the people decided what would be on the agenda and the people voted.”
The people of God in Limerick, led by Bishop Leahy, have offered a living witness for dioceses worldwide about how to listen to victims of the church’s violence, how to learn from the wisdom of Catholics’ lived realities, how to dialogue about sharp differences, and how to move forward in faith as one Body in Christ. More synods should begin this lengthy, but meaningful process by calling diocesan and national synods and enacting the localized governance called for by Pope Francis.
As Frank DeBernardo and I, your faithful bloggers, join other pilgrims in our journey across Ireland, celebrating equality and praising God in prayer, we will give thanks for the people of God in Ireland who have expanded LGBT rights in society and sought justice in the church. In a special way, we carry in our hearts and our minds all of you, our blog readers and New Ways Ministry supporters, who faithfully work each day for LGBT equality!
If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email request, containing your postal address to info@NewWaysMinistry.org.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry