Listening sessions in an Irish diocese have found an overwhelmingly majority of Catholics supporting changes in the church’s teachings on homosexuality, a finding that is “signs of life” according to one former priest and could enable a new future for the church.
The Diocese of Killala, which covers parts of County Mayo and County Sligo, initiated a listening process called “Placing Hope in Faith” to discuss “contemporary challenges facing the church,” according to The Irish News. Through a survey, focus groups, a diocesan assembly, and other methods, local Catholics were asked for their thoughts. The results were quite positive for church reformers:
“Finally, 86 per cent want church teaching on homosexuality to be changed and that all those excluded from the church, regardless of sexuality, marital or family status be accepted as full members.
Elsewhere in the survey, respondents reported wanting married priests (81%), women deacons (80%), and women priests (69%). Denis Bradley, a former priest and columnist for The Irish News, explained further about the process and its significance:
” ‘After a very thorough period of discussion and reflection, the hundreds of people involved were given an assurance that all suggestions that emerged and that were within the competence (authority) of the local bishop would be implemented as diocesan policy.’
” ‘Suggestions that the bishop couldn’t implement without the authority of the wider church would be sent on to the Irish Bishops Conference and to the Papal Nuncio to be passed on to authorities in Rome.’ “
Bradley commented that the results were “radical,” “interesting and refreshing,” and “signs of life” for the church.
The listening process, which began in 2018 and has involved hundreds of Catholics, will continue this year with initiatives to be implemented next year. Bishop John Fleming has been clear that all are welcome to participate, including those people who have left the church and with a particular emphasis on young people. He cited Pope Francis as inspiration, quoting the pope on listening:
“Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.”
In related news from Ireland, the nation’s former president, Mary McAleese, has been awarded the prestigious Alfons Auer Ethics Prize from the Catholic Faculty of Theology at Tübingen University in Germany. McAleese is an extremely vocal advocate for LGBTQ equality, doing so alongside her son who is gay. She was a vocal advocate in favor of marriage equality during Ireland’s referendum in 2015, saying that the Yes vote would “right a glaring wrong.” After International Women’s Day was barred from meeting at the Vatican because McAleese was an invited speaker, she made some of her strongest comments, stating that “a Church that is homophobic and anti-abortion is not the church of the future. . . Can this tragic dysfunction really be what God wants? I think not. Let us now begin to imagine a completely different future.”
Scandals have left the Irish church deeply weakened and forced to confront difficult realities. A survey of priests in Killala found that by 2037, the diocese would have roughly three to six priests to serve twenty-two parishes. Such shortages nationwide, along with disapproval by the faithful of the hierarchy’s approach to many issues, including LGBTQ inclusion, have forced church leaders such as Bishop Fleming to acknowledge the church needs to be reformed and renewed. McAleese is quite right in the need to imagine a different future. The process which the Diocese of Killala has undertaken is indeed a hopeful sign that envisioning such a future is possible. More listening in dioceses worldwide would be a great gift to the People of God.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 13, 2019