24 April 2015, The Tablet

Laity need to believe the bishops care about their survey responses

by Fr John Feeney

Someone rang me this week to ask what had happened to the report from our recent consultation for the forthcoming Synod on Marriage and Family life. I had to admit that the report was on my desk but I hadn’t yet put it out in the parish. It made me wonder why, and I concluded that I am getting caught up in the inertia in the diocese about the Synod, which is such a shame.

The four parishes of West Wirral had invited parishioners to a meeting to discuss the Synod in March. Led by local priest Fr Peter Phillips, we marched into a local parish hall to find around 100 parishioners, many over 50, eager for the discussion. It was a fabulous occasion and very humbling. They considered areas such as marriage preparation, responsible parenthood, marital breakdown, homosexuality and gay relationships. The overwhelming mood was of sympathy and understanding. Ordinary people, experienced people, having lived their lives and probably been shocked from time to time by their children and grandchildren, really wanted the “Church” to understand, be more caring and to show Jesus’ love.

Now, having met, what do we do about it? “Send the response to the bishops’ conference” is the party line, but they ask, what is that going to do?

Fifteen years ago Brian Noble, the previous Bishop of Shrewsbury, launched a pastoral review of his diocese. He asked every deanery to discuss circulated papers about how the mission of the diocese could be sustained over the next 20 years. It didn’t dodge issues, it made the facts clear but more than anything, it made clear that he, as bishop, wanted to hear what the people in the parishes felt about sustaining their future.

More than that, he asked every deanery to hold public meetings so that the people in each area could have their say. To each of these meetings he sent a trustee or a representative to work through the consultation. At the end he published a glossy magazine containing the outcomes from every one of those meetings. He asked, he listened and as a consequence he made decisions, sometimes hard decisions, but he brought the people with him. Happy times and real and valuable consultation!

That is what we want from our bishops. We need to see a published response from all the laity of all the dioceses across the country. This is too important to allow some portly bishop’s secretary to fudge a report for Rome. This is about marriage and family life, and it is those who live those lives who should be agreeing what is sent to Rome on their behalf.

To me it is scary that a letter from a disconnected group of priests asking the Pope to maintain the status quo on the Church’s attitude to marriage could get the publicity it did [http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1909/0/cardinal-rebukes-priests-for-publicising-call-to-resist-reform] and even a put-down from Cardinal Nichols, when the cries of the ordinary parishioners for understanding have not even raised an eyebrow!

If the bishops are looking for a model of good practice on how to make a response, I suggest they ring Brian Noble and he, lovely man he is, will no doubt give sound advice.

Fr John G Feeney is the parish priest of Leasowe and Moreton in the diocese of Shrewsbury

What do you think?


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User comments (10)

Comment by: rosem
Posted: 28/04/2015 22:04:31

It is not a question whether or not it makes a difference or increases church attendance It is a matter of justice and applying the teaching of Jesus. Nobody checked the sexual orientation or marriage status at the last supper.It is a scandal that people are turned away from the Eucharistic because of a particular status. When the church authorities wake up to the mind of the people the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 28/04/2015 19:19:55

Joss, yes a very good point. What about the other questions. Do they not matter anymore?

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 28/04/2015 15:17:51

Margaret I am a sinner too. Thanks for your reply and forgive me for any offence.

Comment by: Margaret
Posted: 27/04/2015 11:19:04

Denis, I don't know what your situation is, but as a divorced Catholic I'd be more likely to return to Mass-going on a regular basis if I didn't feel such a pariah because of the Church's attitude to those in second marriages, even though I'm not in one myself. I'm sure others would be the same, even though, not unreasonably, some would not.

Although, I must admit, the Church's attitude to the gay people amongst our family and friends and the wider community needs to change as well before there is a real impact on my church-going practices (i.e. less Lutheran, more Catholic)

What we sinners need to find is more Christianity in the Catholic church.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 25/04/2015 10:39:47

Thanks both to Phuu and cmarkod.
I don't mean to be unfeeling to those who find themselves in this sad situation, but I feel it is totally wrong to assume that any change in the Church's position on this matter will bring people back. I read Cardinal Marx's comments on this, only to feel he is addressing an audience, the vast majority of whom couldn't care less what the Church teaches, or what "accomodation" it makes regarding receiving communion.

Comment by: Bede2015
Posted: 24/04/2015 23:17:29

When, as a member of the laity, I discovered through the media that the Pope had invited Catholics to respond to the pre-synod survey I realised there had been not a word of this in the parish. I e-mailed my then parish priest to ask when parishioners would be given details of how to go about it. He responded that news would appear in the bulletin and indeed, so it was that an e-mail address was provided the following week.

I duly downloaded the document, did some reading around the laity-unfriendly bishop-speak paper and responded.
This must have taken me some three hours. No doubt it would have been easier if I'd had theology degree.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the same parish priest had been tasked with writing a diocesan summary of the responses.

I have little confidence that my views would have been acceptable let alone reflected in the summary.

I well remember a respected priest of some decades ago telling me the Catholic Church had never claimed to be democratic. This I accept. Nevertheless, it seems sad that the vast wisdom of Vatican II, the opening up of the church, has been put on hold by careerist princes of the church, portly or otherwise.

Mercifully, we have a new parish priest who lives the gospel and leads us with that same Vatican II wisdom and humility so that we, as laity, do not feel quite so far down the food chain.

I think I should probably have sent my response direct to the Pope.

Comment by: Joss
Posted: 24/04/2015 18:25:31

Denis - In the Lineamenta there are 46 questions about the family, only one of which is about "accommodation for divorced and remarried". How come the survey seems to have been reduced to this single question?
Surely the role of families as missionaries in the world is crucial? It doesn't seem to have been raised yet.

Comment by: Phuu
Posted: 24/04/2015 17:52:39

Is not the impact on the individuals what matters?

Comment by: cmarkod
Posted: 24/04/2015 16:42:06

I think it will make a difference to those people who currently feel rejected by the Church. In our Diocese, the Bishop has tasked a small team of laity to analyse responses to the consultation and to produce a report and I am one of those people. Consultation, involvement and feedback are great ways to shepherd and bring the people with you and I applaud any Bishop who is taking this approach. I am somewhat disappointed though as to the number of responses to date and the responses are skewed to the over 50's. I am also involved in local politics and canvassing indicates an apathy for voting, particularly among younger people. It makes me wonder what strategies would be useful for engaging more respondents, in particular, more young people?

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 24/04/2015 15:01:04

This issue has become a hot button one in what seems like a very short period of time, but how many people really think that if a greater accommodation is made for divorced and or remarried Catholics that, that will have any real impact on the life of the Church. My guess is that it will not make one iota of difference.

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