The Church is not a “club” and must welcome “all as equals” if it is to meet the challenge of becoming “truly synodal”, members of Catholic reform groups heard this week.
At a press conference ahead of the European Continental Assembly of the Synod on Synodality in Prague at the beginning of February, Colm Holmes of We Are Church Ireland reminded the online gathering of reform groups that the Synod’s invitation is to “Enlarge the space of your tent”.
Noting that 600 laity and clerics representing Europe will gather for four days in Prague, he lamented that only the 39 heads of bishops’ conferences will meet for the last two days.
“What affects all should be decided by all. Are these synods going to revert to the old and outdated model of bishops only? With only token representation of the laity?
“If this happens it will completely undermine Pope Francis’ synodal process,” he said.
In her call for full recognition, dignity and equality for women in the Church, Sophie Rudge, Co-president of Andante, the European Alliance of Catholic Women’s Organisations, who is also a representative of the Catholic Women’s Council, said: “Synodality is about extending the space of the tent.”
Admitting women to the diaconate, enabling women to preach, and opening positions of authority to women would have a transformative impact on the Church, she said.
Dr Luca Badini Confalonieri, director of research at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, said the Church “desperately needs a constitution”.
The revised Code of Canon Law maintained the exclusion of the laity from exercising governance, he said, thereby making true co-responsibility impossible.
It denied any institutional expression of the converging consensus of the Church, thus ensuring the laity would have no role in decision-making.
“We must work together to ensure that future recommendations of the synod produce concrete changes in canon law, in order to prevent the current clerical system from continuing by inertia,” he said.
Sr Philippa Rath OSB of the Abbey of St Hildegard in Ruedesheim-Eibingen, who is a delegate for the religious orders in the German Synodal Pathway, said that the German Church had succeeded in developing a new culture of interacting, based on the centuries-old practice of religious orders, with lay people, priests, bishops, members of religious communities, men and women, young and old working together.
Calling for a visible and valued participation of LGBT+ Catholics in the synod and in the life of the Church, Miroslav Matavka, Secretary of the Catholic Working Group of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, highlighted how especially in Eastern Europe, LGBT+ Catholics still encounter prejudices.
“Some local churches still push recommendations for the treatment of homosexuality or various offers to suppress gender identity.
“A common phenomenon in these countries is the attempt to polarise and use LGBT+ persons as a tool for agitating against developmental changes in society,” he warned.
He described the current synod as an important tool for building a Church which should be “a real home for all the baptised”.
Ludovica Eugenio, director of the weekly religious information magazine ADISTA, spoke about sexual and spiritual abuse and the need for reform in the Church.
She highlighted how the episcopate in Italy “stubbornly continues not really to want to investigate the real extent of the abuses”.