Catholics across the Diocese of Derry continue to have affection and respect for their priests.
This is one of the key conclusions to emerge from a series of discussions across the diocese ahead of next year’s global get-together on synodality in Rome.
The local process involved hundreds of Catholics engaging with the church on their hopes for what the church can be today and tomorrow. The Derry ‘synthesis’ will now be submitted to form part of a national synthesis.
In the Derry conversations, the celebration of Mass was recognised by many as central to the practice of their faith. Participating in the Mass was missed by many during the Covid pandemic.
Others said that they weren’t getting nourished deeply in the Church - “they are hanging on by their fingertips.’ It was said that some people feel wounded but are still passionate about their church. Others described the Church as “losing touch” with one person likening it to a “field hospital”.
Participants spoke of some people feeling judged or excluded by the Church or faith community- or felt the need to exclude themselves -because of their life experiences, their experiences of Church or church community or their life choices. This prevented some individuals from coming to Mass or volunteering to be part of parish ministries.Many spoke of their disappointment and shame associated with historical abuse within the Church as well as in other organisations.
People welcomed how technology and social media, used correctly, had enhanced the “sense of communion” but stressed that it could not replace “the importance of gathering in person as part of the community”.
Webcam at Mass had, the discussions heard, a very important role to play during the pandemic, serving as an ‘emotional and spiritual connection’ and continued to be for those unable to attend church. Indeed, it was said that there were those who hadn’t engaged with Mass before who started to engage during the pandemic because it gave access to community.
The dialogue pointed to a “disconnect” between faith being learned in school but not practised or discussed at home or in the parish. Older people said they were worried about having lost the young people in the Church and missed having young people there.
Separately, young people shared their sense of disconnect and exclusion from gathering with older people and of being “misread”.
Like many others, young people felt strongly about the “perceived exclusion” of the LGBTQ+ community and women within the Church.
They spoke of a strong sense of condemnation by the Church, especially of women, particularly around sexual issues like pregnancy outside marriage, contraception and abortion.
The groups mentioned most frequently in parish conversations as being excluded from the Church were gay people, those who are divorced or separated and those in second relationships.
In the conversations in the Derry City deanery, it was expressed that many people in the diocese are still suffering from the effects of the Troubles. The problems of addiction issues, suicides, tragedies involving young people, and poverty are very prevalent. Those affected by such issues may feel isolated, are searching for connection and feel helpless.
It also emerged that some priests shared that they have to move between dealing with very emotionally difficult situations to more joy-filled parish events at a moment’s notice. Participants also expressed a concern that parishes need to reach out more actively to those who feel scarred by poverty and loss.
There was frequent mention of the positive leadership, the affection and respect that people hold for their priests and the Bishop, and the importance of the role of the priest in the parish. Several people spoke of lay skills and knowledge needing to be supported and developed in parishes.
One priest queried the identity and role of the priest in a Synodal Church where the voices were mainly lay. He described how some priests were feeling ‘edged out’ with diminishing power and relevancy, remarking that it was ‘sore on the psyche.’ He said priests needed assistance in being a priest in a different way in a Synodal Church. Other participants spoke of the importance of priests and lay people walking together in learning about and living out a Synodal Church.
There was a widespread belief that a “circular model” of parish was better than a hierarchical model, where priest and laity work alongside each other.
The permanent diaconate role was raised in many conversations, along with the ministry of catechist, the ordination of women, allowing priests to marry and welcoming back married priests as a means of addressing the falling numbers of priests and the decline in vocations to the priesthood compared to in times past.
The diocesan synthesis concludes that the process was marked “by much more enthusiasm than rancour” with much to celebrate and be positive about in the Church at present.
○ The Diocese of Derry Synod Synthesis can be read in full online at https://www.derrydiocese.org/news/synod-synthesis