Print

A Call To Action (ACTA) synodal representation  for Portsmouth and Arundel & Brighton Dioceses 

Introduction 

A Call To Action is a Roman Catholic charity based in England and Wales. We seek to ‘… contribute  fully to the life of our Church so that we may be a more effective sign of the Kingdom of God. To do  this, we believe that an atmosphere of openness and dialogue both with each other and with  our Church leadership needs developing. Accordingly, we aim to supply channels of free and frank  communication. We desire to help create a climate of trust and respect for all where this dialogue  may be fostered.’ 

We welcome the theology of embarking on a synodal journey and restoring the idea of a synodal  Church, and we welcome the opportunity to contribute to the listening process and dialogue. 

 

We are aware that in our dioceses the official channels to begin what should be a transformatory  experience have fallen far short of a transformatory experience. There are plenty of parishes where  either nothing or very little has happened, and we are also aware that dialogue with those on the  periphery has been very limited. 

Our contribution has been to invite supporters of ACTA to participate in two listening group sessions.  Although the meetings were hosted by ACTA in Portsmouth, invitations were sent out to supporters  and parish friends in both Portsmouth and Arundel & Brighton dioceses, and both dioceses were  represented. 

Invitation to take part 

We emailed out our invitation in mid-January and we advertised the theme of our listening sessions  as: Seeking a new way of being Church. 

We wrote: 

Pope Francis is inviting us to take part in a new way of being Church, returning to the early Christian  traditions of synodality. He writes to us all encouraging us to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in  preparation for a synod in 2023: 

‘… humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium.’ 

With the mailout, we sent out extracts of the synodal preparation document ‒ the Vademecum ‒ along with some possible discussion points, though we stressed that these were only possible points  for discussion. These are attached in the Appendix. 

We held our listening sessions on 24th January, with a follow up on 31st January. A total of 25 people  attended the sessions. Two attended only the second session. 

Structure of the meetings 

The meetings were held online using Zoom. We opened both meetings using the synodal prayer from the Vademecum. For the first session, there was a short PowerPoint presentation explaining  the rationale for the synodal journey, stressing that it should not be a ‘corporate consultation  exercise’ but a ‘spiritual process’. 

We then split into two listening groups chaired by a facilitator and with a note-taking secretary. We  explained that the notes would form the basis for our submission. Each listening session was for 60  minutes. Afterwards, we had a short plenary session followed by a closing prayer. 

What follows are the reports from both of the groups.

Group 1 discussion notes 

Session 1 

Context 

Members were invited in turn to raise a particular concern arising from their own experiences in  their local church with some suggestions for moving forward on these. 

Issues raised 

The main issue voiced by the whole group was the significant impact of the varying attitudes of  individual parish priests on the development of parish life. One or two examples of forward-looking  priests were given where the impact has been very positive, but frequently any positive progress is  undone by a change in parish priest over which a parish has no control. This often leads to the  alienation of some parishioners and a decline in parish numbers. 

Members gave examples of aspects of parish life that had been adversely affected by the backward looking attitude and/or the determined control of the particular parish priest. The aspect mentioned  by almost all concerned the level of involvement of the laity in any significant participation in  decision-making or in running the parish and in the development of lay ministries. Another area was  liturgy, with some members citing an over-emphasis on the Mass, its language, adoration and  confession rather than on promoting worship as a shared communal experience. Some members  were concerned by a lack of appropriate adult formation which could promote a broader  understanding of faith and of God and our relationship with him, while a few others felt there should  be more opportunities for spiritual development and direction, which they had only found in  ecumenical groups or organisations outside the parish. 

Closely related to these issues, several members raised the problem of the loss of young people  from teenage years onwards, (the future church?) who are alienated by what they see and  experience in the church and consequently regard it as irrelevant to their lives. It was suggested that  parishes could be given more support to walk alongside young people, encouraging open and frank  discussions with them and involving them in issues that are important to them and very much part  of Christian living, such as climate change, sexuality, equality, diversity, justice and peace and the  environment. 

Other suggestions made by individual members for moving forward on issues raised included the  creation of a permanent pastoral body at diocesan and parish level, mandated by the diocese to  enable negotiations with an incoming parish priest about roles and participation; creating greater  transparency and communication between the hierarchy, clergy and laity; learning from other  Christian churches, especially from their outward looking approach and involvement in local  communities. One view expressed was that the inability of the hierarchy and clergy in general to  listen and respond, together with the inertia of many church members meant that the old system  would have to die to allow the new to emerge. 

Session 2 (issues not previously raised) 

Animals  

A strong view was expressed that animals are ignored in all aspects of the church. This might be  helped by having a green/environmental group in every parish. 

The structure and pattern of the priesthood 

There was general agreement that change is needed to enable a truly synodal church. The increasing  shortage of priests together with an ageing clergy will inevitably force change in the roles of the  priest and the laity. There needs to be a transformation in the training of priests to enable them to  understand the reality and challenges of daily living. Married priests are more likely to have a

balanced and rounded understanding of the problems of modern society. Married ordinariate parish  priests are already accepted and appointed, so there is no good reason not to widen this choice to  others. 

Women in the church 

Church structures, authority and decision-making are still tightly controlled by a celibate clergy and this is the main cause for the alienation of so many women around the world who feel excluded and  undervalued. The church preaches but does not practice equality. It has ignored the change in the  role of women seen in society over the last 50 years. 

There was some discussion on two issues raised in the first session on ways forward. 

Young people 

It is crucial that their views on the Church are included in the synodal process through parishes and  schools. It was suggested that every diocese should have lay youth leaders to support parishes and  to promote even stronger ties between parishes, schools and parents. It was felt important to  encourage young people to set up projects themselves in parishes and in local communities to  support those in need and for them to have some understanding of Catholic Social Teaching. 

Spirituality 

It was felt that lay people are often better examples and leaders of personal prayer and spiritual  direction. The greater sharing of authors and books on spirituality and liturgy that others have found  helpful was suggested e.g., Richard Rohr, Thomas O'Loughlin. 

Group 2 discussion notes 

Session 1 

The group appeared divided with two different approaches to the subject. 

The first group, probably the majority, felt that changes were necessary in the Church and tended to  concentrate on the ministry. 

They wanted to see the ordination of married men, possibly mature and well instructed men taken  out of the local community and the ordination of those already ordained as full-time deacons to the  presbyterate and they wanted to see women in the ministry, first as deacons and ultimately as  priests. 

There was also a need for priests to be more carefully selected so that they might be better spiritual  advisors, confessors and better preachers of the Word. This would not preclude them being married. This would also allow those with other gifts in the community to exercise these gifts and, effectively,  look after the running of the parish community, thus leaving the priest to his particular ministry  

which was seen, not as a jack of all trades but as the spiritual leader. 

The loss of the young was not really addressed except to hope that the sort of community  envisaged might attract some of them back. The language problem was also mentioned in that the  institutional church and many of us speak a language which is not understood by the ordinary  person in the street. It was also felt that a greater effort ought to be made to welcome  the marginalised, divorced and remarried, gay people, etc. 

A final but passionate plea was made for the Church to revise its attitudes towards the animal  creation and to recognise animals as sentient beings that ought to be treated with respect and not  used for human convenience 

The second group which were the minority favoured a totally radical approach summed up by one as  'Scrap the institution and start again'! These few felt that the institution was either irredeemable or

possibly doomed to die, given time. It was felt that an initiative ought to be taken now to form small  groups of like-minded people which would include those that had felt marginalised, those of other  churches and even those of no particular religion at all. These groups would meet regularly, break  bread and share food together and search together for the way forward, conscious that they were  Church, not separated from the institutional Church but finding a new way of being Church which it  was felt would eventually supersede the old way. They would also be involved in 'Kingdom' projects  such as caring for refugees, the homeless, etc. and perhaps, in that way, attract others, young  people in particular, to join them. 

Session 2 

As with the first session, there was a division between those who wanted to change the Church as  we have it and those that supported a more fundamental change. Both groups felt that the Church  needed to change, and a lot of the responsibility for little happening was laid at the feet of the  priests. 

The Sign we give had been discovered by one participant in the group and it was suggested that  everything in that document was relevant to our present situation and the question raised was why  has it never happened? The only answer offered was that it was a document from on high which  hadn’t been embraced by the clergy for the most part and so came to nothing. 

It was also noted that almost nothing seemed to be being done to attract those on the periphery of  the church in this synodality process or in the wider arena. 

The success of some evangelical/charismatic churches was noted and the fact that all age groups  seemed to be attracted by them, but it was questioned whether there was any depth to what was  being taught. 

The lack of young people was also noted. There were several suggested ways forward. We should  explore post confirmation age contact through the schools, to use our contact with servers, and to  explore issues that are relevant to them through those contact groups. There was the possibility of  retreats and working with and alongside schools in a way that could overcome tricky safeguarding  issues. 

Among the minority in the group that desired a more fundamental change, there was a desire to  start smaller groups that would be open and welcoming to all and which might attract some younger  people if they were seen to be involved in the world with refugee projects, climate change, etc.

Appendix: Possible discussion points 

Pope Francis has invited us to 'dream' about the future of our Church. Beginning with our own local  Church, we can imagine how our Church ought to be for it to be a community: - where we can truly love one another, 

- to which we could invite those who have moved away from the institutional church - to which we can say 'Come and see' to any who are interested in the Christian way, - where all would be listened to and heard, especially the young, 

- where all will feel truly welcome and valued, 

- that is involved in the world, 

- co-operating with those of every faith and none, 

- working for justice, peace and the survival of our planet, 

- whose worship is simple and sincere, 

- where its ministry springs from among its members.