THERE WAS widespread disappointment among the Irish faithful that in Pope Benedict’s letter last March, “child sex abuse was not seen as a symptom of shortcomings in structure and function in the church”, according to an Irish bishop.
They felt there was “no critique of the role of the Vatican, and there is little or no acknowledgment of the exclusion of lay people from roles where they can make significant contribution”, Bishop Séamus Freeman has said.
After publication of the Pope’s letter, Cardinal Séan Brady invited people to respond to it.
Since then, “a huge amount of work has been undertaken within the church to pave the way to a hopeful future”, said Bishop Freeman, who is chairman of the Bishops’ Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development.
More than 3,000 people contributed written responses to the papal letter, with “just over a quarter of these” coming through diocesan channels, he said.
A fifth were from lay associations, and almost half from religious communities.
The remainder were from informed groups and individuals.
In parishes and dioceses across the country “people who love the church have been talking”, he noted.
“They know that the past failings of the church were at wide variance with its mission. This truth is painful for all of us, and it begs the question: ‘Why?’”
Throughout the feedback there was a vision of a church “marked by service, equality, simplicity, truthfulness, humility, inclusion and of compassion for all”, he said.
He also noted that while there were requests that the use of titles, insignia and exclusive language be examined, there were also requests that “particular attention should be given to our Celtic spirituality, and to the place of young people in the church”.
Practically all respondents were encouraged “that the Pope’s letter recognised the church as the community of all the baptised”.
However, many did not concur with the view that they should themselves repent for the sins of others.
Many respondents called for dialogue relating to sexuality, clerical celibacy and the exclusion of women (not just from ordination), while some called for greater transparency with regard to church law and how the church functions.
Bishop Freeman noted that “this year, the church in Ireland has experienced the beginnings of structured dialogue at many levels”.
Referring to this as a healthy development, Bishop Freeman said it “can inform a vibrant strategy for the renewal of the church in Ireland”.