Reform and renewal – Prague gathering aims to chart new pathway for global Catholic church

Independent [Dublin, Ireland]

February 6, 2023

By Sarah Mac Donald

Delegates representing the Catholic Church in Ireland will join another 200 in-person and 390 online delegates from around Europe at an assembly in Prague today to hammer out recommendations on reform and renewal for global Catholicism.

The ground-breaking European Synodal Assembly in the Czech capital is the next stage in a radical process of widespread consultation within the church initiated by Pope Francis in 2021.

The gathering will agree a series of “priority calls to action” which may include recommending change on the position of women and on the church’s language on LGBTQ+ relationships.

The four Irish delegates who will attend the Assembly in person are led by the leader of the Irish church, Archbishop Eamon Martin. A further 10 delegates will attend the Assembly online.

According to Dr Martin the Irish team, “is conscious of our responsibility to bring the fruits of what has been shared in many gatherings across Ireland in the past 15 months or so”. He said, “important themes” had emerged regarding the need for healing and renewal and finding “fresh ways of offering hope”.

Fifteen themes emerged from the Irish church’s consultations with tens of thousands of people across Ireland’s 26 dioceses on the future direction of Catholicism.

They were published in a National Synthesis report published last August.

Among the recommendations was a call for leadership and decision-making roles for women, including ordination to the diaconate and priesthood, as well as greater inclusion of LGBTQ+ people.

The report described the concealment of physical, sexual and emotional abuse by church personnel as an “open wound” and said the church needs inner healing and must atone for abuse.

Other themes included concern over the major decline in the practice of the faith and in vocations to the priesthood and religious life; co-responsibility for lay people in church matters as well as greater accountability, transparency and good governance. 

One of the Irish delegates taking part in the Prague Assembly online, on behalf of the Irish church, is ex-journalist Ursula Halligan, who is joint coordinator of lay reform group, We Are Church Ireland.

Speaking to the Irish Independent she said, “As a Catholic gay woman I am delighted to be part of the Irish team taking part. I see my inclusion as a really positive sign and a sign of hope that our church is truly listening to one another and to the Holy Spirit.” 

Archbishop Martin told the Irish Independent that delegates will share and highlight “the main resonances from the listening they have been involved in at local and/or national level”. “Equally important will be the listening undertaken by delegates to identify themes or experiences that were not part of our experience in Ireland,” he said.

Irishman Colm Holmes will take part in a prayer vigil with other members of European Catholic reform movements outside the Pyramida Hotel in Prague. He told the Irish Independent, “Our call for equality is a call for the Synodal Process to continue. That means laity and clergy working together to discern and decide the best way forward.”

On Thursday afternoon a synthesis representing all the recommendations of the European churches will be given to the bishops to bring to the Synod in Rome in October.