International Synod of Bishops: October 2023
June 2023 Update
The Working Document for the October Synod has just been published – makes fascinating reading!
“The synod Instrumentum Laboris or working document, published on 21 June, lays out the framework for discussions due to take place on 4-29 October, a key event for the most ambitious Catholic renewal project in 60 years. Bishops, priests, religious and lay people will be asked to consider a series of questions as part of the global synod process, including the ordination of married men, greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ Catholics, reform of governance, the selection of bishops and lay leadership.”
Further details are available here:
April 2022 Documents
Parish Synod Submission March 2022
St Werburgh’s Chester: Preface
A group of about fifty Parishioners met on four Monday Evenings (31st January; 7th, 14th and 21st February), 7.00 – 9.00 pm, with different faces on different evenings, to discuss the Synod and our Parish’s contribution. In addition, over fifty written submissions were sent in. This Letter to Bishop Mark attempts to reflect all those views and opinions as faithfully as possible, using, wherever possible, Parishioners’ own words to illustrate what many felt. We submit it in love, and with our prayers for the ongoing Process of Consultation towards the final Synod in Rome in October 2023.
Dear Bishop Mark,
I. What we love about the Catholic Church
The Lord Jesus Christ
For many of us, our Faith begins and ends with the Person of Jesus. “The greatest love the Catholic Church has given me,” one Parishioner wrote, “is the faith to be a follower of the greatest man that ever lived.” He promises, another Parishioner reminded us, that, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This is powerfully true here in church: “The opportunity to meet Jesus in the Eucharist and Blessed Sacrament,” was a very typical comment. Another remarked, “I’m still a Catholic largely because of Jesus Christ and His willingness to lay down His life for His people. I attend Mass regularly because I need to be reminded of those principles on a regular basis.”
The Mass and the Sacraments
“I always feel better/happier/more hopeful after Mass each week than I do before it”: many echoed that personal connection with the Eucharist. One said, “I love the Sacraments, and the chance for forgiveness, allowing us all to start again after sinning, with true charity,” and this was supported by many, with views such as “It’s where I find forgiveness for my sins.” The Sacraments strongly trace the pattern of our lives: “The opportunity to mark the big moments in life, births, marriages, deaths, through well-established rituals and liturgies.” They also connect us to a world-wide Church: “I love the Universal Mass – the same Mass in every country in the world,” was an opinion widely shared.
The Values and Richness of the Church
“Being a Catholic uncomplicates things for me,” wrote one, agreeing with “Faith helps me to answer some of the big questions in life,” a popular view. “It keeps me on the rails,” said someone, and “I gain from my faith a sense of what’s really important in life and what’s not so important,” said another. Both were typical of our groups’ discussions and written submissions. “I like the way the Church supports the family when it seems to be so much under attack these days,” was a shared observation. Continuity and universality were widely appreciated: “Something that doesn’t change in a world that never seems to stand still,” and, from another contributor, “Being part of a global church is a real joy.” The rich variety of the Church’s resources was valued by most of us: “My own faith has been so profoundly inspired and developed by encounter with the spirituality of the great Orders – Benedictine, Ignatian and Carmelite.” The Church’s history was also appreciated: “There must be something good about an organisation that’s survived for two thousand years.” But one writer did sound a note of caution here, reminding us, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the kindling of fire.”
The Sense Throughout My Life of Community and Belonging
Many, many Parishioners resonated with the word “belonging”: “It’s the place where I feel I belong,” was typical of dozens. “I come to be part of a community,” said another. And this feeling is not a recent one for many: “It’s the way I was brought up, and the older I get, the more I appreciate my upbringing,” echoed by “Throughout my life, especially in the bad times, I have found great support in the Church.” Some shared with us specific moments of Coming to Faith: “My adult commitment to the Catholic Church came during a Retreat when I was in the Sixth Form,” wrote one, and “I was so fortunate to experience a great University Chaplaincy,” commented another. Many of our older Parishioners drew on a lifetime of being a Catholic: “Pre-Vatican II, there was a large element of fear in the practice of my faith; since then, I have come to see it as a huge benefit, a source of joy, of comfort and security.” “It’s been the bedrock of my life,” is how one participant captured it, a view that was generally echoed.
II. What we don’t love about the Catholic Church
The Institutional Face of the Church
Many argued a difference between “my faith” and “the Church”: “I do make a distinction between my Faith – my belief in God, a fundamental commitment to Christ and His teachings, and a firm belief in the after-life – with my sometimes very frustrated adherence to the Catholic Church,” was a not untypical comment. “Sometimes the Church has a triumphalist attitude, as if it alone was right and had all the answers,” was a point of view we came across more than once. “Endless ‘push-pull’ between conservatives and liberals in the Vatican” was an unattractive public image for a number of correspondents. The Church’s “lack of collaborative working – dog collars still make all the major decisions” - was far from a lone view. We also distinguished between the Universal Church and “our Parish”. Often, the institutional face was embodied in a particular Parish Priest. “When we got our second child baptised, the Priest read us the riot act for not attending Mass every Sunday”, and that was clearly an alienating experience. “Literally understanding some of our overseas Priests” was frequently encountered. “In our parish (not St Werburgh’s) we’ve had so many Parish Priests in the last few years it has diminished our sense of togetherness,” and this was clearly an experience that didn’t engender community or a sense of belonging. Two wider-ranging sentiments seemed to be largely shared: “Have too many of the riches of Vatican II been squandered?” and “The Church preaches ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ but doesn’t always practise it.”
The Role of Women in the Church
This was one of the most insistent themes in all our Open Meetings and our written submissions. Possibly it was the leading issue. “Women have been side-lined for far too long,” summed up the views of the majority. Another put it this way: “Historically, women have never been seen as the equal of men, and this is horribly true in the Church today.” A number reflected on the dominant role of women in the Gospels and especially the Resurrection Narratives: “Women as well as men were prominent during Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. So, what happened after that?!”
The Church and Human Sexuality
“The Church does not fully understand the power of human sexuality” was one summary that attracted widespread support. Specific examples that came up time and time again were Celibacy, Contraception, Same-Sex Attraction and Divorce. Over fifty years since Humanae Vitae, the issue for so many has not gone away: “the product of a male, celibate perspective which impacted on women vastly more than on men,” was one verdict that many agreed with. “The Church’s homophobia and attitude to LGBTQ+ people” cropped up time and again. Priestly celibacy troubled a number of our participants, questioning whether it was natural and if it led to loneliness and possibly aberrant behaviour in some cases. “Forcing Priests to be celibate when we ordain married ex-Anglican Priests” was far from a unique sentiment. A widespread view was that the Church’s stance on Divorce and Re-Marriage was a mess. “The Church allows cohabiting couples to marry but not divorced ones – is divorce the only ‘sin’ it cannot forgive?” was a question that recurred in different forms. Another contributor summed it up like this: “Totally confused teaching on marriage and divorce… Annulment Processes that no-one understands and which can hurt so many people…then Boris Johnson remarrying in Westminster Cathedral!” Returning to our first love of the Church, that it can promote wonderful feelings of belonging, our final comment on this issue has a real poignancy: “So many who have experienced marital breakdown no longer feel welcome”.
The Ongoing Clerical Abuse Crisis: Will it never end?
“The response of the Bishops was, if anything, even worse than the original abuse,” was heard insistently in our Synod Consultation Process. If this process is a listening exercise, then “How much have the victims of abuse honestly been listened to?” was a highly pertinent and frequently heard question. Many of us wanted to make the point that the abuse was not just sexual. “The treatment of unmarried mothers in the past” was often raised. One individual wrote, “I suffered at the hands of at least one very cruel Christian Brother when I was at school, and I continue to suffer to this day.” The Bishops’ Conference Letter on Clerical Abuse, read out at all Masses some years ago now, was clearly remembered by many, and not always favourably: “The Bishops’ Letter implied it was the fault of everyone. It wasn’t!” was how one writer put it. “When that letter was read out, asking us all to be repentant, I was so angry I almost walked out of Mass. It wasn’t the laity who abused children and covered it up, it was Priests and Bishops” was how another put the same point. Two testimonies were so powerfully painful they need to be included here: the voices of these two Parishioners need to be heard. “When we lived in Wales”, wrote one, “our Priest was a notorious paedophile. We wrote letters about him to our Bishop who promptly forwarded those letters to the said Priest.” That Priest was subsequently jailed for eight years. Another testimony was equally shocking: “I was abused by a Priest of this Diocese when I was a boy. When I told my parents, they beat me for telling lies about the Priest.” That Priest was also subsequently jailed for many years. We would love to think the Clerical Abuse Scandal was now in the past, but few had that confidence: “Are all the skeletons out of the cupboard even now?” was the heartfelt plea of many.
III. What Needs to Change
Bringing Women and Lay People into the Centre of the Church
“The Church needs to strike a new balance between clergy and laity,” was the overwhelming feeling. “The modern woman is not very attracted to an organisation in which she is treated as a second-class member.” The role of women and the laity in general was top of so many people’s agendas. “We need to involve women much more in the decision-making processes of the Church.” If we heard that once, we heard it many times over the course of these four weeks of Synod Consultation. “Look seriously and honestly at the issue of women Deacons and Priests,” wrote in one Parishioner, “and if impossible, then give reasons why”. “Even if women aren’t ordained” wrote another, “they can still be appointed to top jobs at Diocesan and Curial level.” Those were sentiments we encountered all the time. Many also wanted reforms to the clergy-laity balance in the Church: “Much more training of lay people to take up responsible roles in the Church,” was the request of many, one adding, “This will cost money, but it’ll be money well spent.” “We need in the Catholic Church the equivalent of the trained, licensed ‘Lay Reader’ position in the C of E” was the belief of another. Addressing the shortage of Priests in England and Wales, one suggested “Ordaining ‘viri probati’ – long-standing Catholic men in the Parish, known and trusted by the whole Parish community”, an idea that’s been canvased in the wider church. “Our Clergy need more and more professional CPD (Continuous Professional Development). Other professions take this for granted, but not the clergy,” was how one Parishioner put it, and many seemed to share this wish. There was some sympathy for our Bishop in this area, attending Bishops’ Conference meetings on a regular basis: “Does Bishop Mark ever look round meetings of The Bishops of England and Wales and think, ‘What a male, pale and stale bunch we are!’??” Answer, answer, Bishop!! More seriously, perhaps, our final rallying call here was so clear: “Throw the church open and let the people in – in every sense!”
Bringing Young People into the Centre of the Church
Many strong feelings on this perennial issue: “We must do more post-Confirmation to make the Youth of Today the Church of Tomorrow” was one opinion shared by many. “Young families need to be made more welcome – including when babies cry and toddlers kick off,” was voiced in different words by a number of contributors. “Children need space to question and articulate ideas in their own words,” attracted a large measure of support. A similar point of view was put like this: “In order for our young people to grow into adult Christians, there is a strong need for them to be able to question their faith with people who understand their point of view.”
Our Spiritual Journey Through Life Together
“We need a greater emphasis on Prayer – and that means teaching people how to pray,” was a shared opinion by many. Some felt that the issue of training was crucial here: “On-going support, development, training and mentoring for both clergy and laity”. Some specific views were directed to inclusive language in the Liturgy and the present Mass Translation: “Please change the present appalling translation of the Mass!” and “When our liturgy includes words such as “consubstantial”, I feel like resigning!”
Adapting to the Modern World
Everyone seemed to appreciate that there was a balancing act here: “What we need is a church relevant and responsive to a constantly changing society whilst maintaining the essence of our Catholic Faith – not easy”. “The Church needs to change but still hold true to its core beliefs and values – not an easy juggling trick to pull off,” made the same point in different words. But very few thought we were getting the balance right at present. Modern means of communication (especially use of social media), seeing how the pattern of the working week had changed, and the need for greater diversity and inclusivity were all mentioned frequently, The following quotations are representative of many: “Like it or loathe it, Social Media is here to stay, and the Church seems unwilling to engage with it” … “Sundays are no longer the Day of Rest, and the Church needs to adapt to that fact of modern life” … “The Diocese should appoint a Diversity / Inclusivity officer to make sure that everyone is welcome and involved at all levels in the Church.” Green issues were mentioned in many groups: “Environmental issues need to be much higher up the Agenda – while we still have a world to live in,” as was the feeling that the Church’s good work in these areas was not always recognised. “The Church does a lot of invaluable work with the poor and marginalised in many third world countries that could be much better publicised.” Relevance is a slippery word, but our final contributor on this theme summed it up pithily: “Watch it! The Church is rapidly becoming a self-congratulatory Darby and Joan club meeting on an increasingly creaky platform of the old certainties which time has shown to be not nearly as righteously secure as once thought.”
Change at the Individual and Parish Level
The general feeling was that this four-week Synod Consultation process had been an enlivening and inspiring one, and that sending our final Submission to Bishop Mark should be the beginning of a wider process, not the end. We don’t need permission to change ourselves or our Parish. Nor do we require permission to pursue our own holiness, individually or together: “The first thing that needs to change is ME! If I became a better person, that wouldn’t be a bad place to start” … “We grow the church by changing ourselves” … “We all need to change” … “There is so much that individual Parishes can do to revitalise themselves without needing permission from on high”… “Kindness needs courage”. Just five comments from a much wider sample. As a Listening Exercise, this Synod Consultation can start changing all of us today: “People need to be listened to and KNOW that they have been listened to”. Again, we end this section with a memorable rallying cry from one submission: “We can’t change the whole world, but we can try to get our bit right!” Amen to that!
“I have been a Catholic for 84 years. Finally, I pray that those men who will ultimately decide how our Catholic Church will move forward in the future decades and centuries will be guided by, enlightened and work with the Holy Spirit of God to create an open and truly universal Church.”
“Our most heartfelt request could be to make this Synod itself inclusive: to include women and men, people representing all age groups, married people, gay people, people with disabilities, people from all educational backgrounds.”
“We are sincerely grateful, Bishop Mark, for this opportunity to make our views known.”
With love and prayers,
The Parishioners of St Werburgh’s Chester
1st March 2022.
The call for consultation
In October next year, many of the world’s Bishops will be gathering in Rome at Pope Francis’s invitation, to ask a simple but profound question: how as a Church can we better journey together? As Catholics, we are not just called to be individual disciples of the Lord; we are called to be members of so many communities, our families, our Parishes, our workplaces, our neighbourhoods, our Dioceses, our country and our world-wide Universal Church, the Body of Christ.
So, how can we do it better? Pope Francis has set us Ten Questions, Bishop Mark Three, and over the next six weeks, we are asked as a Parish to put our heads together and see what answers we come up with. Here’s the Timetable:
- 1st March 2022: all written responses to be with Bishop Mark
- 3rd April 2022: Bishop Mark reports to the Diocese
- 8th April 2022 – All diocesan reports to the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in readiness for the Plenary Assembly of the Bishops in Cardiff 2nd-6th May 2022. These will be collated and sent off to Rome.
Pope Francis’s Ten Questions: How Can we Walk Together Better?
- How can we walk together more EFFECTIVELY?
“Walking together” is a lovely phrase we’d probably all sign up to. But if it’s going to be more than just words, we have to have some ways of assessing, of measuring whether we are getting better at it, standing still or going backwards. Horrible jargon phrase, but there have to be some “outcome criteria” by which we can judge how we’re doing. What would they be for our “Walking Together” vision?
- How can we become a more LISTENING Church?
We all know the value of listening to other people, and the difference between listening to as opposed to just hearing? As a Church, how can we become better listeners, both to our own members and to those not in the Church but who still need their voices to be heard?
- How can we become a better VOICE TO THE WORLD?
As well as listening to others, we need to speak to them. Do our own members always know what the Church is saying to them? And does the world outside hear our message? What messages do we believe they most need to hear?
- How does our LITURGY inspire and guide us?
The Mass and the Sacraments are the heart of our life together as a Church: how truly inspirational and guiding are they? How could they be made better?
- How do we all take part in the Church’s MISSION?
“Go out and make disciples of all nations…” This is the Church’s Mission, its outreach. How can we make it the responsibility of every member of the church?
- How can we promote better DIALOGUE WITH OTHERS?
Dialogue is a two-way process, both listening and talking. It’s ongoing and part of a relationship of communication. With whom should we be in dialogue, and how can we dialogue with them better?
- How can we work better ECUMENICALLY?
The Lord prayed that “we may be one” at the Last Supper: how can we respond better to His prayer, locally, nationally and globally?
- How can Church AUTHORITY be better exercised?
Every organisation, every family, needs some set of rules, and some understanding of how those rules should be implemented and, at times, enforced. How could the Church be better at this? What is our understanding of the Magisterium, the Teaching Authority of the Church?
- How can our DECISION-MAKING be improved?
Decisions have to be made by every parish organisation, every Parish, every Deanery, every Diocese, every national Bishops’ Conference, and by the Universal Church as a whole. How good are we at this decision-making, and how could we do it better?
- How can we LEARN better to walk together?
How can we become a learning Church? Remember, ‘learner’ is the literal meaning of ‘disciple’. We are all called to discipleship, meaning we are all called to be learners. How can we be better learners: as individuals, as a parish, as a Diocese, and as a national and a universal Church?
Bishop Mark’s Three Questions
- Communion: how has our life together been strengthened or weakened by the last two years?
- Participation: what have these months taught us about our involvement in the life of the church?
- Mission: what have these months taught us about outreach and mission?
St Werburgh’s Four Parish “Open Meetings”: Mondays 7.00 pm in church
- Monday 31st January
- Monday 7th February
- Monday 14th February
- Monday 21st February
We know you can’t come to them all, but please, everyone, try to come to at least one!
Sunday 23rd January 2022