Some months ago, our parish held a series of meetings on Sunday evenings in response to the invitation of Pope Francis. He had asked the Church to gather locally, to pray and discern and then to discuss those matters we felt were of importance to the Church in the present day. I am in no doubt that the Holy Spirit was present with us at those meetings – and, I expect, at similar meetings across all the parishes of the Diocese.
Ultimately, the feedback from all such meetings would be collated and sent to Rome prior to the Synod of Bishops which will take place next year.
And so our parish group met; we prayed, we did our best to discern, and we discussed the matters at hand. At the end of that process, we gathered one final time to review what had taken place, before sending our work to the Diocese of Motherwell. Many others parishes did similarly. All that feedback was drawn together and a final report was published recently by the Diocese.
..Ours is an imperfect communion. Some people are left on the margins..
Diocese of Motherwell
Reading the report, I was surprised at how often the same issues were raised across different parishes.
There were many positives in the report – a strong sense of community across the Diocese; an even stronger sense of the authority and participation of the laity in response to the call of our baptism; a pressing desire to move forward with the work of the Church in it’s mission.
There is a great deal in this report which gives me a deep sense of encouragement and of hope for the Church both locally and more broadly.
But there was something else, something which was raised at various points and in a number of different places across the Diocese, and which I want to look at here – it was the sense that not everyone is reached by the work and life of the Church; indeed, my own parish is quoted in the report as having responded that –
“there was a feeling that we don’t in fact listen enough and can have a tendency to view those minorities with suspicion, cast judgment or even close our ears to those who need them most. Clear consensus of what we should be doing however by demonstrating compassion, sympathy, and love.”
A number of parishes made similar comments, and identified various groups who are felt to be left on the margins of the Church, if not completely ignored – younger people, the lesbian and gay community, women, those who are divorced and remarried, and the lapsed.
If you think about it, these and similar groups no doubt account for an awful lot of people – for them to feel in any way excluded from or unwelcome in the Church, something has gone terribly wrong. Like all souls, these people are in need of the Church – and the Church is equally in need of them and their input.
Reading an article by Fr Joseph V Corpora CSC yesterday, he commented in a similar way; although he was referring specifically to his work on campus with the LGBTQ+ community, his point applies here equally –
“If (they) do not find a home in the Catholic Church— or worse, if they feel disrespected by the church—they will leave. Sadly, this happens all too often and nobody wins. They lose and the church loses. They live without the sacraments and the life of the church, while the church is weakened by their departure. A part of the face of Christ is absent from the church. A part of the Body of Christ is missing. No one wins.“
And I think he is absolutely correct.
I am glad that our Diocese has been able – and willing – to identify this issue, to address it and to consider what needs to be done to overcome it. I know that is not the case everywhere and it gives me great hope for the Diocese of Motherwell.
I have known many Catholics in such groups who have left the Church because they did not feel welcomed or included and who sometimes felt actively shunned. When ‘good Catholics’ have this effect on others around them, it is hard to conclude anything except their practice of the faith is anything but Christ-like. Christ did not shun. He did not exclude. In fact, He went out of His way to welcome – even when the prevailing religious sentiment of His day did exactly the opposite. If Christ drew others to Him – then surely our task as His followers is to do the same?
There will be those who read this and respond immediately with something along the lines of “love the sinner, hate the sin”. I have two problems with this response.
Firstly, anything other than an unqualified and unconditional welcome is not loving, regardless of how it is dressed up. Love does not have hooks and it does not qualify itself; love does not say “I will love you if..” or “I cannot love you because..”.
Secondly, Christ’s command to each of us is perfectly clear and straightforward – love God and love your neighbour as yourself. He did not add “unless” to the end of that sentence. It is for Christ alone to judge anyone – not us. He is the Son of God and has the authority to judge; we do not. Our task is simply to love – nothing less.
Reading the Diocesan report, I had a sense of encouragement in this area as in several others. I wondered if similar themes were emerging globally – and if, perhaps, this might slowly lead to the Church further discerning not only her position on some of her teachings, but the scientific basis underpinning those teachings. Teachings in the area of morality – sexual or otherwise – must be firmly anchored in the most robust evidence available. What the Church presents as authoritative, she must be able to present in a coherent, articulate and compassionate way – otherwise, she risks becoming out of step not only with the world with which she is trying to engage, but with her own members. As the report noted –
“There was a sense that the church struggles to truly listen to the young, divorced and those who struggle with church teaching, especially in areas of sexuality and sexual morality.“
I pray that the Church will indeed listen – and listen very carefully. After all, as Fr Corpora notes – if part of the Body of Christ is missing, no-one wins.
And I pray that the Holy Spirit, who constantly leads the Church forward in mission and in understanding of that mission, will do so in a particular way in this moment of grace for the Church.