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Priest calls for structured conversation in the Church

By Sarah Mac Donald - 02 June, 2015

Irish Church needs a church leadership which empowers the laity – the “sleeping giant”.

Fr Gerry O'Hanlon. Pic courtesy: Jesuit.ie

Fr Gerry O’Hanlon. Pic courtesy: Jesuit.ie

A prominent Jesuit priest has called on the bishops to fulfil a promise they made five years ago to begin “a structured conversation” within the Irish Church.

Fr Gerry O’Hanlon SJ said that by listening, having conversations, setting up systems and structures like assemblies and synods the church could tap into the faith of the baptised including the young and the disaffected.

Writing in Monday’s Irish Times, the Jesuit said this is what Pope Francis has called the imperative of “real and not just token consultation”, “the introduction of a culture of dialogue within the church, a synodal approach at all levels of church life, including the local church”.

Fr O’Hanlon said this included a dialogue with wider, secular society, since, as Vatican II taught, “we can both teach and learn from this wider society”.

“We were promised by the Irish Episcopal Conference the beginnings of “a structured conversation” back in 2010. Where is it?” he asked.

He criticised the Irish bishops for not providing leadership on this and said “this glaring failure of leadership” came at a time when the Vatican itself is imaging a more collegial approach, encouraging local bishops and national conferences to mobilise consultation on the very sexual issues that are such a bone of contention.

The former Jesuit provincial said the Irish Church needs a church leadership which empowers the laity – the “sleeping giant”.

He urged the bishops to “invite us all into this conversation urgently” or risk allowing Catholicism to become “a culturally irrelevant minority” as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin warned in 2011.

Elsewhere in his Irish Times article, Fr Hanlon said Archbishop Martin had argued very reasonably during the referendum debate that the distinction and complementarity between male and female was important.

However, he said the Archbishop “was speaking as a representative of a church that has used the argument from complementarity, in a way that many people find unacceptable, to support its teaching against the advancement of women to office within the church”.

The author of books such as ‘Theology in the Irish Public Square’ and ‘A New Vision for the Catholic Church’, said that though the Archbishop raised reasonable concerns about the need in the Constitution to honour the particular value of a man and a woman as foundational to family life, “this implicit appeal to natural law conjures up the application of a rigid notion of natural law in church teaching about contraception and the intrinsically disordered nature of homosexual acts, which many people do not find persuasive”.

He warned that despite his skilful and measured tones Archbishop Martin’s argument was always waging an uphill battle because “so many in our culture – and particularly those who are young – simply do not accept the credibility of church teaching on sexual and gender issues.”

“This is not primarily a question of better communication: this bears on the message itself, the content of the teaching”, he stated.

The article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/catholic-church-needs-to-empower-the-laity-1.2232747

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