I’ve written several posts about the Catholic Church’s ‘Listening Process’ in the diocese of Down and Connor (see links at the end of this post).
The listening process has been undertaken with a sort of ‘brand’ name of ‘Living Church 2013’. The process is to culminate with a Diocesan Congress at Pentecost 2013, where a ‘roadmap for the future’ and ‘pastoral priorities’ will be set out.
The listening process has raised all sorts of questions for me:
- Is it a sign of ‘democratisation’ in the Catholic Church?
- Does it mean that the views of laypeople will be taken more seriously?
- Is it a cynical public relations exercise meant to rehabilitate the church in the wake of the clerical child sex abuse scandals?
- Is it a tired bureaucratic exercise that gives people the chance to let off steam, but in the end will not result in meaningful change?
- Is it even welcomed by the laity? (Some commentators on my blog have stated bluntly that they are in principle against consulting the laity about any important spiritual and church governance matters.)
- And to what extent are the laity actually equipped to make positive contributions to the discussion?
That last question took on added significance for me when I received an email from a reader of the Slugger O’Toole blog, where I have published my posts on the listening process.
The listening process event that I attended, at Clonard Monastery in West Belfast, was better than I expected it to be.
The Living Church 2013 facebook page has just instigated a poll, asking people ‘What was your reaction to the Listening Process events in your area?’ with the following options: better than I expected it to be, just as I expected it, didn’t know what to expect of it, not as good as I expected it to be, and a lot worse than I expected it to be.
But the emailer, who wishes to remain anonymous, would probably choose the last option: ‘a lot worse than I expected it to be.’
Or, given what seem to be low expectations, ‘just as I expected it.’ With permission, I share the substance of the email below:
I went along to one such meeting – though I am not disaffected from the Church – in my local parish which is rural. I was very disappointed with the event – not its organisation or those who ran it – but rather by the contribution from the laity present.
There were, perhaps, 50 in attendance but those attending the various Masses in the parish are well over 300 for the main Sunday Mass and another couple of hundred at the other Masses in the parish. I did not expect much more, to be honest, but the contribution from some of the laity present was very, very poor.
There were certainly a couple of people who deserved to be listened to but, I felt, there were one or two sore heads who had an axe to grind with (the very elderly and ill) parish priest. Some of the suggestions for ‘renewal’ were little more than ad hominen attacks on the priest.
People often say in regard to the Catholic Church that letting the laity run things will make for a better Church. On the basis of what was said in our meeting, I would disagree.
While the three facilitators did their best to open up the meeting, some of those present showed less than Christian desire to be loving or helpful in their critique – and I am trying not to judge lest I be … oh you know the rest!
I should add too that the parish priest has done his best to encourage democracy. We have a parish council – one of the few to do so – but people were not exactly storming the barricades to join it. (Myself included!) The parish priest initially wanted parishioners to nominate people to serve but no one was in any rush to do so. He then suggested that people just put their own names forward in an attempt to encourage more participation! Hardly Stalinist!
This description presents a rather sobering picture of parish life, hardly a ‘living church.’ I suspect that all of the public events were different, with no single event being ‘representative’ of the various discussions or views of Catholics in Down and Connor.
Over on the Slugger blog, Fitzjameshorse commented that he was against sharing what was said at such meetings because it ‘would indulge voyeurism.’ I can understand that perspective, but in the end I disagree. I have just replied to Fitzjameshorse on Slugger, saying:
I don’t necessarily think it indulges voyeurism to talk about what went on or was said at these events … I thought the listening process was supposed to be public so people could hear different views … whether in the small group, face to face event discussions or in online forums such as the Living Church facebook page or other blogs. Yes, protect people’s confidentiality if that is what they want, but my reasoning is that the greater variety of ideas and perspectives are heard, the better.
Thanks to all of you who are participating in the discussion, sharing and helping Christians to reflect on and to consider what have been positive and negative aspects of the process so far.
My previous posts on the Listening Process: