Responses to substantive questions from the Archdiocese of Seattle
regarding the local synod consultation at Assumption Parish
Submitted May 6, 2022 by Mary Kaye Rodgers
What were common or important themes that emerged from the listening sessions?
Over six listening sessions, the following high-level themes emerged:
1. The shortage of priests and what should be done about it. These discussions touched on the ordination of women as priests and deacons, the married priesthood, and the laity as a “baptized priesthood.”
2. The problems of clericalism and the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. The lack of “servant leadership”, the perception of “pray, pay, obey”, and the ongoing scandals and cover-ups were discussed as reasons why the current models of leadership and structure are ineffectual as the Church moves forward.
3. The exclusionary nature of the Catholic Church. The Church needs to meet people where they are. The Church is seen from the outside as judgmental, not welcoming, rule-driven not faith-driven.
4. The Church’s (mis) treatment of marginalized communities. The denial of sacraments and general bias against LGBTQIA+ people is a scandal. There are also issues with the treatment of divorced and lapsed Catholics, and others who are turned away from sacraments and services.
5. Divisions in the Church in the United States driven by politics. The involvement of U.S. Catholic bishops in political matters is dividing the Church and causing harm. This is particularly concerning around issues like abortion and contraception.
6. Reduction in participation in mass and parish life, particularly by younger people. We recognize that COVID has been a compounding factor, but numbers were declining before COVID. We are losing even young people who attended Catholic schools and were raised by active Catholic parents.
Which particular stories or real-life experiences were shared related to the way our church currently journeys together?
An older woman, a self-identified “cradle Catholic,” talked about her confusion as a child, being “petrified” about going against the rules she was taught in religious education. She told a story about her parents, also Catholic, choosing to attend a wedding at a different Christian church at a time when doing such a thing was seen as forbidden. The lesson she took from her parents’ choice was that maybe not every “rule” was the best, and that “loving one’s neighbor” regardless of their religion was more important than capricious rules about stepping foot in other houses of worship.
A middle-aged man talked about becoming Catholic after a 10-year journey, because he was drawn to the Church after Vatican II “flipped the script” and recognized that “every baptized person is a priest of Christ” (referencing 1 Peter 2:5,9). While not all are called to the vocation of ministerial priesthood, all are called to go out and serve. He finds this inspirational and worthy of pursuit in opportunities for lay ministry in the Church.
A mother talked about her child’s sexuality and how she works to reconcile her belief that her child is a child of God, “and if God doesn’t make mistakes, how can someone say my child’s identity is wrong?” and her faith. She struggles with the Church’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ people. She said that our pastor has been greatly supportive and encouraging, and that his ministry has been very important to her remaining active in the Church.
What dreams, desires, and aspirations for our Church were expressed by participants?
We dream of a loving, open, accepting Church where all are welcome. We desire a Church where the lessons of Jesus about faith, truth, forgiveness, and meeting people where they are come before hierarchy, clericalism, and finances. We aspire to a Church centered on the Gospels, the sacraments, faith, mercy, service, openness, and love.
In practical terms, we agree that increased attendance at Mass and participation in the sacraments is something we would all like to see. We hope that we will see more young people and young families in the pews and active in the parish community. We want to see more diversity in our parish, and the Church as a whole. We need to find ways to be more visible and welcoming to our neighbors in the community. We aspire to actively serve not just our parish but those in our community who have true need. We understand that we must address the Church’s stance on many issues if we want young people to be an active part of the church, as many of them have strong disagreements with the current thinking of Church leadership.
What challenges or opportunities do these reflections pose as we journey together?
“Pope Francis has challenged us to tackle justice issues in the world” as one participant said, “but it feels like U.S. leadership is ignoring his directives.” This sentiment was heard in varying degrees and words across all listening sessions. Another participant said that “it seems like the Church is on the wrong side of history and refuses to see it.”
The fundamental frustration heard across all listening sessions is that the Church as an institution is not listening to the people, and that the hierarchy is caught up in making and enforcing rules by whatever means they can. We see “some parts of leadership [that] seem to be committed to undoing the work of Vatican II,” which is “deeply discouraging and deeply frightening,” even with the rare bishop who stands against them. This does not include Pope Francis, who seems to be “walking a tightrope” (according to a participant) in trying to create a “different Church” as he said in remarks on this synod. The leadership of Pope Francis is “inspirational” and “hopeful”; he is “life giving and life affirming” in his ministry. It is not enough to “overcome divisiveness” as another participant said, “we have to find common ground.”
While we have grave concerns about these issues, we also see hope in these discussions. As we find common themes developing, like the desire to focus on love, compassion, and inclusiveness, we are inspired to do the work necessary to move the Church forward and celebrate what it means to be Catholic in our daily lives and in the life of the Church, and to share that message with the wider world.
What did participants share related to the question of “what steps does the Holy Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our journeying together”?
The Holy Spirit invites us as the lay body of the Church to become more active in all aspects of the Church, including leadership and ministry. In order to address the ongoing shortage of priests, the vast majority agree that the Church must at least consider the ordination of women as priests and/or deacons, as well as consider allowing for married priests. In the meanwhile, opportunities for lay ministry and lay leadership need to be created and encouraged at all levels of the Church.
The Holy Spirit leads us to recognize that the Church is the whole people of God. The focus of the Church should be on the people, and encouraging all people of the Church to serve one another and all of humankind, following the example of Christ. We need those with a true servant’s heart - as exemplified by Pope Francis - to guide this change and lead by example. We seek accountability from those in positions of trust, and forthrightness with regard to financial, sex abuse, Indigenous residential homes, and other Church-related scandals.
We are inspired to build a more welcoming Catholic Church. Our “competition” is not Protestantism or even agnosticism/atheism - it is the spirituality that people are thirsty for and are finding everywhere else. People who find peace and enlightenment in meditation, time in nature, study, and the like, are thirsty for the love of God. We need to find a way to evangelize by living the Gospel. We must meet people where they are and we must accept them for who they are. We cannot build a welcoming church without recognizing the harm we have done to many marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQIA+ people, but also divorced Catholics, lapsed Catholics, and others who feel unheard, and then dismantling the systems and traditions that continue those harms.
In discussion regarding the politicization of the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, there was general agreement across all sessions that the Church has become too involved in political issues and that there should be a reconsideration of how the Church interacts with government and politics. “It feels like the only thing they [the U.S. bishops] see as evil is abortion, they’ll strike a deal with any devil if they say they will end abortion.” While the vast majority of the listening session participants said that they do not agree with/believe in abortion, they do see the current focus as a distraction from “the seamless garment” of life, and that there are needs that are going unaddressed or unmet because of that focus. “Education and birth control are what will end abortion” one participant said, while another said “most Catholics use birth control, that’s why we don’t see families with six or eight children anymore, the Church needs to understand that.” Overall, there was agreement that the Church, particularly in the United States, needs to take a significant look at its political involvement and focus on abortion and contraception.
Pope Francis has called us as a Church to a “synodal journey.” Catholics across the world will be coming together in a universal process of listening in preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome. To begin this synodal journey, Pope Francis has called for listening sessions in parishes worldwide beginning in October. Each diocese in the United States will then present a summary of input to the USCCB.
Pope Francis invites all the baptized around the world to journey together in a global listening process called, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”
This global consultation process will provide guidance for the Church to discern “the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel” (GS,4).
This process must grow out of the experiences of those in our Archdiocese, and it must reflect the realities of our current time and place. I am here to listen and learn, not to answer. In reflecting on this call to synodality, we are reminded of what God tells us through Jeremiah: If we call to God, he will respond with great things—things far “beyond the reach of our knowledge” (Jeremiah 33:3). Please prayerfully consider becoming a part of this ministry for the greater good of our community and Church.
Tony Flannery - June 19
Yesterday’s meeting in Athlone, as part of the Synodal Path in the Irish Church, was by any standards extraordinary. I certainly never thought that I would live to be part of such a gathering, or to experience such a sense of change and new life and energy in our tired and battered Irish Catholic Church.
The purpose of the meeting was to report on the process that has been going on for some months in parishes, dioceses and among other interested groups. Each unit had sent in their report, and the central body appointed for this purpose went through them all and presented a synthesis to the gathering. They picked out fifteen main headings. Some were what one might expect, like falling church attendance, ageing clergy, absent youth, transmission of the faith, liturgy. But there were others that up until recently would not have been allowed to be spoken at such a gathering — the equality of women, including decision making and all forms of ministry, Catholic sexual teaching, especially in relation to LGBTQ and relationships generally, compulsory celibacy for priesthood, and others.
It was acknowledged by the presenters that most of the gatherings from which these reports had come consisted of the older generation, though to be fair some admirable efforts were made to reach out to marginal groups and youth. What came across clearly was that even the older, still fully committed, people are calling for significant change.
The majority of the bishops were in attendance, and giving their support to this process. At the end Archbishop Eamon Martin gave a guarantee that the final report, which will be put together by the same sub-committee including any additions after yesterday’s discussions, will be presented in full, and without any watering down or omissions, to the Vatican from the Irish Church. It will also be published, so that we can all see what has gone through.
I was at the gathering representing the ACP, and I sat in some amazement at what I was hearing. If you think that for years we in the ACP were unable to have any real and worthwhile dialogue with the Irish bishops, and here we were yesterday seemingly on the same page. Truly the Spirit must be working. For me, having been excluded from all Church affairs for the past ten years, it was a strange experience to be there. But it was good. When I walked in to the room in the morning after arriving the first person who came over to greet me, hand out in welcome, was Eamon Martin. I appreciated that.
It is good to be at this stage in the process, but there is a long way to go, and many of us fear that it still may fail to live up to its promise, and no real change will happen. The reality is that a good many of the changes people are calling for would involve change in Church teaching, even doctrine. Are the Vatican, even under Pope Francis, up to that? And who will succeed him?
We can only hope and pray. I know that if this admirable effort by the Irish Church fails, it will be very discouraging. But if it begins to produce some of the fruits it promises, we could experience a new flourishing in our Church.
To finish on a personal note, I think that in the spirit of what is happening now in the Church, if all the sanctions imposed on me were lifted it would add to the sense of optimism and of real change we felt yesterday. I am asking the Irish bishops and Redemptorist superiors to deal with the matter. Please don’t just pass the buck to Rome in this era of synodality.
Beloved Inclusive Catholic Community is a community of Roman Catholic faithful dedicated to full inclusion of all who come seeking to belong, to worship, to serve and to be fed. We are progressive in nature and strive to model a church that is void of the patriarchy, clericalism and power dynamics that have contributed to scandal and abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. We remain firm in our baptismal rights that connect us to the larger Catholic community and strive to move the Church forward in supporting the equality, dignity and worth of all God’s children.
We are in the Champaign-Urbana area, in the diocese of Peoria. We held our own synodal meetings because laity (outside of trustees and pastorally appointed members) in our area were not invited to participate in sessions sponsored by our diocese. Shirley Chisholm once said, if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair, and so we did. We brought ten of them. Our synodal sessions included ten participants which represents roughly a third of our active community members. Most but not all of us have been parishioners at St. Patrick in Urbana. Some still attend, although most are deciding where their spiritual journeys are taking them in terms of church attendance. We offer our prayerfully discerned thoughts for the synodal process.
We held three 90-minute sessions on 3/27/2022, 4/10/2022 and 5/22/2022 on the themes proposed by Pope Francis (Communion, Participation and Mission). Several of us trained with organizations in listening skills and ways to guide synodal groups. We read articles about the intent of the Synod and examined the work of other groups across the country. We began and closed in prayer. Here is what we discerned. Please note that some of these points are paraphrases from our conversation, and some are conclusions that we came to by consensus. A complete transcript of all three sessions is available upon request.
What does communion mean to you?
- Communion is experiencing community and partaking in the body and blood of Christ.
- I have tried to understand transubstantiation and the Trinity. How can there be three persons and then they are one? There were times upon receiving communion, that I felt a kind of peace come over me, evidence of some sort of power in that moment, so it is not just a symbol.
- The beauty of our tradition is that we have these sacramental moments where we can engage in a mystical way, the presence of the Divine.
- Communion is unity. As John says, in God we have our being. How can we be separated from God? Then Paul says, it is not I who lives, but it is Christ who lives in me. It is the body of Christ. It is not the body of Jesus.
- How can a person be denied communion with God? We are one with God. Community is abiding in the Divine presence of Christ. It doesn’t seem to be something that can be denied. Who are we to say whether or not Christ will be present for somebody?
- Communion is food for the journey. It is not a reward you get for arriving somewhere. It is really important that it not be seen as something you have earned but as something you need, to get to where you want to go.
- Communion is food for the hungry. Pope Francis says that Communion is not a grand prize for the perfect person but food for the hungry one.
- Gregory Boyle has said that we are all hungry and he invites everyone forward to receive the Eucharist. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ, we should not be hiding it in a church. We should take it out to everyone on the street corners and offer it to the world.
- Communion is a meal. Why would you ever invite someone to eat at your home and not allow them to have any food?
- To me the Eucharist is more meaningful because we receive it together. It is both an individual encounter and a collective experience.
- Communion is community with other people and God, and a coming together in a unique way.
What has your journey been with communion?
- When I lived in the Sudan, I told our pastor that Rome said that the priest could not leave the sanctuary to shake people’s hands during the sign of peace. And our pastor said, ‘We have no sanctuary,’ and he was right. We had a metal table. And he had these women sitting on the ground by him, spitting tobacco. We were often in situations where whatever came out of Rome just didn’t apply. We tried to make these directives apply but we could also do a lot of innovative things, like have big fires on Holy Saturday on top of a mountain. When we were facing that mountain, what came up, but a full moon right behind the priest.
- After I got a divorce, I couldn’t receive communion and after a good number of years I found it very distressing. I went to see one of our pastors, and he automatically gave me a dispensation to start receiving communion. There is something innately wrong in denying communion to others. I feel it is something we all need just like you need bread and cheese and wine or whatever it is that you eat for your meal. You need communion for your soul.
- The first time I went to Greece, I heard people say “efharisto poli” again and again, and I found out that it simply means ‘thank you very much.’ The word for ‘thanks’ in Greek has the same root as the word Eucharist. That changed the whole perception of the sacrament of the communion for me. It is an expression of thanks for a meal that we share. What are we being thankful for in the Eucharist?
- I adopted a son who has Jewish ancestry and as a part of trying to help him with his cultural background, we used to celebrate the Passover with him. In the Haggadah, which is the text read during the Seder meal, the youngest child asks questions like ‘Why do we celebrate the Passover?’ And ‘Why do we eat this particular food?’ Then an elder member at the table answers the child’s questions. When you think of the Last Supper it took place among friends. In that tradition there would have been people who weren’t at the same place of full understanding and yet they were welcomed to the table. Their part in that meal was instrumental in helping the whole group reflect, just as with the child at the Seder. There is a role for all of us at the table.
- I went through a period of time when I left the Church. We had some abusing priests in our parish. I spent a number of years in the Protestant church before coming back. When I did it was a longtime before I would allow myself to receive communion. It was a shame thing that I felt, that kept me from going forward to receive. I remember weeping for the first 6 months or so after I did go for communion. It was a cathartic process of realizing that I did have a place there, that I was not to blame for the abuse that occurred. And in the very end I remember saying ‘No one can separate me from the love of God. No one!’ I guess it was a self-given dispensation.
- I think of the story of the prodigal son. He wasn’t questioned or grilled, but just welcomed home. ‘Thank God you are home. We worried about you. Come back into the fold. Set the table. Let’s have a feast.’ I really wish that as a church community, that would be our response to people who hesitate for whatever reason to come forward.
- I think the longest time I went without communion was when I was going through RCIA because I wouldn’t go anywhere else to take communion in a Protestant church and I couldn’t take communion where I was because I was supposed to be going through RCIA. While it was difficult to go without communion, unlike those who are permanently excluded, I didn’t see it as a ‘punishment’ despite my understanding of the true presence, because there was an end date. I knew on Easter my ‘fast’ from communion would be over.
- I can remember when I taught CCD for a while with the younger kids. We were going through first communion and I would tell them that parents always say at the dinner table ‘you are what you eat’ and I said, ‘This is the ultimate in that statement.’ If I go without taking communion, I am separated from the fold and I get hungry. As S. was saying, you get to the point where you need to take communion. It is no longer something you can do or not do. It becomes an overwhelming desire. And to tell someone that ‘that’s just too bad…you can’t,’ you feel this need, you have this desire to be with Christ and we are just not going to let you, is wrong. It is not my place. Way above my pay grade.
- The best and most formative experiences were in college, going to daily Mass in a very small Newman Center. For some time, there were three of us there besides the priest and he would invite us around the altar. I have always felt sorry for people who haven’t been able to experience Mass that way. It feels like the church is moving into this more separate style again where we don’t have communion rails yet, but in some places they have them back. The Eucharist is meant to be the coming together of us with God and us with others and there shouldn’t be separation. It is important for us to push for that togetherness as we all experience and receive God.
- I was a small child and I had just received communion. I internalized a lot of ideas concerning rules about when you should receive communion, and when you should not. I had teachers who would single you out and say, ‘Do you believe this is the body and blood of Jesus? And if you don’t then you really shouldn’t take communion.’ And I remember thinking ‘Well this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.’ I am 8 years old. And I suppose I believe it and if I don’t go to communion, where would I go? I just think it is kind of ridiculous that all are not welcomed to receive the Eucharist.
- I think of the moving experiences of communion that I have had, and they have been in places where it is very clear that everybody was welcomed to receive. I was at a political demonstration one time in Georgia and there was a very exuberant late-night Mass that was probably one of the most unique experiences in a program I was in for that year. I got to travel with a friend to El Salvador a couple of years ago and there were several different Masses that were celebrated in churches in San Salvador and different communities in San Salvador and it was very clear that all were welcomed to receive communion. I feel like one of the things about the Mass that I appreciate, is that it’s the same everywhere but it’s different.
What are the roadblocks or barriers to you, in partaking in communion?
- When I was working as an RCIA coordinator, I saw a lot of pain and division because of the church’s rules. I saw people through RCIA, and at the last moment their spouses didn’t want to be married in the Church and they were not allowed to enter the Church because their marriages couldn’t be validated. There has to be people going up on Sunday to communion who go home and beat their spouses, or their children and it is just not right.
- A priest we all know screamed at us [Eucharistic ministers] on a couple of occasions because a drop of precious blood hit the floor, or a wafer was found on the floor and heaven forbid we all trampled on Jesus as we left the church and didn’t recognize he was lying on the floor. And then a letter came out, that we each had to say a rosary to repent for having trampled on Jesus. As a therapist I see people who suffer with OCD. And I think sometimes these rules foster scrupulosity where simple accidents happen, and we become un-Christlike in how we treat one another.
- Communion is community with God and with others. The Catholic Church as an institution presents certain things to the world. And some of those things I don’t agree with. If I receive communion, what does that mean? Am I expressing to the world that I am in communion with the Church and I believe all these things that the Catholic Church believes? Or am I experiencing communion with God? Communion with God and with the people around me I find very clear. But figuring out that relationship with the institution of the Church is something that I have had much more difficulty with.
- The idea that only men can consecrate the Eucharist…that is gender discrimination. It gets away from our baptismal dignity as women. And as a woman and as persons in the body of Christ, it takes away from the call that we all have to be a priestly people.
- In the height of the sexual abuse crisis issues a few years ago, I had a friend say to me, ‘How can you still go to that church?’ And I remember saying to her ‘Yeah, they are not the Church. We are the Church.’ I go to church and I have a relationship with the people when I am there. I have communion with God. As far as the institution of the Church, that is how I have gotten along all these years.
- A friend of mine missed Mass one week and felt that he needed to go to confession before he could take communion. And there was no point in going to Mass if he couldn’t take communion. Three years later he is still not going to Mass and still hasn’t taken communion because of that initial day. Too often we have let the rules and regulations provide us with an excuse or a way to separate ourselves. And the wider the gap gets, the harder it is to bridge.
- There are instances where the punishment is external. It comes from the institution or the priest. And there are cases where people internalize the punishment and punish themselves.
- I was actually very blessed that when I did come back to the church and went to confession, and I told the priest that what I missed, was not being able to go to communion, he absolved me right then and said you can have communion. And to me that was a sign of a true priest. He wasn’t going to quibble about rules and regulations. They were not the main thing. It was to save my soul.
What are the things that you envision for the church? What does the Holy Spirit say to you about what would need to change, or how it could be?
- Richard Rohr likes to oppose Christianity to what he calls ‘Churchianity.’ Our problem is with Churchianity. So how do you move from Churchianity to Christianity? Well, you try and behave in a way that is more Christ centered. How do we constantly come back to Christianity? What does it mean to be Christ-centered?
- We need to remember what Jesus said about rules. Rules are there to help us find our way. God is not restricted by rules. They are not going to stop Him from doing whatever it is He wants to do in our lives. Thinking that in some way, some rules that we put in place as humans are going to stop Christ or God from reaching out, grabbing ahold of us and getting us where He wants us to be is silly. Because while it is impossible for us to put the camel through the needle’s eye, it is not impossible for Him.
- An openness of the church to listen to those who have been denied and an openness to their pain and to their desire for God. When the pandemic first happened and everything was shutting down, I was seeing a lot of traditional Catholics saying ‘Oh my God I can’t get to Mass. I can’t get to the Eucharist. I can’t…’ and all I kept thinking about were the people in Latin and South America who don’t get to receive communion because there are no priests. And Rome had just recently said that they won’t let married priests give out communion or deacons to consecrate the hosts. I feel that the Holy Spirit is calling us to be more open to a bigger way of thinking. To really examine what communion is and who it is for and why we do it.
- In the book that I am reading about Vatican II there are quotes by some Popes saying that feminism has something to teach us about the dignity and worth of women. And so as human beings we have evolved in many ways over the centuries in our understandings of science, of gender, of sexual orientation and of power dynamics, and yet the Church remains so archaic in many respects and almost takes pride in separating itself from what they would call secularism. And in doing that, denying themselves wisdom that comes from God. We have well-formed consciences that can guide us and yet we deny ourselves access to that because we get so bent on sticking to our traditions. That adds to our priest shortage, and to the unavailability of communion for many.
- I wish that there were not just priests who are men, because I think that denies a whole world of vision that can come from the feminine. I think that there really needs to be a change in how roles are played in the Church.
- The fact that ‘celibate men’ are allegedly the only ones called to the priesthood is crazy. That really limits who can minister to people and pastor them.
Communion unites us with Divinity and with each other. The issue of the real presence of Christ is not something we grapple with. What that means to each of us may vary.
Rules, narrow definitions and restrictions interfere with creating meaningful communion experiences, especially when they become obsessive. As such, we should remove as many barriers as possible, both spiritual and practical, so that this food for the journey is available to all.
How do you think of participation in the Church? What does that mean to you?
- I see participation as being able to do work that appeals to you. You don’t have to do everything. Be involved in some way. And in a broader sense, participation is attending Mass and/or following what is going on in the Church.
- Participation can mean a lot of different things. It can be donating money or time to a particular parish or the larger denomination. It can be volunteering in a particular ministry. It can also be emotional. It is sort of a longing for the Church. But it also needs to be participation in decision making.
- Participation is to extend your head, your heart and your hands. You can participate just by being present, even if you’re not opening your mouth or saying a word, but just being present by listening.
- Participation in the body of Christ has more to do with being in the world and how that contributes to bringing about whatever is good.
- The participation I look for lets me use my gifts. If I am the foot, I want to be able to do the walking for the Church. If I am the hand, I want to be able to do the reaching and holding.
- If I am aware of some issue, I want to be able to speak up, bring it to the attention of the right people and come together to problem solve.
- We need every member participating as much as possible. The community suffers when we don’t utilize the gifts of everybody.
- In order to get the most participation we have to have a comfort level, the opportunity and the desire. Sometimes we need someone to help us by training us or by being a role model.
What has your journey with participation been like?
- It is hard to be involved in a ministry and then tell everyone respectfully ‘I have been doing this for a while and now I would like to do something else.’ The tendency is to tell participants ‘Oh well, you are now the _____.’ You are the flower lady. You are the teacher lady or the one who helps count money. There seems to be certain roles that your type of person should do in the parish.
- I can listen, I can read newspapers and articles and participate on Facebook and things like that, but I don’t really feel that I have any real influence on the official direction of the Church.
- As a child of the 50’s the message to me was, and I didn’t even know to be offended, you can take care of the altar and you can do the bake sale and make brownies for bingo and plug in the coffee. That is what all the women did. The Church has lost a whole group of women of my generation. I am here because if a woman is called to be a priest, I am going to sit and listen to her. Because that is how it should be. Everybody is called, right?
- After college I participated in a Catholic service program. That was the first time that I encountered people who considered themselves to be very Catholic, but for whom their participation was not centered on the Mass. Many of them did not attend Mass, but they were very passionate about issues such as people with HIV/AIDS and the homeless.
- When it comes to influence in the Church, I have found that you have to say, ‘I am here and I am not going anywhere and we are going to play together, and you are going to like it.’ And I have found some priests have done well with that and some priests have not. My experience meant a need to assert when God is calling me, and to use influence even where influence is not always welcome.
What barriers to participation have you felt?
- As my spirituality increased, my ability to participate at any level kept hitting up against blockages. I (a woman) used to give the homily in the parish with some of the pastors. Then Fr. H. came, and it was ‘no.’ I didn’t take it personally but lots of other people would say ‘How come? Where is S.?’
- We started having problems in the parish with some of the lay ministries we were trying to put in place, when restrictions were placed on what we could do outside the actual Mass, in those ministries.
- Divorced people, Gay people, and anybody on the margins are not welcomed. It’s very clear. No kind of effort whatsoever.
- I thoroughly enjoyed greeting during COVID. And when I left the parish there came a list of rules about how greeters were to be dressed. There was one guy who always wore shorts and a tee shirt, even in the winter. He got told he couldn’t show up that way. He got angry because that is who he is. Young girls were chastised for showing too much cleavage or wearing too short of a skirt. If you have a warm smile, I don’t care if you are wearing a tee shirt. You can still open the door and say ‘Hey, welcome!’
- Our Newman Center priest when I was in college used to say, ‘the only way you can come to Mass inappropriately dressed is not to go.’ When one puts barriers in peoples’ way, they have one of two reactions. They either go to church intending to confront someone or they just stop going altogether. Both of those are not good for the Church and it is definitely not good for that person.
- Or the 3rd reaction some have is to the check off all these items on the list, getting every little detail right if you are a faithful, ‘good’ Catholic. I converted when the Church was more liberal as a whole than it was after Pope John Paul ll. Now the emphasis on the rules is becoming almost a superstition. There are rules at our parish for EM’s, about how you are supposed to look to make sure that people consume the host in the right way. And if they don’t you are supposed to follow them. This is ridiculous.
- I am the only Catholic in my extended family and those barriers happen in Protestant denominations also. If you get into fundamentalism with the emphasis on sexual purity before marriage and fidelity and all that, they don’t have confession in a Baptist church, but there is a similar dynamic going on. It is ‘I am never good enough because of XYZ.’ It is shaming.
- I have seen in our parish that if you have money or you are a person who is quiet, you don’t challenge and you don’t ask questions, you are going to be a little closer to the inner circle. I also think that who the bishop is makes a difference. Previous pastors were very transparent with us about that. You don’t want to get in trouble with the bishop. Money, power, the bishop…those things cause us to play games with people. Like saying ‘We want you to have a place on the parish council. Oh, you can’t really have a vote. But you can come. But we are not really meeting because we don’t need to because I (the pastor) don’t have anything to consult you on. But you can come to the council meetings.’ It is just game playing. It makes us think we have a say. But in the end, it is really about power and control.
- For example, we were once told by the pastor, ‘You can go to the local Pride Parade, as long as you don’t have a banner saying which parish you are from.’
- I don’t think I ever stood at the altar and thought, ‘Oh, I want to be a priest someday.’ But one of my sisters felt that way. She was an altar server in college until the pastor at her Newman Center commented to her that ‘It would really be better if young men were the altar servers. But since we don’t have enough of them, you will do.’ And that was the last time she participated.
How is the Holy Spirit talking to you about how to change these barriers?
- I got started in Social Justice through joining a discussion group and I went from ‘I would like to read this and be in one of these small groups’ to leading one of those small groups. And then as time passed, I got emails saying, ‘By the way, you are on the list now.’ It sometimes takes having someone reach out to you and say ‘I heard you singing in Mass. You sounded really good. Would you like to join us in the choir?’
- We were all called to be disciples, right? We are all supposed to be out there. That means getting to know each other, using our gifts and encouraging each other so that the message gets spread. I don’t think the Church does that in the best way.
- I think the Church would really benefit from understanding power dynamics and clericalism. It is not always the priest who has been the barrier to me, in doing something important. Sometimes it is a lay person. But it is almost always about a level of power and control. When someone has a need to push an agenda, or has to be the gatekeeper, or is the one who bludgeons people on behalf of the pastor, that needs to be confronted.
- It is interesting how religious orders are usually very careful about not letting anybody in who would not be prepared for being in the order. But it looks like the diocesan side of the Church doesn’t really care, especially with the shortage of priests these days. There doesn’t seem to be a problem about letting anybody in. If we allowed married people and women into the priesthood, we would have a broader selection of acceptable and qualified candidates to the priesthood.
- When the sex scandal happened in Missouri, the accused priest was one from the Newman Center. The first thing the parish did was to put the priest involved in sex abuse on administrative leave. It was a real shock to students because we hadn’t seen anything, and because many Catholics do put these people on a pedestal.
- We talk about clericalism as the leading cause of the sex abuse crisis, but we don’t hear from the pulpit ‘Please don’t put me on a pedestal.’
- And finally, what you have to do to promote participation is to be inviting. I was invited to be in one of those small discussion groups during the pandemic and people took turns leading. We didn’t need a priest. It was like one of the best religious experiences I have had.
Participation takes different forms and is related to individual gifts. Many of our favorite experiences with participation happened in non-conventional ways. The main barriers involve barring participation by certain groups of people and an over emphasis on rules and behavior. Change would involve a greater awareness of the limitations of the Church and an increased appreciation for and utilization of the gifts the Holy Spirit has endowed on every member of the body of Christ, including our ability to discern the best way forward for the Church.
What does mission mean to you, to the Church and to Beloved Inclusive Catholic Community?
- Pope Francis has said every person is a mission in their own way. I would hope that the Church would find individual and communal ways to witness to the life that Jesus led and that we profess to follow.
- Mission is how I live out my faith, how I go beyond belief and spirituality to reach out to others because of my faith, and ‘walk the talk’ in my life.
- The core values of Catholic Social Teaching should point us in the right direction, including the dignity of the human person, the Common Good, support of the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, worker’ rights, solidarity and the care for God’s creation.
- ‘Mission’ comes from the Latin word ‘to send’. The disciples were sent by Jesus to be salt and light in the world, so should the Church, not just the institution but every one of us, since we are the Church.
- What’s remarkable about Jesus is that he followed the ‘call’ to the death. It was a strong conviction that drove him, and to which he was obedient to the very end. As disciples, we are called by the same Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world.
- A mission is a place where something starts, and something grows through the spreading of the Good News. We are each called to be a living presence of Jesus in the world.
- It differs for each of us depending on our particular gifts and aptitudes.
- All of us are called to be christs. We are all representatives of the Divine. So Jesus in his ‘christ-ness’ was living out his representation of the Divine. He was called to acts and to speak words that were suited to him. When you think of the vastness of God, there are many different threads that we might represent in our ‘christ-ness’.
- Our particular ‘christ-ness’ is something that the church is called to support, not necessarily to define for us.
- There are two types of inclusion in the mission of the Church; inclusion into the process of becoming what the Church thinks we need to be, or an invitation to be who we as believers were designed to be, whatever that authentic calling is in each one of us.
- The point is to find your true self, and to act accordingly. Some saints and spiritual teachers spent their entire lives in monasteries, while others like Dorothy Day, went into the world and reached out to people.
- The mission to evangelize is about the sharing of the Good News. What is your Good News? For me it is not heaven or hell. It’s the idea that I can be united with my creator and find divinity within the fibers of my being, because the creator breathed life into me, in the way that I am uniquely and wonderfully made. I want others to know that Good News for themselves.
What are the barriers to mission?
- We may all hold the same gospel values but see one as more important that others. I may prioritize abolition of the death penalty while another prioritizes abolition of abortion.
- I have a sister who identifies as queer, who told me once that she now identifies as an atheist. She said to me that for a long time, she was convinced that the only way that she could go to heaven was if she were martyred.
- Excessive emphasis on piety. My spiritual life should not consume all of my time and energy just to make me feel better. It should lead me to work with others to serve their needs. We should help each other personally and collectively, to be aware of this, and to guard against it.
- Why do we make people feel like they are never good enough?
- There were concrete examples of obstacles for most of us who were at our parish. We were pushing for Peace and Justice. Even trying to give out brown paper bags to the poor to feed them, caused problems related to using the wrong parking lot and on and on, and in having an LGBT group, or in having a discussion on racism. All this was not welcome.
- Barriers are those expectations of what we should do, like go and make disciples…The other things that we feel compelled to do are not recognized and supported because we are not in line with this view of conversion.
- Does God want us to be concerned about the salvation of others? Is that what it means to be loving to them? To encourage them to follow some kind of formula so they don’t spend eternity in hell? To me, that’s often how the Church defines its mission, to convert people.
- Our mission is to spread Jesus’ love. It may be by packing up our bags and going to Africa, or it may be by walking down to the soup kitchen. In the soup kitchen, I work in the office. People come in and they say, ‘I need a new pair of shoes.’ And I say ‘Ok, let’s see who can do that.’ They might respond ‘I could use some prayers.’ And I say ‘Ok, I can do that for you.’ But that is not my primary mission. My primary mission is to put shoes on this person because their shoes have fallen apart. If they ask, I don’t say ‘Well, if you want shoes, let’s say a prayer.’ Where the Church gets hung up, is in defining how we do the mission. Instead of saying ‘Go be love’ it says, ‘Go be love this way.’
- That is as in the story about Jesus and the Centurion. The man is not a Jew. He is a Roman soldier. He goes to Jesus and asks, ‘Will you heal my servant?’ Jesus doesn’t say ‘First you have to become a Jew, commit to going to the Temple on the Sabbath, and then I will see what I can do.’ Instead, he praises the faith of a non-Jew and heals the servant. Whether you are a Roman soldier, or a tax collector or a Samaritan or a prostitute, Jesus never says, ‘Show me your credentials.’
What should Beloved Inclusive Catholic Community’s mission look like?
- The mission of disciples is to build the Kingdom of God. To me, the Kingdom means living the Beatitudes, which in the scriptures are referred to in the present tense. The Beatitudes tell us of Jesus’ promise that we are blessed because of how we act in this world, here and now.
- A part of our mission is inclusion. Inclusion of people on the margins, and inclusion of women in the priesthood. By structure and format, we strive to do things by consensus. By doing that, we can model it for the rest of the Catholic community. Inclusion and consensus are really about love, aren’t they? About the dignity of every person. Respecting that, celebrating that, being that celebration.
- Beloved is a faithful community for people who are seeking a deeper and more intimate relationship within the congregation, and with those in the outer world. It is necessary for us to have a common vision, to work together and to be able to impact the world in a christlike way.
- It is a part of our mission to convert someone if that is where that person wants to go.
Our mission is to accompany people, and to meet them where they are. And to be Jesus. And that kind of fits the gospel stories, doesn’t it?
- We can be intentional about imbibing inclusion by inviting more women into the clergy, by going to seminary, by wearing albs…
- Also, by examining how we are crossing economic and racial barriers. It is easy to think about inviting all our friends to a movie night, but that’s pretty comfortable inclusion.
- I think evangelization (at Beloved) can mean allowing each of us to find ways to be conduits for God’s love. I am a closer person to the one I am meant to be when I understand that I am loved. That God loves me is a stretch for me. But the love of other people is more concrete. The love we show to one another can be a reminder of God’s love. I think everyone needs to be shown that they are loved.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you about how to remove the barriers to fulfilling our mission?
- The frustrations we have each felt when our personal missions were blocked by the parish are legitimate. But there are some practical management decisions that have to be made in a parish. Perhaps it is about how those decisions are made, who makes them, and the spirit in which they are made.
- The Church’s responsibility is to gather the group of ‘missionaries’ (the people who go forth) and to support them.
- As a community, we have to choose which mission we will prioritize.
- We need to listen to one another and to come to some kind of consensus.
- Barriers can be removed when we support one another. If someone comes to us and says ‘I want to do X, as an outreach’ we should support those goals.
- We can each find our paths. We are all different. Paul teaches us that all the members of the body of Christ are unique. Inclusion means acceptance of that diversity of ways to be a disciple. The Church should accept and support us in this.
- The campus ministry in the college I attended was alive and well with a lay person who was very Franciscan in her being. They made campus ministry tee shirts one year that said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.’
The Church can recognize that the gospel (Good News) is shared by each of us in different ways.
- Get to know us. See how we were designed, and the calling that pours from who we are. Rather than being told, this is the mold you fit in and, whether you fit in it or not, we will squish you in there and we will use you for this purpose, accept us for who we are as Catholics.
- Open up space for supportive communities like Beloved to exist and encourage priests to support more progressive and sometimes less traditional parishioners in how those parishioners practice their faith and carry out their missions.
Mission for each of us is a personal calling of the Holy Spirit. The Church's role in this should be to provide the framework, the support, and the freedom to listen to what Spirit is calling us to. Knowing we have the support and the freedom to answer our call, we feel, would encourage many more to listen to the Spirit in their lives.
In closing, first and foremost, we want to say how incredibly impactful our synodal process was and how grateful we are to have our voices heard, by each other and by the Church. Listening deeply and respectfully to each participant allowed us to more fully discern who we want to be as a community. We hope that each parish was able to, and will continue to, hold listening sessions as they make decisions about how to move forward.
While we were holding our meetings, Bishop Tylka presented his five pillars in his Easter letter. With the exception of Archbishop Sheen, we were able to see how our community could fit into the framework of his pillars. We hope that you will read what we have discerned, find what we have written as an insight into those Catholics who feel at the margins of our parishes, and integrate it into the larger synodal process. Peace be with you. Amen.