irish laity and priests call for dialogue on church

There is something brewing in Ireland, and it brings this blogger as much gleeful anticipation as the freshly drawn pint of Guinness I enjoyed in Dublin a few years ago. (Yes, the Guinness tastes best in Dublin. And, yes, I had more than one pint.)

The Association of Catholic priests (representing about 25% of priests in Ireland) sponsored an event to gather lay and ordained to vision together for the church in Ireland. Two hundred participants were expected. One thousand showed up. Michael Kelly, deputy editor of The Irish Catholic, an independent, lay-owned weekly newspaper, reported on yesterday’s events, Ireland assembly of religious and laypeople calls for open church, re-evaluation.

Speaker after speaker at the event called the hierarchy to open up structures of dialogue with lay Catholics about the future of the church.

Fr. Gerry O’Hanlon, a former Jesuit provincial, said the clerical child sexual abuse crisis and its serious mishandling by church leaders has revealed wider and deeper fault lines in the national and universal church.

He described the event as a “wonderful sign of hope” for the future of the church in Ireland. He said the event was “trying to get a group together who really feel strongly about the crisis in the church and want to offer constructive hope and help.

“It’s about looking to a new church where the voice of the faithful, the voice of the laity, is heard more clearly as the Second Vatican Council wanted to happen,” O’Hanlon said.

An assembly of the entire church in Ireland took one step closer Monday with an overflow meeting that saw more than 1,000 priests, religious and laypeople gather to discuss the future of the church.

Of course, this is not the first time that Catholics have gathered in support of dialogue and reform in our church. We are Church is an international reform movement representing the “voice of the people in the pews”. Call to Action and The Voice of the Faithful are just two examples of similar organization in North America that promote dialogue at the grass-roots level.

Promoting a more inclusive church, visioning new models of church and her leadership, respecting individual conscience, speaking out for justice and equality, often puts you on the wrong side of the doctrinal divide. Promoting dialogue can be a dangerous business when questioning and challenging voices are increasingly silenced. This should not be.

This blog promotes dialogue. It is based on the belief that open hearts and open minds are needed to bridge the present ideological divides in our church and in our world. The energy stirring in Ireland is a sign that God’s people give a damn. They give a damn because their faith and their church mean something to them. I hope that the powers that be will sit up and listen to their voices. For listening is the first step to dialogue.