An assembly of the entire church in Ireland took one step closer this week with an overflow meeting that saw more than 1,000 priests, religious and laypeople gather to discuss the future of the church, reports NCR Online.
Organisers say they expected about 200 participants to attend the event, which the Association of Catholic Priests sponsored. However, Dublin's Regency Hotel was packed to capacity, with many at the event forced to stand.
Speaker after speaker pleaded for a more open church centered around a spirit of dialogue. Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery, who was recently forbidden to write by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, maintained a discreet presence and was greeted by many well-wishers.
The priests association now represents about 25 percent of Irish priests in active ministry and has called for a re-evaluation of the church's teaching on sexuality and a "redesigning" of ministry "to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female." The group also wants local involvement in the appointment of bishops.
Participants pointed to the report of the recent Apostolic Visitation of the Irish church, which criticized a "fairly widespread" tendency among Irish Catholics to hold views contrary to the teaching of the church as an indication that Irish Catholics are itching for reform.
A succession of speakers 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.
FULL STORY Ireland assembly of religious and laypeople calls for re-evaluation (NCR)