Southern African Catholics: End Clericalism, Open Ministry to Women, Be Inclusive


Members of the clergy carry a large cross during a Good Friday procession in Durban, South Africa, on April 15. (CNS/Reuters/Rogan Ward)

Widen the circle of preaching to women and other lay people, change the style of autocratic and bureaucratic leadership, move away from clericalism and build more inclusive and welcoming communities, say Catholics in Southern Africa.

These are some of the major themes that emerged in the summary document of the synod on synodality published by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference end of August. The conference represents Catholic bishops from South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini.

The secretary general of the episcopal conference, Fr. Hugh O’Connor, said the synthesis was intended to reflect the wide range of opinions mentioned in the diocesan reports. “No attempt was made to weigh anything as no votes were taken,” he said.

The synthesis, from 29 dioceses in the conference area, begins by acknowledging that there was a “variety of engagement with the synodal process ranging from enthusiastic involvement to opposition to the process.

Jesuit father. Bruce Botha, the Vicar for Evangelism in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg who led the diocesan process, thinks “the synthesis reflected what was being said about women, youth and the LGBTQ+ community in the diocese.”

He said things may have been said more forcefully in the diocesan report but the synthesis captured the fruit of the dialogue of the diocesan process.

The conference recognizes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the process. “Many parishes, communities and groups were trying, at the same time as the synodal process, to rebuild and regroup. They thus faced the challenge of fewer numbers, the inability to gather freely, the continued government restrictions and the sense of apathy the pandemic seemed to cause while trying to restore regular parish life.

Residents of Laudium, South Africa, line up to receive food aid on May 20, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  (CNS/Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

Residents of Laudium, South Africa, line up to receive food aid on May 20, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

Although there were differing opinions, the summary document reports that in both rural and urban dioceses, questions about “Church teaching on abortion, contraception, the ordination of women, the married clergy, celibacy, divorce and remarriage, Holy Communion, homosexuality” were raised.

While it is said that many were satisfied with the ministry of priests, the synthesis highlights several issues surrounding the life and ministry of priests. Concerns expressed range from inefficient work to low moral standards and financial abuse. “Lack of liturgical preparation and preaching, apparent poor education, and lack of basic pastoral skills” are also cited.

“There must also be a movement away from clericalism and a clergy-centered community toward greater involvement of all in the life and workings of the Church,” he says.

The brief goes on to cite several concerns about clergy, including a “variety of attitudes toward women, youth, the LGBTQIA+ community, difficulty building relationships with other men, lay involvement, and the inability priests to exercise their ministry in the communities”. [where] they are affected. »

People have expressed concern about the impact of bad example and bad behavior by clergy on vocations and lay happiness. “The average Catholic wants a good and holy priest for pastor and ministry and a living and active community.”

The synthesis states that the type of participation that Southern African Catholics desire is one in which “the gifts of all members are used, for example by opening up preaching to lay people, including women, by widening involvement in ministries and accountability”. There is a call for the ordination of women to the diaconate and married men to the priesthood.

“Many comments were offered on the state of the young people and their presence in the Church,” the document states. He emphasizes that young people are not the future but the present of the church. The participation of young people in the synodal process ranges from active absence to total absence, he indicates.

“There is a general concern that many young people will leave the Church after confirmation if they even make it,” he says. The reasons cited are “hostility towards young people, intergenerational conflict, [the] role of parents, teenage pregnancy, moral teaching of the Church, temptations in the rest of the world, life choices and the unattractiveness of the Church.

The synthesis deplored the lack of involvement of religious – especially women – in diocesan structures. The nuns want “to be taken more seriously and recognized for their contribution to the life of the Church and not to be treated as second-class members.”

A lack of funds often limits the mission of the church, but it is not an insurmountable problem, according to the report. The lack of continuing education, from clergy to lay ministries, hampers the mission of the church.

The report identifies the shortage of priests as a challenge, as well as priests “making their own rules and pushing their own agendas, moral decay among clergy, lack of respect and participation, ministry to families, inability to use resources properly.”

In some places, the report indicates that structures, such as diocesan pastoral councils, parish pastoral councils and finance committees, are not being used appropriately for full participation. “It is perceived that the priest, certain families or individuals dominate these structures, excluding others,” the document states.

The report also points to problems with the [refusal] from baptism to the children of single mothers and the treatment of divorced persons. He says people who experience a marriage breakdown “seem to be stigmatized”.

“There are new realities and it is in these altered realities that we live out our faith.

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There were calls for the church to reconsider issues like divorce, remarriage and contraception. The summary says, “There is a strong need to look beyond the idea of ​​heterosexual marriage to other forms of family – single parent, LGBTQIA+, multigenerational and blended families, and adoption.”

It also calls for more space to discuss issues affecting families and marriage “without being closed off by law or Church morals.”

Although there was an appreciation for church leadership, some expressed a desire for a change in leadership style from “the tendency to be autocratic and bureaucratic to being more listening, open and consultative”. Laity and clergy have expressed this desire.

People criticized the bishops for their “lack of transparency on [the] sexual and financial crises” and their “lack of leadership in terms of international and national events”. resulted.

“There is a constant demand for better catechesis and ongoing faith formation for all,” the document states. The summary says that all responses “indicated the definitive vision of a Vatican II Church” and that there was “the desire to grow that vision.” He says people want good liturgies that bring communities together.

The summary acknowledges that some responses “reverted to a past that has largely disappeared” but that there was “no concerted effort to impose such a view on others”. It was more of a “remembrance of the good old days” and the realization that the world, the church, circumstances and consciousness have changed.

He says, “There are new realities and it is in these changed realities that we live out our faith.

People play football on a dusty pitch in Soweto, South Africa, September 15, 2021. (CNS/Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

People play football on a dusty pitch in Soweto, South Africa, September 15, 2021. (CNS/Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

“The Synod offered the Church a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and rediscover a way of being community,” the document reads. This was important in a post-COVID context. The synod process set people back and showed a real thirst to “come together again to pray together, whether in Holy Mass or in more informal settings.”

Additionally, it served to “rebuild a sense of and appreciation for the significance of the local church community”.

The summary concludes that the process cannot be gauged by the number of people involved or “the responses given, whether they agree or not”. Instead, the “quality of listening, of dialogue and of the desire to establish new relationships” is the most important. “To achieve this, it takes a change of style, training at all levels so that new paths emerge.”

“This synodal process has been invaluable in helping to reflect on the implementation of the Pastoral Plan,” the report says. It encourages the local church to enter into a phase of studying diocesan reports so that, where possible, it can implement practical ideas and suggestions. “It will give people confidence that there is action.”

Pretoria, South Africa, Bishop Dabula Mpako – who is responsible for the synodal process of the conference – said the results of the process “are and will always be of great help to different dioceses.” He said there is a lot of work to be done to continue the listening and the dialogue that has begun.

O’Connor, the general secretary, believes that the reports and the summary document can only be animated by a continuous renewal of the church, “not in structures but in relationships”.

The synthesis ends by acknowledging that the most important and difficult task is “to change the culture of the Church where it is necessary to create an atmosphere and a practice which includes more listening and dialogue in the search for greater communion, participation and mission in the Church.”

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