All voices matter: Hearing the pain through the Synod Process


(Photo Credit Aarón Blanco Tejedor - Unsplash)

By Pamela Walsh

On October 17, 2021, Catholic churches around the world held an opening Mass proclaiming that a Synod on Synodality was underway.  The phrase “Walking Together” has been the pillar of what this synod is about.  What does walking together mean and how can it be achieved? Who can participate in this process? Pope Francis said “Synodality is the way of being the Church today according to the will of God in a dynamic discerning and listening together to the voice of the Holy Spirit.” How does that happen for people who are bruised and broken and who have been deeply hurt and harmed by the church?

At the local levels, conversations around things like discernment, accessibility, cultural awareness, inclusion, partnership, respect, accurate, syntheses, transparency and fairness are expectations and principles for every diocese to use through the synod process. These discussions are happening with pastors and parishes and with ecumenical partners in order to reach the greatest number of people. One area that was identified as a special focus is “especially those on the periphery who are often excluded and forgotten”. How then can conversations occur for those who are not likely in the church?

There is little doubt that over the last several decades there has been a steady decline in church membership. There have been many discussions on why that is happening. Some say that it is simply people drifting away while others identify scandals that the church is being confronted with as a leading cause for people leaving. There are many things in between. So how does a discussion or a process of walking together happen with people who have been hurt, bruised and broken and are not likely to be part of the above conversations?

There are many who have endured hurt, pain and trauma because of the church. Perhaps those wounds occurred as children, in adolescence or as adults. In many ways, the church is just starting to grapple with and understanding the serious harm, pain, torment and trauma and grievous life long wounds that those who endured abuse in some of the most horrific ways are left with. Members of the LGBTQ2S+ communities, those who aborted a child, people who are in a committed relationship who chose not to marry, others who have married and divorced then married again without an annulment… all of these individuals have experiences of being treated poorly, leaving them bruised and sometimes broken. These are just some examples taken from a very long list. When people are treated poorly or judged in the court of public opinion it creates layers of pain.

Many of these people have felt alienated or have been bluntly told they are not welcome in the church. Others have been considered excommunicated or publicly refused the sacraments, perhaps resulting in feeling abandoned, and are not “in the church”. Many suffer in silence with the pain of being turned away or disregarded from a place where they may once have found comfort, but now only find pain or confusion. Being turned away often results in lifelong turmoil. Still deeper pain can occur when it impacts children, siblings and parents, often resulting in fractured families that might never talk to one another again. 

Why would those who have deep wounds and have been alienated for years or decades from the church risk entering into a process of walking together? There is little doubt that everyone probably knows someone who has been hurt by the church. They might be your friend or your neighbour, your coworkers or perhaps a family member. Yet even with that awareness many do not engage in these topics because there is so much hurt, pain and often anger. Walking together can be incredibly painful, daunting and scary.  We cannot walk together until people enter into conversations, often deeply painful conversations, so that change might begin to happen and walking together in this messy human condition of life begins to become a reality. No one should have to walk alone.

Have you been harmed by the church? Feeling betrayed, abandoned, or abused? Do you want to take part in the Synod but can't approach a parish? If you would like to share in a safe way with a victim's advocate, please contact Victim Services Advocacy at victimserviceadvocacyatgmail [dot] com or the Archbishop’s Delegate, 306-400-3655 or by email enquiryatarchregina [dot] sk [dot] ca.


News Category: Voices

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