Bishops’ Conference of Scotland Response to “Enlarge the space of your tent”: Working Document for the Continental Stage – Synod 2021-2024

“After having read and prayed with the DCS, which intuitions resonate most strongly with the lived experiences and realities of the Church in your continent? Which experiences are new, or illuminating to you?” –  

Our experience is that those who engaged with the synodal process found it profoundly rewarding. Many concurred that there was a sense of “being heard”. We heard voices that have a great love for the Church, a great desire for unity and for true Synodality. We understand that synodality, with its focus on intentionally listening to God, and to one another, both inside and outside the Church, opens the way for discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The acknowledged tension between belonging and exclusion resonated with our experience. This includes the experience of those, such as the divorced and remarried, who are currently excluded from participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and those who, due to their identified sexuality, feel distant from the Church. There are others who, due to abuse, addiction, migration, or poverty, feel like outsiders. The whole Church, the People of God, is grappling with this tension. We must be willing to share the Church’s teaching but also make the effort to remove obstacles which would otherwise prevent these brothers and sisters of ours from being welcomed into the Catholic community.

We recognise the co-responsibility of clergy, laity, and religious in the Church’s mission to make Christ present in the world. This responsibility is rooted in our common baptismal dignity, through which every member of the Church is called into full participation in the life and mission of the Church, whatever our state in life. Evangelisation begins by allowing people to encounter us as faith-filled and loving persons.

“After having read and prayed with the DCS, what substantial tensions or divergences emerge as particularly important in your continent’s perspective? Consequently, what are the questions or issues that should be addressed and considered in the next steps of the process?” –  

Perhaps the most pervasive tension in Europe is the growing divide between the Church and secular culture. To bridge this gap, the language of the Church must be accessible to all, without diluting the Gospel message. We need to consider how to foster a sense of community in a culture where people seek individual fulfilment.

Related to this is a decline in the participation and presence of young people and families in the Church. Instead of being part of a community of faith, accompanied throughout life, they feel the Church is an institution, impersonal and irrelevant. This disconnect extends to adults who perceive Church membership to be restrictive and unfair. Ongoing faith formation, which calls for conversion and guides people into a committed, life-giving relationship with Christ, is needed. In conjunction with parishes, Catholic schools have an integral part to play in the mission of the Church in this regard. Serving as places of evangelisation and catechesis, they enable the Church to listen to, engage with, and accompany young people and their families.

There is a widespread desire for churches to be inclusive, welcoming, and listening, where everyone has a voice and their part to play and is prepared to do so. To make such synodal participation a reality, formation is necessary, which will prepare all the baptised to participate in the life and mission of the Church according to their vocation and state in life. Similarly, the need for repentance and renewal of the Church as an institution will aid this transformation. The full understanding and recognition of our shared dignity will help to overcome the problem of clericalism. Mechanisms for regular consultation between clergy, laity, and religious should be established or renewed, ensuring transparency, better communication, and co-responsibility.

Of special note is the involvement of women. Women have long been the backbone of Church communities, yet there are few opportunities for women to make their voices heard in the Church. Women are not inferior to men and with men are equally members of the People of God. There is a need to recognise the unique role which women, both lay and religious, have in the Church and how it can be enhanced so that their voices may be heard.

The sexual abuse scandal within the Church has disillusioned many people and has driven some from the Church. Healing and reconciliation are needed. Much has been done in this regard, but continued rigour is needed to deal with this scandal.

Some people viewed the synodal process with scepticism, reticence and at times, distrust. They pointed to tensions between synodal structures and hierarchical structures, or between synodal processes which focus on formation and discernment and the unchanging content of the deposit of faith. We must keep in mind that underneath all the tensions, there can and should be a unitive force: the desire to meet and know Jesus Christ. Our mission is to make Him known.

“Looking at what emerges from the previous two questions, what are the priorities, recurring themes and calls to action that can be shared with other local Churches around the world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023?”  

We must recognise and reaffirm our common Baptismal dignity as the basis for renewal of life and ministries in the Church. Every baptised person must become more aware of their identity, dignity, and vocation in Christ. Lay people have much to contribute to the life and mission of the Church, yet priestly and religious vocations are also integral. Each vocation must be better understood and more widely appreciated if we are to cultivate the collegial nature of the Church. The role of women, in particular, needs to be re-addressed by the whole Church so that their co-equal status is understood and reflected in the life and structures of the Church.

Faith is transmitted to the next generation first and foremost in the family, yet the breakdown of the family as an institution is a cultural fact. The Church needs to consider ways to engage with families, especially broken and incomplete ones, so that more parents are equipped to hand on the gift of faith to their children. More widely, the Church must listen and examine the ways in which today’s circumstances call for a new presentation of the faith, so that all her members may live their faith with understanding and conviction.

We, as Catholic Christians, must also live and proclaim the teaching of the Church regarding social justice issues. Humility, conviction, and renewed confidence will allow the Church to take its place in the public square and dialogue fruitfully with secular society in this regard. We also feel called to work together with other Christian communities and people of all faiths to confront these issues and make the world a better place for all humankind. A year of forgiveness and welcome, coinciding with the Jubilee Year 2025, may allow the Church to respond to the cries of those poor in body and spirit, to hear the most distant voices and reach even the most reluctant hearts.

2 February 2023

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord