The Catholic Church must apologise for failing to recognise the role and contribution of women in the church, Ireland’s first diocesan synod in 50 years has heard.
Some 400 delegates representing 60 parishes are attending the event in Limerick, where they will consider 100 proposals to help map out the future of the church and how it serves the local community.
A proposal to reach out to those hurt by the church including women who have had abortions, members of the LGBT community and people who have spent time in church institutions was overwhelmingly supported on the first day of the synod.
Some 52 per cent of the delegates “strongly supported” the proposal with 38 per cent expressing more general support.
Speaking after the vote, synod director Eamon Fitzgibbon said he was not surprised by the result and said reaching out to those who had been hurt by the church was a “reality that must be addressed”.
“We are all too well aware of people who have been hurt by the church in the past. I suppose even most recently with the marriage equality referendum, a lot of people voiced hurt and concern, for example with how the LGBT community might have felt alienated,” Fr Fitzgibbon said.
“We have heard women expressing their particular pain and hurt as well, so I wasn’t a bit surprised that that received such an overwhelming strong vote as a priority issue among delegates.”
The diocesan synod is the first to take place in Limerick in 80 years, and it features an unprecedented level of participation of lay women and men.
Speaking at the event, Sr Eileen Lenihan called for the church to apologise to women and to acknowledge the contribution they make.
“I believe that we need to move forward. After all this time, there are still so many women who are feeling hurt or ignored or that their contribution is not recognised or that their gifts are not utilised.
“That has gone on for too long and we need to set a new starting block. That could be brought about by an apology, so that women could say we we are into a new phase, we can move forward and we can make a contribution that is fitting and equal.”
Sr Lenihan, who has been a member of the St Joseph of the Sacred Heart order for 53 years, has no objection to women priests.
“I do not wish to be a priest myself but I am aware that there are many who would want to make a contribution in that way.
“ I think it depends very much on the willingness and the capacity of the person to serve in the community. That’s the important thing – being male or female is not nearly as significant.”
Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy described the event as a wonderful “distilling of the wisdom of the listening that has gone on across the 60 parishes of our diocese of Limerick”.