Why I Support ACTA – Voices from Shrewsbury (090115)

ACTA is about promoting dialogue within the Catholic Church and ensuring people can speak and listen to each other openly and honestly and without fear.

In December, we invited ACTA supporters from Shrewsbury to write a few sentences ‘from the heart’ about what draws them to ACTA. (“There are no ‘right’ reasons - just ‘your’ reason...”)

Quite varied in length, content and style, these first contributions give a very personal indication as to why ACTA matters. They reflect a wide range of viewpoints, some of which are quite forthright, all of which are heartfelt.

I you would like to add your voice, please send your contribution to: martinandmaria@lineone.net

(Martin Higgins (ACTA coordinator, Shrewsbury)       Why I Support ACTA Voices from Shrewsbury

Thanks for the invitation to express my reasons for supporting ACTA.

I support ACTA because I want to be part of helping to transform the Catholic Church into a Church that I can be truly proud to be a member. I want our Church to welcome, value and empower all its members regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation and marital status. It seems that for so long we have accepted that some people matter more than others, have more rights than others, should control others and all this in the sight of God. Pope Francis is beginning to make a difference and with ACTA I want to be influential in that process.

(Louise, Stockport)
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Really hoping we can help to make Catholic Church relevant to our world today. Reducing pomp and ceremony and flattening our hierarchal structure.

Love the idea of inverting the triangle i.e. the people being The Church and the clergy serving the people and being more accountable and less autocratic.

Getting back to basics as Jesus did 2000 years ago and being less concerned with rules, regulations, mode of dress, titles etc.

Giving women more of a voice in decision making.

(Marie, Greasby)
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I joined ACTA because I did not like the way the Church was developing, and I wished to have it more like Vatican 2. Also I felt that the laity were being sidelined, by young clerics who wanted to take us back to a Church about which they had no experience.

(Jack, Birkenhead)
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We have been 'involved', or at least interested, from the very early beginnings of ACTA, though have only managed a couple of meetings. Our reason is simply that we care passionately about the Catholic Church as an institution that should support all in their spiritual growth and deepening relationship with God. The Church is the people, and we wholeheartedly support ACTA in its mission to ensure that all people are heard, and the Church is relevant and in touch with all people, whatever their vocation.

(Penny & Chris, Altrincham)
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I suppose I am still waiting for the spirit of Vatican 2 to enliven the Church; I say spirit because time has moved on and the letter in some cases is out of date.

I am looking for a Consultative Church; the laity are not children to be told what to do and think but are educated and experienced adults. I seek more autonomy for local Churches over which the Bishop of the Church of Rome presides in love, instead of ruling as a prince, I seek a truly collaborative ministry (ordained and lay); and ordained ministers who are true leaders - presbyters and not a 'cultic' priesthood. And that the Western Church, like the Eastern and Oriental Churches, may recognise that some presbyters may also have the vocation to marriage.

I'd best stop there before I write a book!
(Fred, Shrewsbury)
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It's not easy to isolate particular reasons that attracted me to ACTA. Here are a few thoughts.
For some time I have felt a general disillusionment with the church's inconsistencies and injustices. Also there seems to be a creeping pre-occupation with superficiality. There is a tendency among some fairly young clergy to turn the clock back, looking inward and exclusive. They seem beguiled by the "cult" of catholicism - Latin is almost elevated to what used to be called a "sacramental" along with holy water, incense and statues. Not much smelling of the sheep here!
Some older priests are downright unchristian yet go unchallenged and without accountability.
Spiritual formation at parish level tends to be concerned with the induction of converts; otherwise parishioners have to go on courses which can be costly. Furthermore, despite the fact that it isn't always possible for catholic children to attend a catholic school it is often tacitly assumed that any youngster attending mass regularly must be in the catholic school - another layer of exclusiveness.
I often feel alienated and, if I have mentioned any disquiet to a priest, I have always left with the impression that to question is a fault. I am meant to accept the "things I don't understand” and pray.
I was encouraged to discover a forum for discussion among catholics who are loyal, non-militant yet troubled. I was especially encouraged to find, in the small group discussion at the (ACTA) conference, one of the most holy, intelligent and grounded priests I have ever met. He was incognito of course! Just himself!

(Mary, Wallasey)
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Here are just a few thoughts about what draws me to be part of ACTA.

ACTA aims to encourage dialogue within the Church. This appeals to me. How refreshing it would be if, instead of having decisions made for us, we were involved in the decision making itself. Instead of being presented with a changed liturgy for example, how good to have been asked if we actually wanted one! Whose Church is it anyway!

As a parent and grandparent I have observed a marked difference in the relationships of today's family to those of past generations, yet the Church lags behind still behaving like a Victorian parent who knows what is best for its children who must be seen but not heard. This is not how today's society works. The Church needs to start listening to its body if it is to survive.

Also, as a woman of the Church, I have always felt inferior. Women in the past had no voice and had to fight to be heard and gain equality. Yet the Church remains male dominated. Women have little say about its future. ACTA will provide a platform for women to be heard and included in this dialogue.

Finally, I would like to see the members of ACTA encourage other Christians to get involved. I have so far only attended two meetings and at each one, I was amazed at the knowledge of people present. In general, they were well educated and able to voice their opinions clearly and articulately. This was wonderful to hear, but I was also aware of the lack of the less educated, those who may find it hard to put their feelings into words, and indeed those who don't have a voice because they aren't even aware that they're allowed to have one. I hope that ACTA becomes a real voice for the whole body not just part. For this to happen we must become a voice for all.

(Maria, Hyde)
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I want a Church that preaches the love of God for everyone rather than one which worries about legalistic concerns over worthiness and conformity. I believe that we are better together than on our own. We need to heal divisions and always to forgive others and ourselves. We have responsibilities towards the poor, the marginalised, strangers and refugees. We should not be frightened to say so and to criticise those in power who seek to make their lives more difficult.

(Hugh, Birkenhead)
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I want to support the strategies which enable the laity to have a stronger voice and influence within the Church. I want the laity to be empowered by the Church to be recognised on equal terms with Ordained Clergy.

(Peter, Hollingworth)
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Maddy: I have a great love of Church. However, I do see the need for change and for growth. I see the need for mutual respect and equality between the Laity and the Clergy, extending particularly to our precious young people. They, and we, have so much to offer. We all need to be listened to, recognised and valued. ACTA encourages us as we attempt to share what God is saying to us in our hearts. I believe that it is through this 'heart listening' to God and to one another as Church, that God will lead us toward growth and change. Under the welcome leadership of Pope Francis I hope that our Church Hierarchy will be more open to incorporating the views of the Laity into their decision making processes for the benefit of all, especially those who are poor or disadvantaged. In making decisions which affect family life, married people and parents of young people should be amongst the first to be consulted. In building our Church for the future, our young people should be consulted and encouraged to share their vision.

(Maddy, Hollingworth)
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As a lifelong Catholic the role of the Clergy has been dominant in the shaping of the community's ability to worship and reach out to the wider community in all the parishes I have been a member of. The whole character of the church seemed to flow from the strengths of the priests and this, when it was positive, could be phenomenal. However all too quickly the priest would change and the community would need to readjust to a new "man in charge" and quite often change was imposed without consultation.

What I would like to see occur is more a partnership between clergy and laity where the community is responsible for the administrative functions of their parish perhaps as a parish council or other body, and thus knowing or having an ability to speak for the community can support it in having a stable foundation for its activities and styles of worship. Not to say that the priest is not able to influence or guide, but that his role is supported by the community in a different way of serving it.

Proper lay formation is essential to facilitate this so that they are fully aware of the processes and manner of parish life - inclusivity, universality etc - and to always work with the interest of the community at its heart. Secular values which can be brought into the parish do not always work in this very sensitive and different way of "being". Efficacy, although desirable, is not always the goal - the journey being the important feature - and this can be very difficult to manage when many of the laity are used to working in a goal oriented environment with results that are achieved quickly.

I believe that a change of style desperately needs to occur within our church community, but cannot be imposed and cannot be forced. Evolving and bringing along all those of our community with us has to be the priority however painful and lengthy it may be. Minds and hearts can be cajoled and shaped by careful, sensitive preparation and eventually barriers will fall as eyes are opened.

Dialogue is key in developing this change of relationship between clergy and laity, and can only occur if it can happen honestly and in a safe environment where fear and hostility have ceased to play a role. Once the good of the entire community is the focus with Christ at its core, opposing opinions can be voiced honestly, and then the spirit can move freely. Maybe ACTA can facilitate some of this dialogue and who knows what will happen then?

(Helen, Wirral)
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I have felt a growing and uncomfortable alienation from my church over a considerable time, galvanised by the child abuse and the way it was mishandled, and compounded by the invitation to Anglican clergy who didn't want to entertain a female clergy, to join my church! I felt impotent, ignored, unimportant, and as a woman, unincluded. I was out in the Wilderness. Then along came ACTA, and now I am beginning to grope my way back. I feel as if I'm coming home.'

Jo, Frodsham
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During my life I have been encouraged to grow and to take on responsibility. Everywhere except the church. For this reason I didn't feel it was part of my adult life yet I missed it. Only by getting involved in ecumenical worship and then studying the Vatican II documents, did I realise that there should be a place for me and for all laity. I would say that it is a growing but still minority view. The difficulty is to keep momentum and enthusiasm going. Also, it is not easy to avoid building resentment or feeling like an outsider. So joining a group of like minded people is very important - even if it is, most of the time, a virtual group.

(Mairie, the Wirral)
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Thank you for this opportunity. Forgive me if I ramble on.

I put myself in the position of a young person seeking a spiritual dimension to their life. The life and teachings of Jesus must be an inspiration. Would they be likely to investigate further within the catholic tradition?

On the plus side, the work carried out by catholic organisations for justice and peace and the charitable work undertaken by catholic relief organisations and health charities together with the obvious devotion to the faith displayed by many catholics might cause some to investigate further. If so what are they presented with.

1. An obscene image of God as a vengeful powerful figure to be feared and flattered.
2. A church hierarchy more intent upon control than service.
3. Traditions which have become the focal point of worship, stifling the creative influence of God's spirit within the people. The sense of the Sacred, diminished by a joyless (and to most non church goers) a totally outdated and meaningless liturgy.
4. The exclusion of many who rightly or wrongly do not share or are unable to live up to the extreme moral values imposed by the church establishment.
5. A history of shame and abuse.
6. A history of collaboration with obscene regimes. More concerned with maintaining the influence of the church rather than the wellbeing of the people.

I know these are issues which cannot be addressed overnight even if they are accepted. But within the ACTA framework there is at least an opportunity for them to be discussed. If no action is taken by the church then I fear we will lose the enthusiasm and spirit of youth which is the lifeblood of meaningful progress.

(Dave, Oswestry)
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I became increasingly disillusioned over the last 30 years or so with the reactionary direction the church appeared to be taking, and with the "leadership" of an increasingly conservative clergy and hierarchy. I watched in helpless horror at, for example, the suppression of views on such matters as the role of women in the church, and the imposition by Rome of an inappropriate liturgical translation. I was encouraged by news of a group of priests in Austria who declared themselves for a more radical reform of the church, and by a similar movement in Ireland. I was further encouraged when a letter appeared in "The Tablet" suggesting that there were others of a similar mind in this country. ACTA was born as a result of this letter, and I continue in hope that the church will return to the teaching of the gospel, and become again a beacon of Christ who welcomed the poor and sinners, and ate and drank with them.

(Paul , Ellesmere)
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Over the years I'd grown increasingly disillusioned with the Church I'd joined in the early '70s. Humanae Vitae was the tipping point. I was a young Mum with four children under four and a half, the three youngest only eighteen months apart (a toddler and baby twins). Just getting through the day was hard. The ever-present fear of another pregnancy nearly killed my enjoyment of our sex life. What right had the Church to be so dogmatic on this important issue? In my view my situation, in a faithful marriage, was vastly different to someone seeking contraception to facilitate sleeping around. I was amazed when my PP, a hard-line traditionalist, supported my decision to go on the Pill. Perhaps he had the insight, and compassion, to see that this was right for me at that time. And yet even today, in 2014, the recent Synod on the Family has endorsed the rigorous teachings of Humanae Vitae.

Another major issue for me was the continued side-lining of women in the Church. As a well-educated, liberal woman I felt slighted and under-valued, and more so when the Anglican Church which I had left forty years earlier seemed to be moving with the times in allowing the ordination of women, albeit not without a fight. And the Catholic Church wasn't just discriminating against women. There was still no acceptance of divorced people, with a brutally harsh suggestion from the recent Synod that they should partake in a service of penance before being considered fit to receive Holy Communion. The gay community too continues to struggle to find a loving welcome and those men who leave the priesthood because they happen to fall in love can find themselves in the wilderness.

Where was Jesus in all this? Was his ministry to educated, middle-class, celibate men only? Is his core message of love for all but especially for the poor and the marginalised being rejected? And why was there no opportunity to mention any of these issues or discuss and debate them with senior clergy? There seemed to be a huge disparity between the liberal, forward-thinking priests I knew and the ultra traditional messages coming from my Bishop and the Vatican, particularly during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict VI. What was needed was a grassroots organisation, not led by the PP or the Bishop but by ordinary people, where they could be free to share their concerns and their hopes and dreams in a supportive forum. ACTA was welcome indeed. But let's not forget that it is not just a movement for lay people. It was started by seven brave priests who were willing to speak out and has been a wonderful support for priests and deacons who are unhappy with the current status quo.

Concerned individuals have come forward and pledged their support for ACTA. Now we need to move to the next stage and establish meaningful and lasting dialogue with our bishops in the hope that together we can create a church that has relevance for the twenty-first century: a church that is not afraid to move with the times; a church that welcomes all people but especially the marginalised; a church that offers support and friendship; a church that upholds and strengthens our spirituality; a church that speaks to and encourages young people; a church that is vibrant and life-giving.

(Anne, Altrincham)
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I believe it is now time for Catholics to wake up and grow up and take active responsibility for what we believe.
I believe it is time for the hierarchical Church to finally shed its medieval trappings and power, and break free to be the vibrant community of Jesus Christ. It is time for the Church to begin to model what it is to be a listening and learning community that positively encourages dialogue at all levels; a community that is open to radical structural renewal to ensure that all are welcome and valued and can actively use their gifts in service and celebration.
As a child of God, baptised in the Spirit of Jesus, I have a responsibility to share the good news of the Kingdom of God, the joy of the Gospel. That is why I support ACTA.

(Martin, Hyde)
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