I think we are all a bit bewildered by the published response to the Bishops' document The Call, the Journey and the Mission.
I would like to share my own views with you from the perspective of ACTA's core purpose.
First off: We have been recognised. We have got repeated mentions in the document; it is clear that of all the groups who contributed, ours was the largest. The Smell of The Sheep is actually quoted and ACTA is cited with others as a Church Organisation. (I would hazard a guess that the quality of the our report, its presentation and distribution have all been pivotal here - Andrew and co. this is down to you). By any measure this is a landmark success for ACTA.
All of the above is well worth celebrating but of course not the point of the exercise!
The response document itself: let's look at the positives. It has been published and accompanied by a Press Conference led by Cardinal Nichols. We can applaud the fact that the laity have been consulted and we have been told 'in the round' what people have said. The joys and satisfactions of marriage and family life are certainly set out and celebrated in the earlier sections of the summary but as we read on we see more and more quotes and references reflecting the views and some of the anger of those whose lifestyles don't fit the ideal. Towards the very end of the document we even encounter the views, often trenchantly expressed, of those who feel offended, pained, bitter, about the impact of the Church's teaching on sexuality, marriage, women, celibacy etc. The Church is accused of being misogynist, pharisaical, backward looking, bigoted and other hurtful adjectives. Quite a basinful and far from being a whitewash. And let's remember that the powers that be have published this themselves and in the press conference, I understand, made no attempt to cover up the negatives. Indeed the Cardinal said that the views expressed would inform the contributions of our Bishop representatives at the Synod. That can only be good. If you look at the Tablet editorial you will see that there is no attempt to shirk the leadership responsibility for this state of affairs. I am convinced that ACTA by its very existence, the contacts it has had with bishops so far and, of course, The Smell of The Sheep, has played a pivotal role in this profound change in tone and in thinking.
The negatives: it does lack the precision some have already noted - no percentages, proportions etc. The surprise element of this should not throw us off course. It's a bit like the dancing dog - not so much that the dog dances well, but that it dances at all!!! Our task now is to remain vigilant and monitor the outcomes of this apparent change of heart - Is there a more merciful, compassionate approach being taken to the those who don't fit the traditional ideal? And in more general terms is there a genuine change in Church culture on the horizon or is 'excessive clericalism' still going to block the authentic participation of the laity in decision making?
Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue. Let's keep up the good work, folks!
Eileen Fitzpatrick, ACTA Chair