While the topic itself and what it means for the work and life of the Church requires more reflection, “we need to appreciate” the specific qualities that women bring, and “we need to see how we can articulate that more.”
However, referring to Pope Francis' advice, Leahy cautioned that while the enhancing the role of women must be pursued, it shouldn’t be approached from a “simply functionalistic perspective.”
“We can't just come up with simplistic solutions, and I think women themselves would be the first to say that,” he said, explaining that the next step is to explore together “how best to articulate the life of the Church in such a way that women will feel that their role is genuinely appreciated.”
The bishop said that after their meetings in the Vatican, he feels that their concern about the topic “has been heard,” and “to be fair, we’re not the only ones saying it.”
Pope Francis himself often says the role of women is something the entire Church needs to look into, he said, explaining that for he and his fellow bishops in Ireland, they will head back with plans for “a tremendous engagement” based on listening and dialogue.
Referring to Pope Francis’ constant emphasis on the importance of discernment, Leahy said there’s no quick solution, but it’s something that “needs time, it needs reflection, it needs exploration to discern together.”
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin echoed Leahy’s sentiments, telling journalists that one of the “most alienated groups” in Ireland is “young women.”
He said that specifically in their meeting with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they discussed the areas in the Church where “a stronger position” of not only women, but laypeople in general, “is not only licit, but is desirable.”
Other issues touched on by the bishops in their meeting with the Pope were youth, vocations, the influx of refugees to the country, and of course the Pope’s upcoming visit to Ireland in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families
Although the bishops’ visit comes in wake of the abuse scandal that rocked the country and a rapid increase in secularization, Archbishop Eamon Martin said none of the bishops felt “under investigation” or interrogation during the ad limina.
It was “a very different atmosphere,” particularly in their meeting with the Pope, which he called a “fascinating encounter.”
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“We haven’t received any raps on the knuckles,” but were rather assured that they are “not alone” in the challenges the face, many of which stem from the fact that the voice of the Church and her authority in society and in the lives of individuals has taken a drastic dip, in large part due to the abuse scandal.
Archbishop Diarmuid said the bishops “are realistic about the challenges we are facing in Ireland at the moment,” but are also hopeful that they are moving to “a new place of encounter and dialogue” in Irish society where the Church has an important voice.
“Not the dominating voice or domineering voice that perhaps some say we’ve had in the past – but we are contributing to important conversations” on topics such as life, marriage, family, poverty and education.
Discussion also focused at length on how to be a bishop, with the Pope comparing their role to a goalkeeper, “and the shots keep coming from everywhere, and you stand there ready to take them from wherever they come.”
While there was “a fair bit of laughing and joking,” the bishops all got very serious when talking about abuse.
Archbishop Martin said the number of abuses in Ireland “was small compared to society at large,” and noted that the Church has made significant progress since the scandals came out.
Referring to their meeting with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Archbishop Eamon Martin pointed to a four-step model Benedict XVI recommended to them when the abuse scandal first broke out in the country: to establish the truth of what happened, put preventative procedures into place, to adhere to justice and to bring healing.