The national Synthesis developed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) is a marvel of lucidity, and one which tackled a series of difficult, and potentially controversial, issues in a thoughtful and sensitive manner. It constitutes an incredible contribution to the global debate about how the People of God should journey together to live out our Gospel values.
There is so much in it to be welcomed that it seems petty to focus on a serious weakness, rather than proceed to embed this model of a listening church into our faith lives in our homes, our parishes, our places of work etc. Still, this moment should not be let pass, without some recognition of the blindness that the Synthesis seems to show with regard to the issue of racism.
There is a paragraph devoted in the 'marginalised groups' section to "People of Colour" (paragraph 71), which might be considered an improvement on some of the diocesan reports which did not allude to this issue at all. However, the paragraph is, in my view, very wrong headed. The national Synthesis notes that there are few references in the diocesan reports to 'people of colour' being excluded (the word racism still does not appear anywhere), but this silence is 'explained away' on the grounds that our congregations are often so ethnically diverse. The impression is given either that racism is not a problem within our church, since people of colour themselves did not raise it in the diocesan reports; or, alternatively, racism cannot be a problem experienced in our church because we have such ethnically diverse congregations. Neither interpretation is credible.
The commitment to addressing the need for more diversity in leadership roles is important but insufficient.
Talking with others, they confirmed my view that the final Synthesis seems "totally blind to the issue of racism" and some felt "let down" by its silence on the topic. I accept that the diocesan submissions might not have addressed the issue of racism explicitly but surely our duty as a church is to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying in the silences too? Were 'people of colour' engaged in the process in proportionate numbers (I was a parish synodal rep and noted in our written report that no non-white people engaged in our process)? If they did engage, were they comfortable in raising sensitive issues such as their treatment within broader society, and maybe also the treatment received from fellow parishioners? Maybe it is worse still if people of colour engaged in their parish or synodal processes but did not raise any concerns about exclusion because they did not feel that their experiences of racism had anything much to do with their faith journeys? There is plenty of documentation to show that racism is a problem that needs to be addressed from a faith perspective - just read the ground-breaking Rooting Out Racism report carried out by White City parish in Westminster diocese; or the submission to the national synodal process by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ).
The Bishops will present this national Synthesis to the global church and (rightly) alluding to the fact that "the racial and cultural diversity of Catholics is seen as one of the great gifts of the Church in England and Wales". However, I think that they must also be willing to see that racism is experienced by many in our society, and even in our pews. We, the People of God, need support in celebrating our diversity but also in recognising that many of the people we are journeying with experience racism. Absent this support, many faithful Catholics will remain blind to racism and, even perhaps quite unthinkingly, engage in it.
'Rooting out Racism' Report -
Catholic Association for Racial Justice Synod Submission -https://mcusercontent.com/3d2b3ff9853eab9381ba677d5/files/e100ecc9-e9fb-cbd8-158a-71dda217ad55/CARJ_Synodality_Sessions_Report_Feb_2022.pdf
National Synthesis Document - Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales -
Maggie Beirne, coordinator of the West London J&P network, is writing in a personal capacity.