My reflections on the Bratislava Conference, and a few words about the Mary McAleese interview at the We Are Church AGM

The International Church Reform Conference took place over five days last week in Pezinok, a few miles outside Bratislava. About fifty people attended, from various corners of the world, all of them involved in one way or another with Church Reform issues. There were about two thirds men, and one third women. The variety of people was one of the striking factors, – from Estonia, Korea, Russia, Bulgaria, India, Argentina, Australia, and many other places, – fifteen countries in all. So it was a rich experience, being with such people over five days.
In the first part of the conference we had various speakers telling us about the experience of the underground Church under the communist regime. The attendance included a number of people who were priests or bishops in that time. The stories they told were fascinating, as were the people themselves. The work they did in preserving the faith, and the time many of them spent in prison, contributed to making them into really impressive people. It was a privilege to meet, and listen to, them. For me the best parts were not so much the formal presentations, but the chats over meals or a glass of wine.
For the rest of the conference we got down to working, mostly in smaller groups, on particular projects. A group on the equality of women in the Church were very active; some representing LGBT ministry had a lot to say about the upcoming World Meeting of Families; under the heading ‘Team Priests’ a group worked on the problem of lack of priests depriving communities of the Eucharist, and how that can be solved. I myself was in the group who are working on the need for a Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Church, and I think we made good progress on a difficult topic.
For me the most satisfying aspect of the whole week was the celebration of the Eucharist. This was my fourth such conference over the past seven years. At previous conferences we have had great difficulty over how we could celebrate Eucharist in a way that everyone could feel they fully belonged. The problem centered around the conflict between those who needed women to feel completely equal in the celebration, and those, priests mostly, who needed an ordained priest as the presider. But on this occasion, maybe because of all that we had heard about the underground Church, we all sat around together and had a wonderful celebration. I found it hard to keep back my tears, an experience not very common for me!

Mary McAleese.
On my way home from Bratislava I attended the AGM of We Are Church Ireland in Dublin. (I have accepted an invitation to join the Core Group of We Are Church — which maybe says something about where I am at myself at this stage, after six years out of ministry, probably feeling more at home working with a lay, rather than a clerical, reform group.)
Mary was interviewed by Ursula Halligan, and spoke for an hour and a half about the Church. She was, as usual, strong and coherent, and quite critical of the Church authority structures, especially the Curia.
She told us that in the recent referendum she voted ‘Yes’ “with a heart and a half”. Good for her, if that is the way she saw it. But I suspect that many of us who voted ‘Yes’ did so, to continue her image, with half a heart, and after a great deal deal of difficult, even painful, weighing up of the competing values at stake, and making a decision. And we felt no sense of celebration at the result, but rather a sadness in the face of the sheer complexity of life, and the dilemmas that people often find themselves in. My wish would be, now that the decision is made, that all sides would respect each other, and work together to assist women in difficult situations, and do all that we can to insure that abortion would be a very last resort, and that, rather than increasing, the incidence of abortion would decrease in the new regime in this country.