Centre for Ecclesial Ethics
Symposium May 2022
for a vigilant and vulnerable Church
– exploring an ecclesial ethics of listening –
What happens to me, to us and our Church when we attentively listen? What are the ecclesial blind spots that hinder our listening and stop us from noticing? Which ecclesial imaginaries influence our visions or distort our listening? What does it mean to enter into each others stories in a climate of polarisation? What does it mean for the Church to enact transformation as a result of attentive listening? What official or professional roles in the Church can impair their holder’s capacity to listen? These are just a few of the questions that emerged from our exploration of an ecclesial ethics of listening, that was the focus of the first symposium of the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics in Cambridge on 20th May 2022. Twenty scholars and practitioners, bishops and priests from across the UK, Ireland and the US gathered in the Lash Library at the Margaret Beaufort Institute to reflect upon the ecclesiological and ethical implications of attentive listening for a vigilant and vulnerable Church. What followed was a challenging and inspiring dialogue that was enriched and shaped by expert and moving insights into the significance of vulnerability and vigilance, collective and variegated listening and moral and spiritual imagination for an ecclesial ethics of listening.
Our proceedings opened with an introduction from the Director of the CEE, Dr Liam Hayes, in which he reflected upon the need within our world and our Church for a personal and structural embrace of attentive listening for both human and ecclesial flourishing and a faithful discipleship,. Following our attentive listening to the account of the man born blind from John’s gospel, which we would pick up once again towards the end of the symposium, Dr Clare Watkins concluded our introductions with an insightful ecclesial mapping of the potential that listening carries for the Church not only in its personal expression, but also importantly through our participation in collective listening as Church that posed questions regarding how such listening might find expression in our structures and practices.
For a symposium whose focus was the practice of listening, it was imperative that we opened our deliberations with an immersion in the very practice that we were seeking to promote – thus the principle morning session was dedicated to a collective attentive listening to the narrative voices of those who accompany women and men whose experience and voice is too often neglected and unheard, quietened or marginalised in the life and praxis of our Church. Each speaker had been invited to reflect upon the impact of the practice of listening for both themselves and those they accompanied, specifically attending to the question ‘what happens to us when we listen?’
Dr Catherine Sexton opened the session with her reflection on listening within her role with the Boundary Breaking project that is examining the ecclesial-cultural implications of the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church; Dr Vincent Manning reflected on his role of accompanying women and men living with HIV through Catholics for AIDS prevention and support, whilst Professor Tina Beattie reflected upon her listening with and to the diverse experiences and voices of women. Fr Sean Connolly reflected on the fruits of listening ‘one-to-one’ with Catholics in two contrasting parishes through the method of broad-based organising and Dr Claire Jenkins shared her experience of listening with young trans people. Kamara Katama, a sixth form chaplain in South London shared her reflection upon her listening with and accompaniment of vulnerable young adults whilst Dr Sue Price drew our morning to a close with her insight into listening and non-verbal communication with young children.
Each of these profound and moving reflections afforded all participants the opportunity not only to begin to reflect upon the ecclesial and ethical implications of listening, but perhaps more significantly to ponder upon what was happening for them in this process of deep and attentive listening during this time – reflections that would find space in the papers from our afternoon session.
The second session of the symposium consisted of three short papers given by Drs Anna Abram, Gemma Simmonds and Professor Pat Hannon in which each presenter through their own perspective and discipline reflected upon what happens for them and the church when we listen, with reference to our listening to the narrative voices in the morning and their wider experience and insight. The potential for the significant relationship between moral imagination and attentive listening was creatively opened up for us in the first paper in which Dr Anna Abram proposed that a ‘deliberate use of moral imagination can get us moving from the staleness of certain types of images we carry with us individually and collectively’ and that it was a concept which could be useful for examining how we listen ‘to, with and as’, for ‘moral imagination has something to do with a deliberate search for what’s not obvious, even what is not said or clear, visible, or is pushed to peripheries’ and ‘moral imagination can help us to articulate shifts and movements that take place in the process of attentive listening.’
Dr Gemma Simmonds teased out the challenges and opportunities for the church that the relationship between the font of spirituality and listening unveiled. Gemma reflected that as with languages so in spiritual direction we are trained to listen ‘not only for what people say but for what they actually mean’ and with reference to Ignatius ‘how can we ever find intimate understanding of ourselves, let alone another, of we do not listen.’ With reference to the almost complete collapse today of the listening sacrament – reconciliation – Gemma reflected that if we could unpack the sacraments as ‘embodied signs that truly do make real what they signify, this would challenge us not only to listen but to enact and embody what we are listening to. It would therefore require from both the ministers and the receivers of the sacraments to understand the profound mutuality of change and conversion that is required on both sides, just as the rules of religious life require change and conversion.’
Professor Pat Hannon unveiled the not insignificant impediments that arise as obstacles to an embrace of attentive listening through certain ecclesial dispositions and conventions, and personal and structural prejudice. Through two real life cases in which ‘deliberate and intentional listening led to a change of mind’ Pat illustrated what happens when someone learns to listen and when your dialogue partner is an institution’ that is often functionally deaf. Pat concluded by reflecting that ‘conventions of the Church at whatever level, important and even necessary as in context they may be, can take hold of one’s mind in a way that blocks access to a larger more complex world, the real world, that deafens one to other discourses, blinds one to ways of seeing that are shaped by a different experience of what it is to be a human being.’
In the third session of our symposium Professor Jim Keenan addressed the ecclesial and ethical implications of listening and began to map out what an ecclesial ethics of listening might mean and include for a vigilant and vulnerable church. Jim reflected that ‘by emphasizing voice in its texture and timbre, we can report on listening in a much more embodied relationality that I think furthers the importance of listening itself… we see how scripture upholds how listening is a constitutive part of discipleship. In fact, I think we can say that one cannot be a disciple, if one cannot listen…[and] through looking at the capacity for vulnerability and the practice of recognition [we can see] more expansively the normative tasks found within an ecclesial ethics of listening.’ Like the man born blind Jim observes ‘we are blessed because though we do not see him, we hear his voice and follow him. The call to discipleship is one that we hear personally and collectively, it is a call in which we are found by Christ and invited to vulnerably recognize him. We are called then to listen first so as to confess and promote the ministry of Jesus.’
The remarkably rich dialogue and reflection that our symposium framed, served by a deep attentive listening to the diverse experience and wisdom of each participant and their companions, has opened up for the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics a pathway to future research and outreach. It is a dialogue that has suggested that the pathway to a personal and structural embrace of an ecclesial ethics of attentive listening is marked and sustained by a freely chosen and voluntary vulnerability rather than domination, humility rather than entitlement, simplicity rather than excess on our journey towards a renewed and different church that is attentive to both the summons of the gospel and human fragility.
I am most grateful for the presence, time, wisdom and consideration that each of our participants generously contributed to such a joyful symposium. Thank you.
Dr Liam Hayes
Director, Centre for Ecclesial Ethics
The following papers are also available to download here:
Scripture Reading: John 9
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology
Centre for Ecclesial Ethics
Promoting synodality and supporting the Synod 2021-2023
- Learning and Teaching about the synod and synods. Please visit the recordings of Dr Peter Coughlan’s sessions in October 2021 HERE.
- Centre for Ecclesial Ethics conducts research, offers consultancy and organizes pastoral outreach in relation to the synod – please contact the Centre’s Director, Dr Liam Hayes, for more information
- Co-Principals, Drs Anna Abram and Sue Price, through talks and workshops, support the work of the religious and Catholic schools in fostering synodallity in pastoral and educational contexts
Synod-centred activities in 2022
- Synod Chats – together with Cafod and ‘Synod Fruits’ we hosted three interactive synodal events. They took place on 2 February and 2 and 30 March. They provided a different experience of being Church that is synodal in nature, generous in spirit and respectful in listening. More information on similar activities will follow soon.
- Symposium (20 May 2022) will build upon the insight and analysis of Prof James Keenan’s inaugural lecture (December 2021) that explored an ecclesial ethics of vulnerability as a pathway to a different Church and draw some practical ideas from the Synod chats.
- Parish Accompaniment aims to accompany and enable the Catholic Community in England & Wales represented by 2-3 parishes over a period of twelve months as they seek to explore the ecclesial ethical implications of their synodal discernment.
- The Ecclesial Ethics Reference Group (EERG) will be established from across the academic disciplines that inform our research and outreach at the CEE. At present we envisage no more than 6-8 contributors to the group who have an expertise in ethics, ecclesiology, scripture, liturgy, canon law, ministry and pastoral practice.
- Network of ‘Different Church’ Leaders will draw together the already identified leaders into a network that can provide support, good practice and also ethical and theological grounding.
- A conference on liturgy – led by Dr Dominic White OP is to take place in Summer 2022. More information to follow soon.
VIEWS FROM THE PEWS: TOWARDS A THEOLOGY OF CATHOLIC EXPERIENCES OF THE LITURGY
FRIDAY 10 JUNE 2022, 9.30-5.30 PM
A Zoom conference towards overcoming divisions between “Old” and “New ” Rites: theologians respond to Catholics’ experiences of liturgy
9.30-10.00 Welcome: Fr Dominic White OP, Acting Director of Research, Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge.
Introduction and opening prayer: Fr Liam Hayes, Director of the Central for Ecclesial Ethics, Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology.
10-10.15 People’s experiences of the liturgy: a video mosaic
10.15-10.30 Time for personal reflection
10.30-11.30 Canon Robin Gibbons: Sacred architecture East and West and the liturgy
11.30-12 Coffee break
12.00-1 Dr Medi Volpe, Director of Research, Wesley House, Cambridge: response to the testimonies
1-1.45 Prayer and lunch break
1.45-2.45 Fr Paul Elliott, Priest of the Orthodox Church: an Orthodox perspective
2.45-3 Short break
3-3.30 Sr Marie Trainar OP, Dominican nun of Langeac: liturgy and prayer
3.45-4.45 Fr Dominic White, Acting Director of Research, Margaret Beaufort: word and sign
4.45-5.15 Plenary, with concluding prayer
Meeting ID: 971 9527 4377
The liturgy is “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14). The strong attachment of the People of God to the liturgy has been manifested in a high attendance, whether in person or online, during the Covid pandemic. But a less happy sign of this attachment has been division over forms of liturgy. Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes (2021) concerning celebrations of the pre-Vatican II Roman liturgy, and subsequent clarifications from the Vatican’s Liturgy Office, are evidence that, half a century after the reform of the Roman Rite, significant differences regarding the Old and New rites remain in the Church, manifested in often acrimonious debate and polemics.
But there are many other voices of “ordinary” Catholics which are often unheard, yet offer new perspectives – for example on word, silence and gesture. As a first step towards healing this rift, this conference seeks to contribute to the 2023 Synod of the Catholic Church through an attentive, deep and respectful listening to the experience and wisdom of Catholic men and women, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells and breathes, in order to discern the common path of reconciliation upon which we are called to embark, in this next chapter of our shared journey as disciples and companions of Jesus Christ.
Beginning with a “video mosaic” of Catholics’ experiences of New and Old Rite Masses, theologians will engage and respond to this experience so as to identify the key liturgical, ecclesiological and ethical issues that merit further attention and analysis. They will also be invited to suggest and promote resources firstly for understanding people’s actual experiences of the liturgies they attend, and secondly for overcoming this rift. A recording will be sent to the Synodal Office in Rome.
A Reflection by the Director, Dr Liam Hayes
on the Inaugural Lecture
Launch of the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics
A different Church is possible:
embracing an ecclesial ethics of vulnerability
To view the lecture, please click here
Become a samaritan church, a church of vulnerable accompaniment, that our vulnerable God calls us to be – this was the call that echoed warmly amongst more than 210 participants who gathered online for the launch of the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics and its inaugural lecture delivered by Professor James Keenan SJ on 2nd December 2021. It was a launch that was woven together through an evening of art, music, personal reflection, and a courageous and authoritative inaugural lecture that unveiled our dreams for a different vulnerable Church that is ‘open to the newness that God wants to suggest.’
Professor Keenan opened his moving and energising lecture, that explored the possibility of a different Church, with an authoritative exposition of an ecclesial culture that resists vulnerability and recognition, a culture epitomised in the scourge of hierarchicalism that has wounded and disfigured our Church for too long. Such hierarchicalism, which he identified as the ‘father of clericalism’, has allowed the episcopacy to remain cocooned from accountability and clothed with impunity, through a neglect of the humility and vigilance that has impeded our church from embracing an ecclesial ethics of vulnerability, that both imitates the vulnerability of God and appreciates the indwelling of the Spirit in every person.
Through the cultivation of an appreciation for vulnerability and recognition in our wider ethical discourse, Professor Keenan proceeded to re-imagine for us, in dialogue with our scriptures, tradition and experience, the different church that our Pope calls us to embrace. In a powerfully crafted re-exposition of both The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son, Jim unveiled the potential for a church of accompaniment, that is prompted by recognition and vulnerability, and nurtured by the virtues of humility and vigilance.
Jim concluded with a moving appreciation of the diverse models of vulnerability, recognition and accompaniment that are signs of a different church, the seeds of which are around and before us in the Catholic Church today, and which serve as bright beacons for our future as a different Church – a Samaritan church – that embraces and reflects the vulnerability of our God.
Our evening concluded with a passionate and stimulating dialogue between Jim and our lecture participants that serve to underline the need and desire for a different possible Church in our world of today.
We are most grateful to Jim, not only for his incisive, moving and authoritative lecture – that opened up for us more clearly the contribution that ecclesial ethics can make to realising a good and better Church that is more participatory and inclusive, discerning and attentive, accountable and just – but also for his ongoing support and encouragement for the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics.
Dr Liam Hayes
Director | Centre for Ecclesial Ethics
CEE Seminar Series Report – ‘Our Church emerging from Covid: preparing the future’
Final report from the founding seminar series of the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics, 2021
Through this seminar series, we aimed to explore the emerging ecclesial challenges and opportunities that are revealed through our ongoing personal and collective experience of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and thus begin to lay the foundations for a clearer understanding of what it might mean to be a good and better Church and its ecclesiological and ethical implications.
Read the report: CEE Seminar Series 2021 Final Report .
Centre for Ecclesial Ethics
‘the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.’
(Gaudium et spes, 4)
‘Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need.’
(Unitatis Redintegratio, 6)
The origins and aims of the Centre
The Centre for Ecclesial Ethics has been founded to enable and accompany our ecclesial communities to be become a good and better Church in service of our world – re-imagining how we might fit together as a community of disciples and ‘build something different’ that is attentive to both the summons of the gospel and human fragility.
The Centre for Ecclesial Ethics (CEE) sits within the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge and is located in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Its focus is however both within and beyond the ecclesial shores of the United Kingdom, where it seeks to develop and sustain mature relationships and partnerships of learning and practice with the wider international Christian community.
Our foundational method at the CEE is one of deep listening and discernment that is attentive to the wisdom of the academy and the parish, to the passion of catholic agencies and wider networks, and to the creativity and inspiration of those too often neglected, unheard and marginalised in the life of the Church. This dialogical attentiveness will contribute to our interdisciplinary analysis through which we might craft an ecclesial ethics that can enrich our ethical perspective, renew our collective imagination and expand our ecclesial horizon.
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic with a deepened awareness of our dependence on each other, our research at the Centre for Ecclesial Ethics suggests that it is a tender, humble and attentive listening that is essential for our Church’s faith-filled response to the personal and collective trauma experienced during this time, and the challenges and opportunities that emerged for our Church.
 Pope Francis, General Audience, 19.08.20, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200819_udienza-generale.html, [accessed 16.03.21]
 See the foundational seminar series of the CEE Our Church emerging from Covid: preparing the future that included listening, attentiveness, participation and trauma as emergent key themes to which the Church is called to attend and embrace as we emerge from Covid.