01Sep A new ‘Association of Catholic Priests’ – Brendan Hoban

From The Furrow

In his latest book, ‘Theology in Winter Light’ Enda McDonagh heads his introductory words, ‘From Summer Dazzle to Winter Light, 1960s-2009.’ He charts the path from ‘the summer-time and summer-dazzle of the Catholic Church’ in the years of the Second Vatican Council to what, years later, Karl Rahner called the ‘winter-time of the Church.’ The words ‘dazzle’ and ‘winter’ conjure up a trajectory that is all too dismally clear as the Catholic Church in Ireland moves even beyond Winter-time with minimal prospects of another Spring.

The years after the Council seemed a golden age when an extraordinary re-alignment took place between theology and praxis, between energy and competence, between a tide to be taken and a generation ready to take it. And even though, in retrospect, it seems that the Council in its deliberations had allowed reflection on the priesthood to be squeezed out between its focus on the laity and the episcopate, in the years after the Council, priests were at the heart of a changing Church.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Association of Irish Priests (AIP), a body organised loosely on a provincial basis, provided a voice for priests. In 1975, after the demise of the AIP, the National Conference of Priests of Ireland was established by the Irish bishops. An elaborate structure was set in place with elected diocesan representatives, regional groups, a national executive, a ‘President.’

However, despite the energy, competence and commitment of leaders like Seamus Ryan, Cyprian Candon, Enda McDonagh, Harry Bohan, John Littleton and others, from the very beginning the NCPI struggled to survive. For years bishops refused or neglected to attend its AGM, ignored its recommendations and often patronised its voice. The nadir was reached when its president, in a courtesy call on the papal nuncio of the day, was informed that he was ‘a Nobody leading Nobodies.’

In retrospect, the surprise was not that the NCPI collapsed in 2006-7 but that it had survived for so long. Predictably subsequent efforts to revive it by the Irish bishops. There was no appetite, among the clergy, for a NCPI-Mark Two.

The NCPI failed through no fault of those who led it or those who worked for so long to give priests a credible voice in the Irish Church. It failed because (i) it wasn’t independent so most priests had little confidence in it or much expectation of it; (ii) it tried to represent all the clergy, a difficult, if not impossible task; (iii) it spent too much time on organisational matters – too many meetings, too many committees – rather than directly engaging with issues pertinent to priests and their lives; and (iv) it failed to become an effective presence in the media.

At a time when the Irish Church and the Irish priesthood are in such turmoil a voice for Irish Catholic priests was never more needed. For that reason a small group of Irish priests – secular and religious – gathered recently in Athlone to discuss the possibility of providing a voice for priests. The outcome of the discussion was a decision to form ‘an association’ of priests and rather than initiate an involved conversation about possible structures or procedures, it was agreed that a time and energy sapping debate about guidelines and structures could be circumvented by offering Irish priests an association with a simple, slim-line scaffolding which would allow a committed executive, supported by a realistic membership, to engage with issues pertinent to priests, their mission and their lives.

The sense was that energy should be invested in hands-on engagement with the issues of the day particularly in the media, rather than expending it on organising an elaborate sub-structure of meetings, committees and working groups and so on. Some meetings may be necessary but should be kept to a minimum; members could input their ideas through electronic mail; and a national office seems surplus to requirements. We’ve talked the talk; we need to walk the walk.

While the voice of the ACP will be as representative as it can feasibly be and while membership is open to all Irish Catholic priests, the ACP does not seek to represent the views of all priests, much less to replicate the organisational structure of the NCPI. Rather it seeks to engage with the issues of the day from the particular perspective as outlined in the statement below.

That statement is the considered wisdom of the small Athlone group but may be amended as new members make an input. The main concerns of the statement, a commitment to the ideas and ethos of the Second Vatican Council, are central. Reading the signs of the times and tuning into the movement of the Spirit, touchstones of a Vatican Two Church, will flag the main thrust of the association.

In these dismal winter days for the Irish Catholic Church, it may not be possible to return to the ‘summer-dazzle’ of the Vatican Two years and it would be absurd to speak grandly of any new dawn. But the founding of the ACP is a reminder that the dream continues and those who hold determinedly to it can at least help throw a shard of light into these grim Winter times. We need to do what we can.

A meeting will be held in the Parish Centre, Portlaoise at 2.30 pm on September 15th at which hopefully the association will formally be founded and agreement reached on its basic structure and aims. All Irish priests (including all priests working in Ireland) will be welcome. Nuala O’Loan will be the keynote speaker on the day.

Association of Catholic Priests: a first statement

In particular the Association of Catholic Priests will work towards:

• Providing a voice for Irish Catholic priests at a time when that voice is largely silent and needs to be expressed.
• Giving an opportunity for Irish priests to engage proactively with the crucial debates taking place in Irish society
• Full implementation of the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with special emphasis on:

the primacy of the individual conscience.

the status and active participation of all the baptised.

the task of establishing a Church where all believers will be treated as equal.

• A redesigning of Ministry in the Church, in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.

• A re-structuring of the governing system of the Church, basing it on service rather than on power, and encouraging at every level a culture of consultation and transparency, particularly in the appointment of Church leaders.

• A culture in which the local bishop and the priests relate to each other in a spirit of trust, support and generosity

• A re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching and practice that recognizes the profound mystery of human sexuality and the experience and wisdom of God’s people.

• Promotion of peace, justice and the protection of God’s creation locally, nationally and globally.

• Recognition that Church and State are separate and that while the Church must preach the message of the Gospel and try to live it authentically, the State has the task of enacting laws for all its citizens.

• Liturgical celebrations that use rituals and language that are easily understood, inclusive and accessible to all.

• Strengthening relationships with our fellow Christians and other faiths.

• Full acceptance that the Spirit speaks through all people, including those of faiths other than Christian and those of no religious faith, so that the breath of the Spirit will flow more freely.

List of names for Furrow Article

Gerry Alwill, (Kilmore); Harry Bohan, (Killaloe); Anthony J. Butler SMA; Charlie Byrne (Raphoe); John Byrne, (Kildare and Leighlin); Seamus Casey, (Ardagh); Martin Collum (Raphoe); Denis Crosby, (Galway); Brian Darcy, CP (Passionist); Donal Dorr (Kiltegan) Adrian Egan, CSsR, (Redemptorist); John Feighery, SVD (Divine Word); Tony Flannery, CSsR (Redemptorist); Martin Gilcreest (Kilmore); Dominick Gilhooly, (Elphin); Bobby Gilmore, (Columban); James Good, (Cork); Tom Hannon, (Killaloe); Sean Healy SMA; Kevin Hegarty, (Killala); Alan Hilliard, (Dublin); Brendan Hoban, (Killala); Gerry Jennings, (Galway); Colm Kilcoyne, (Tuam); Ciaran Kitching, (Clonfert); Dermot A. Lane, (Dublin); Gerard Langford, (Waterford); Liam Lawton, (Kildare and Leighlin),; Brian Lennon, SJ (Jesuit); Cyprian Love, OSB (Benedictine); Dick Lyng, OSA (Augustinian); Brian MacRaois, (Armagh); Danny McBrearty (Raphoe); Gearóid McCarthy, SVD., (Divine Word); Enda McDonagh, (Tuam); Seán McDonagh, (Columban); Gerry McFlynn, (Down and Connor); Jimmy McPhillips, (Clogher); Peter McVerry, SJ (Jesuit); Pat Moore, (Kerry); Pat Meagher (Columban); Colm C Murphy, (Ferns); Michael Murphy, (Tuam); Pat O’Brien, (Tuam); Gerry O’Connor, CSsR,(Redemptorist); James ODonoghue (Cashel); Gerry O’Hanlon, SJ (Jesuit); Des O’Donnell, OMI (Oblate); Iggy O’Donovan, OSA, (Augustinian); Colm O’Gallchoir (Raphoe); Joseph S. O’Leary, (Cork); Sean O’Leary, C.C.Sp (Spiritan); Dan Joe O’Mahony, OFM Cap (Capucian); Dan O’Mahony, (Achonry); Gerry Maloney, CSsR (Redemptorist); Joseph McGuane, (Cloyne); Owen O’Sullivan, OFM Cap (Capucian);Brian O’Toolle C.Ss.P. (Spiritan); Liam Power, (Waterford); Ned Quinn, OMI (Oblate); Pat Raleigh (Columban); Pat Rogers, CP (Passionist); Seamus Ryan, (Cashel); David Smith, MSC (Sacred Heart); Gerry Tanham, (Dublin); Willie Teehan, (Killaloe); Ciaran Whitney, (Elphin). Eoin Whooley (Cork); Des Wilson (Down and Connor).

3 Responses

  1. Derek Reeve

    I am very interested in this Association and would dearly love to see something similar established here in England. Our National Council of Priests failed for much the same reasons as the Irish Council and, as a retired priest, i am desperate to find other priests like myself who are still inspired by Vatican II and seek the same sort of changes that your Association seeks.
    I am not sure where to go from here but felt it worth placing this reply to the article which I have only just discovered since I don’t normally see ‘The Furrow’.

  2. Joseph O'Leary

    Vatican II is still inspiring — even the titles of the documents Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes remind us that the Good News is for the world, and the Church is for the world, bringing integral salvation, of body and soul, individual and society. The idea that the prophet Isaiah talked of earthly benefits, such as peace, which did not come (see the Pope’s Jesus book), or that he talked only in a metaphorical way, is contradicted by last Sunday’s Gospel, where Jesus cites Isaiah and points to real blind and deaf who are healed and real poor who are hearing the Good News. The phobia against liberation theology has led some churchmen into a Marcionite severance of the prophets from the Gospel. The Church’s mission is two-pronged — works of justice and peace give the proof that the works of prayer and adoration are genuine; if one is severed from the other something is wrong. The Church cannot carry out her role as guide of the nations unless she remains in open dialogue with them, sharing their hopes and joys and anxieties as we strive together toward a better future, confident in the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom. Fearing “secularism,” which they try to ward off by magic by donning the expensive insignia and regalia of defunct Christendom, some churchmen are inviting us to hunker down in a sectarian ghetto. Their flaunting of finery is as ill-times as Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” and has the same overtones of pre-revolutionary decadence.

  3. Eddie Finnegan

    I thought it worth returning to Brendan’s “A New Association of Catholic Priests” from the early days.
    Fr Derek Reeve (above) is, I believe, an English priest in his early 80s who has posted a few times on this website. I am delighted to see that his is one of seven co-signatures to a “Call to Action” in the Letters pages of today’s issue of The Tablet (2nd June, pp 14-15) – clearly with a view to forming a “New Association of Catholic Priests”, as Derek suggests above.
    May I suggest that you reproduce their letter here. Perhaps also a response to The Tablet’s Letters page from the ACP Leadership in the spirit of fraternal solidarity ?


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