Report on Regional Meeting in Marianella.
Meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests in Marianella on November 24, 2010
About sixty priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin, the Diocese of Meath and a variety of religious congregation met at the Redemptorists Marianella at 3pm on November 24, 2010 to discuss the Association of Catholic Priests.
Seán McDonagh began the meeting with a prayer to the Holy Spirit. He then introduced Brendan Hoban. Brendan outlined some of the challenges facing the Church in Ireland, with falling Mass attendance, few vocations and the impact which the abuse scandals have had on both priests and faithful. Brendan then outlined some of the current responses, ranging from praying to God for better times, focusing all one’s attention on the local parish or ministry or effectively throwing in the towel.
The association is set up to support priests from the perspective of the Second Vatican Council. While we believe we are at the heart of the Church and are attempting to model new, non-clerical, ways of being Church in a difficult time, we are specifically set up to give a voice to priests. Such a voice has been silent for the past number of years.
Brendan made the point that we are not going to get bogged down in too much bureaucracy and that modern communications, such as emails, text messages and websites can effectively be used to communicate information and get quick feedback on important issues. Brendan gave examples of some of the issues that have surfaced at the various meetings. While the Association is keen to promote best practice in terms of protecting people, especially young people, some priests, against whom possibly untrue accusations have made, often find themselves living in limbo without any resolution to their situation. It is also clear from feedback that the whole process is handled better in some diocese than in others. The Association is attempting to draw up a policy document on this matter, but we realise that the issues are complex and need to be teased out with civil and canon lawyers. We also realise that the media in the current climate could easily accuse the Association of being “a one issues pony.”
Concerns about the English and Irish translation of the new missal have also surfaced, as have concerns about the Vatican Visitation that is currently happening in Ireland. The Association asked for a meeting with the Visitors. While the application was acknowledged, nothing has been heard since then, even though the visitors have been to Ireland, and there has been some publicity about their presence, especially in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
As with the three previous meetings – in Portlaoise, Claremorris and Charleville – many different topics surfaced. Tony Flannery facilitated this section of the meeting. The first speaker called attention to the fact there were few enough diocesan priests from either Dublin or Meath. He wondered why this might be, and asked had the time and place of the meeting been raised at any diocesan forum, for example, Council of Priests meetings or Deanery Meetings? One man said that Wednesday is possibly not the best day for a meeting of priests as some people play golf on that day. It was pointed out that more local meetings like the one scheduled for Cork and Ross on November 30th might help bed down the organisation more securely in the various dioceses.
This man and others wondered whether the organisation is being seen as set up in opposition to the bishops and whether that may lead to unnecessary tension. The relationship of the Association with the Bishops received a much wider airing at Marianella than at any other meetings. As normally happens, there was a wide range of views. Some felt we should be working more closely with bishops, others were more cautious, fearful maybe that we might be sucked into the power dynamics of a clerical Church and thereby lose our prophetic voice.
Though the Association’s relationship with laity emerged at the Portlaoise meeting, it received much more attention here. Some felt that the Association should be more inclusive, and be open, at least, to allowing lay people and religious who are active full-time in pastoral ministry to join the association. It was argued that this will be the Church of the future and that the Association should be attempting to model that reality now. One or two queried why people who have left ministry, mainly because they wished to get married, should not be invited to join. It was pointed out that many of these have talents which could be used to promote the Gospel in Ireland today. Still others felt that there are different ways of connecting with other groups both in the Church and the wider community. One can network with other groups without having to have them all in one group. One or two felt that we could dissipate our energies by being for everything and every group, but effectively achieve very little because of lack of focus.
At the first meeting in Portlaoise a number of people spoke about the desirability of have a national Synod. This was raised again, and some felt that the Association would be in a position to initiate a process of preparation for a synod, in cooperation with other interested groups.
Towards the end, the discussion turned to practical ways of communicating the Gospel message. There was discussion on the website. Tony explained that Michael Byrne is managing the website for us, and that we are learning as we go along but we hope to continually improve the site as a way of communicating our message.
In the past week, Pat Rodgers has put up a section on Homily Resources which priests should find helpful. Others with similar interests and expertise could do likewise. At the moment there is material on the website on the new translation of the Missal and also articles on Social Justice and Ecology. I intervened at that point and made a plea to people who have both knowledge and expertise in this area to send us material for the website, so that it becomes a forum for sharing ideas and best practices. In fact, the discussion on almost every topic which emerged during the Marianella meeting could be continued on the web in the future. Brendan Hoban also asked people to engage with the website through comments, emails and suitable articles.
Towards the end one person said that when priests get together there is often the danger that we accentuate the negative and forget the positive. This man had recently celebrated his golden jubilee and he felt that there were many good things happening in the Church in Ireland today, particularly when priests and people are working in a trusting, collaborative way. He did admit that a lot of damage can happen when initiatives are encourage such as the Women’s Forum and, either not acted on or squashed.
Sean McDonagh brought the meeting to an end at 5pm. He thanked each one for taking the time to attend the meeting and the Redemptorists for making their Marianella Centre available to us.