Meeting of ACP members with Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, January 13th 2011, in Dromantine Retreat Centre
Frs. Seán McDonagh, Gerard Alwill and Seán McCartan met with Cardinal Murphy–O’Connor, Professor Shiela Hollings and Mgr Mark O’Toole at Dromantine at about 11.15 a.m on January 13th 2011. Unfortunately, Fr. Malachy Conlon could not attend because of a funeral in his parish.
In response to a request from the Cardinal, we gave a brief account of the factors which led to the formation of the ACP in September 2011. We gave him a copy of Fr. Brendan Hoban’s article in the September edition of The Furrow.
We presented some concerns of the ACP about how the current child abuse procedures impact on the lives of priests. These centred around the fact that priests feel there is a lack of natural justice because there were no common procedures when it comes, for example, to requesting a priest to stand down. Priests are being denied their rights in Canon Law, at the whim of an individual bishop: rights to proper remuneration, accommodation, access to a canon lawyer and a solicitor. In the face of this, many priests feel totally disenfranchised by the Church they have served for decades. All of this has led to a feeling of abandonment among priests in Ireland now. Priests are frustrated, vulnerable, anxious, ignored, demonized, demoralized and often patronised.
In response to query from the Cardinal, why the Irish Church was so slow in facing the child sexual abuse issue, we pointed out that the record elsewhere, beginning in Rome, is also damning. Since the statement of Cardinal Claudio Hummes (l’Osservatore Romano (January 13th 2010), musing whether clerical child sexual abuse was an Irish phenomenon, abuse scandals have emerged in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy.
We expressed disappointment with many aspects of the letter which Pope Benedict sent to Catholics of Ireland in March 2010. Both his analysis of the causes of the problems and solutions to address them seem simplistic.
We pointed out that there was very little ‘corporate’ Church reflection on either the Ryan or Murphy Reports. This is an example of very poor leadership from the Irish Bishops. We also told the Cardinal that, whoever advised the Pope in relation to his letter, does not appear to understand the extraordinary social and cultural changes which have taken place in Ireland in the past four decades.
We widened out the debate beyond the exclusive focus on paedophilia. Examples that the current leadership of the Church are not listening to the voice of priests include, the lack of any effective consultation involved in the new seriously, incompetent translation of the missal. Another example is the consultations involved in choosing a bishop are merely tokenism and carry little weight.
We called the cardinal’s attention to the fact that Church leaders are not responding adequately to the increased work load which priests are presently carrying. This is contributing significantly to the frustration, stress and demoralisation among priests. Top-down initiatives to address the issue, such as the clustering of parishes, or ordaining of deacons, fail to address the core issue, which is the right of Catholics to have regular access to the Eucharist.
We tried to impress on the Cardinal that there is an enormous need for new, inclusive forms of ministry in the Catholic Church if the Catholic Church is to continue to meet the spiritual needs of the Irish people during the next few decades. If this does not happen the future of the Church in Ireland could be quite bleak. We suggested that in his report, the cardinal might suggest to the pope that a church-wide synod on new ministries is badly needed.
We also provided the Cardinal with a number of examples where ‘sex abuse’ cases were handled badly by ecclesiastical authorities.
As a way forward we told the Cardinal that some members of the ACP feel that the Catholic Church in Ireland would benefit hugely from a well designed synod which would begin in parishes, then move on to diocesan level, culminating with a countrywide gathering.
The Cardinal was told that there is a certain amount of cynicism about the consultation. A group of priests in one local diocese were asked to make suggestions to be raised at the meeting with the Cardinal. The response, to put it mildly, was very skeptical if not cynical. “What’s the point”, he said, “It’ll make no difference. Nobody is listening.”
We also pointed out that the Visitation itself is rather haphazard and unclear. There are no clear terms of reference, the methodologies to be used are not clear and the fact that the reports may, or may not be published, does not inspire confidence. Nevertheless, the fact that so many priest of the Archdiocese of Armagh and sisters turned out to meet the Cardinal is a clear example of their commitment to Christ, the Church and the people whom they serve. It is also a clear indication that these people are hoping for major changes in our understanding of what it means to be Church and the various ministries within the Church. We need structural renewal in the Church so the good news of the Gospel of Jesus and the celebration of the various sacraments are available for people in the next generation.
The cardinal assured us that when completed, his Report to Pope Benedict XVI will reflect the concerns he has heard during the visitation.
The meeting lasted about 45 minutes.