Meeting of Cork & Ross and Cloyne ACP members on Tuesday last
Following a welcome and time for prayer led by Bernard Cotter, the 27 priests who were present at the meeting at 2.30 pm last Tuesday in Ovens (there were apologies from 15 others) began a reflection on our reactions to the recently published ‘Cloyne Report’, facilitated by Tim Hazelwood. This was done using three questions:
1. Our personal response.
‘ It is still a shock to see the number of cases that there were against priests’
Some spoke of their personal knowledge of the ‘kindness’, ’pastoral care’, ’charitableness’ of Mons. Denis O’Callaghan.
Others responded that, the failure to follow agreed procedures meant that priests and people, who trusted that we were learning from past mistakes, were badly let down. There is anger, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, annoyance.
Incidents of negative reaction and comments when wearing clerical garb were given but most spoke of the supportive relationship that there is between people and priests.
The response by Church leadership was very poor after the report. There was an absence of detailed response to different elements of the report.
We as priests need to take more responsibility.
We accept a flawed process for the appointment of bishops.
A culture of ‘move the problem’ rather than confront or address a problem, has gone on too long.
There is a need to study ‘clericalism’. What is it? How does it do damage?
There is a fearfulness that any person who brings any allegation against a priest will now be believed. There is a lack of support for priests who have had allegations against them. While the great majority of allegations of abuse have been made out of concern to protect children there is the concern that in some cases there have been other motives.
There is a feeling that many priests (and bishops) are trying to ignore the effect that the report, and what followed, is having on them.
There was general agreement that at least the long wait for the report to come out is over.
2. Public reaction to the report.
‘There are more people in society now who are antagonistic to Church’
‘A second phase of discontinuing to practice is happening. People of faith who felt that they would try to work for change and renewal but who now are giving up on that hope.’
‘Our lack of compassion to victims of abuse is still spoken of by people. The feeling that there was more interest in looking after the priest and the interests of the church’
‘Reassurances that we had turned the corner and that things are done differently now are not credible to people after this report’
‘The person responsible for overseeing child protection policy must be a lay professional’.
‘This has already happened in Cloyne’
There were varied reactions to Enda Kenny’s comments.
Some said that he articulated their views and the views of people who spoke to them. Others said that by focusing on the Vatican that there was a danger of ‘blame others’, and of not taking responsibility for what we need to do ourselves. Some said that he ’went too far’.
Comments on the response of the media included;
‘the media did their job of highlighting wrongs’
‘the Evening Echo published sections of the report over a number of evenings and brought it to a wider audience’
‘we do not seem to have people who are able to give a response to media on questions raised about Church, about church structures, celibacy et al’
‘where do the faithful go to talk about their response to the report? Where do they go to talk about their Church now?’
3. What do we do now?
‘Morale is low – heads are down’
‘there is a lack of trust among priests with each other’
‘bishops are a closed group’, ‘they don’t trust priests’, ‘they see priests who speak or challenge as being disloyal’
‘ a culture of fear now, afraid of each other as priests, afraid to trust; bishops who are afraid of the media and of Rome. A culture of ‘keep quiet’, ‘stay below the radar’ which was encouraged in seminary’.
Whatever we do now needs to ‘start small’
‘Maybe a number of local gatherings, ‘a time to listen and understand’, ‘gather with the people, maybe a few parishes together’
A colleague who had an allegation against him spoke. He was withdrawn from ministry and the allegation has been investigated. He has been cleared by the DPP. He has been cleared by the HSE to return to ministry. He spoke of the ‘damage and anxiety that this time has been to my family and friends’. ‘It has been a valley of darkness’.
In response, it was said that all we ask for is to be treated with the fairness available to any other citizen, for example a teacher.
4. Tony Flannery of the A.C.P. leadership team was invited to give an update. He acknowledged the value of having this meeting and the quality of it.
He said that while the ACP has now grown to a membership of 520 that it was never intended to be a voice for all priests. The website is having about 12,000 visits per month and has led to contact with individuals and groups from around the world.
He spoke on the issue of the introduction of the new Missal. It was clearly a topic of great interest and many priests with expertise in liturgy and translation had contributed. These views were brought to the bishops on behalf of the ACP but received a somewhat dismissive letter of reply. It is clear that there is an intention to go ahead with introducing the Missal. The ACP will give an opportunity, in the New Year, to review the introduction, if priests ask for it.
On the topic of allegations against priests he said that the ACP now has the help of people with legal expertise and that any priest was welcome to make contact for advise or help.
He clarified recent comments about the Eucharistic Congress. While questions have been raised about the structure of the event and the costs involved, the ACP has not called for it to be cancelled, as suggested in some media.
To end, Tony outlined the schedule for the A.G.M. on October 4th/5th at The Green Isle Hotel (see website for details).
5. Eoin Whooley had a request from a reporter from the Evening Echo for an interview after the meeting. Despite some misgivings it was agreed that it is important to respond positively to such requests.
6. The meeting ended at 4.30pm. Our hosts at Ovens Pastoral Centre provided refreshments and the opportunity for further conversation.
(Minutes compiled by Michael Kelleher)