Paddy O’Kane (Derry) on the AGM
Association of Irish Priests
Two weeks ago I attended the newly formed Association of Irish Priests in Dublin together with priests from religious orders and dioceses all over the country. It was an invigorating experience to be there in a room full of people passionate about their church. We shared our hopes and dreams, our heartbreaks and sadness for our beloved Irish Church.
After a prayer to the Holy Spirit, Fr. Bernard Hoban began on Tuesday evening. He explained the history of the Association and reviewed the last year. Fr. Kevin Hegarty addressed us in a speech full of poetry and wit. Please read it on the website: www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie. On Wednesday morning after the re-election of officers the floor was opened to the priests in a listening exercise. Topics offered for discussion were the election of bishops, the Eucharistic Congress, crisis in ministry, married priests, how allegations of child abuse are handled- though we did not have to limit ourselves to these. The mid-day session was conducted by Marie Keenan on her new book on child abuse within the Catholic Church in Ireland followed by an open and frank open floor discussion.
It was good to be there not least because of the freedom to ask honest, soul searching questions about the association and those who are in leadership of the church at this time .There is no other forum like it and similar associations are sprouting up all over the world. Ordinary priests whether in parishes or the missions feel they have no voice and, as they are at the coal face between the laity and official church, they have an important contribution to make .
To the best of my memory this is roughly my contribution to that debate:
‘’Let us take accept that the ‘dead horse has been truly flogged’ once and for all. Otherwise we can go on forever moaning about the mistakes of the past. Let us look to the future, have a vision and even offer some constructive proposals.
These are worthwhile issues offered for discussion [see above]and we can make resolution after resolution all day long but to no avail unless we step back and ask a more fundamental question namely ‘ How do we engage with those who refuse to listen?’ The bishops are a frightened bunch and will only circle their wagons even tighter together if they feel that this Association is the attacking Indians and a threat. From my observation of the workings of the Priests Council at home the greater the trust the more open the dialogue. ‘Argument ad Hominum ’was taught to us in my first year in Maynooth in 1966 as no. 7 in a list of Common Logical Errors. It means that is not so much the message but the messengers that people react to and so the message is often dismissed. I do not know the answer to this problem but it must be faced. We have to work with the bishops –otherwise you have to form an alternative church .Many of them may be more sympathetic to this association and its aims than we are willing to admit. Why not ask them to nominate someone for co –option on to the board of the association? This is only an example of the way I am thinking so we move into meaningful dialogue and away from an ‘us and them ‘situation. Yes, let us listen to what the Spirit is saying to all the People of God, debate it openly and ask for change. But let us help those whom we want to hear what we are saying to listen as well. When I told a priest back home in Derry I was coming to this meeting he asked me ‘what are you doing getting involved with that bunch of soreheads?
Some rejected my suggestion as playing politics while others agreed with me and shared that they too had my experience of how the association was viewed. ‘What are you doing going up to Dublin the to the Hoban- Flannery show?’ one priest told us he was asked by his fellow priests. My fear is that the association may be dismissed by many Irish priests and bishops as a bunch of cranks or as ‘nobodies representing nobodies’ as a Papal Nuncio once described a similar priests’ group. But then Christ too was probably dismissed by many as a ‘sorehead’ and as a ‘nobody from Nazareth’.
I met four interesting priests there but unfortunately I have run out of space.
I’ll tell you more about them next week.