ACP Meeting at Marianella, Orwell Road on Tuesday December 13th 2011
ACP Meeting at Marianella, Orwell Road on Tuesday December 13th 2011
55 priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Meath met in Marianella on December 13th 2011. Fr. Tony Flannery opened the meeting at 3pm with a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
This was a very lively meeting, with vigorous and strongly held views expressed by many of those present. It would be impossible to give a full account of all that was said, so what follows is a brief summary. Suffice it to say that this meeting was the best indication yet that the Association is providing a forum which gives a voice to priests.
Seán McDonagh gave a brief account of the way in which the ACP had helped Fr. Kevin Reynolds, who was libelled in a Prime Time Investigates programme entitled Mission to Prey which was broadcast on May 23rd 2011. The ACP was commended by the meeting for taking this initiative, particularly since neither bishops nor religious superiors seem willing to take this type of stand on behalf of their priests.
This was followed by a discussion about the new guidelines for “stepping down” a priest against whom “credible” allegations have been made. There was a lot of uneasiness express about the present practice, in so far as it seems in some cases to suggest that the priest is guilty before he has any chance to defend himself. The letter sent by the ACP legal team requesting a meeting with the bishops was read out to the meeting, and was received with approval.
The Experience of one who has left the ministerial priesthood
Donal Harringon, a former priest of the Diocese of Dublin, addressed the group about his experience of leaving the ministerial priesthood. He was ordained in 1979, and continued in ministry until 1997. During his time as a priest, Donal was widely recognised for his expertise in theology, and his work in helping to restructure and develop new ministries to enrich parish life. He has also written widely on pastoral theology and pastoral care.
He told the meeting that on leaving the ministerial priesthood many priests were still very supportive of him, and invited him to continue to exercise his particular charism in their parishes, particularly in the area of parish development. There was less support from bishops. These were the contrasting experiences he had, and he was grateful to the priests for their support. But at the official level he met with a lot of opposition. He also highlighted problems with the laicisation process. Among the conditions attached to laicisation, he told us, was that the individual was forbidden to take any role in the pastoral ministry of the Church, not even as a Minister of the Eucharist or a Reader of the Word. The reason he was given was that it might cause scandal. As a result he, and others like him, feel that they have a lot to give, but are upset and saddened by the few opportunities they are given to exercise ministry. In the context of the present crisis in ministry, this attitude towards ‘laicised’ priests is very regrettable. No other organisation would spurn such talent.
Tim Murphy responded to Donal’s comments by saying that such talent and experience were not being availed of because of a rigid ideological approach to the understanding of the ministerial priesthood. He felt that the ACP should take up this issue with the bishops so that any ‘laicised’ priest who is willing to serve in ministry would be received with open arms, and not turned away as is often the current practice.
The rapid decline in the number of priests and the rights of Catholics to the Eucharist.
This led on to a general discussion on the problems in ministry today. Padraig McCarthy said this matter should be raised in the run up to, and during the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress. According to him we now have a situation where many Catholics are being deprived of the Eucharist became of a lack of priests and there are very few vocations to the current model of priestly ministry. History teaches us that there were, and are, other models of ministry whereby the Church can carry on the mission of Christ in the world. Willie Cleary from the diocese of Meath concurred. He said that he has experienced the wonderful gifts which people like Donal Harrington brought to animating parish life in the spirit of Second Vatican Council, where the whole Church, not just priests, were involved in sharing the Gospel of Christ and celebrating the great mysteries of our faith.
All in all, there was strong support at the meeting for a serious look at the problems our present ministry policies are creating.
Low Moral and Lack of Support from Bishops
This was a strong part of the meeting, with some excellent, and very well expressed, contributions. It is clear that life is not getting any easier for the priests, particularly in Dublin diocese. Stress levels are increasing. The lack of support for priests was highlighted by many speakers. It would appear that morale is low, certainly among some priests. Priests said they felt used, and not appreciated, as they struggled to cover a bigger work load than when they were young and energetic. Lack of any say in decision making does not help. People feel resentful when decisions are imposed on them without consultation. The New Missal was given as one of many examples of this. Listening to the meeting, it would appear there is a real problem in this area in the archdiocese.
One priest expressed it very strongly when he said that after much study he concluded that the most accurate term to capture the present employment position of priests vis-à-vis those in authority in the Hierarchical Church was the words – indentured labourers. The way in which salary and pensions are dealt with contributes to this feeling of being indentured labourers, people whose rights are circumscribed at every turn. Another priest followed this by saying that it seemed to him that some within the higher echelons of the governing body of the archdiocese had “veiled contempt” for the ordinary diocesan priest. A priest from the diocese of Meath spoke of the same type of frustration.
What is the current position on pastoral workers?
There would appear to be uncertainty about the security of employment for pastoral workers in Dublin, due to a shortage of money, as the funding for the scheme may run out in June 2012. This was raised by some speakers who were concerned that the priests in the parishes will be blamed, if the scheme collapses, rather than those who designed the programme without fully thinking through all the implications, particularly financial, of the project.
A new concrete vision of Church
Another topic raised was the ACP initiative to hold an Assembly of the Church in May 2012. A number of lay groups have shown an interest in this initiative and wish to be associated with it. As a result a planning day has been set for January 26th 2012. Two people agreed to work on a paper which would encapsulate the vision of Church which we are trying to create in Ireland. When this short paper is posted on our website anyone who wishes can add their wisdom to it, and in this way attempting to enhance the project of building a new, inclusive sense of Church in Ireland will contribute greatly to the wider society.
The meeting lasted for about one hour and forty five minutes. While some strong and critical things were said, it was a vibrant meeting, clearly imbued with a great sense of concern for the good of the Church and for the message of the Gospel.