Come to Galway — Brendan Hoban
I enjoyed one of the most memorable days of my life – let’s leave the All Ireland out of it for a minute – in Dublin last May. It was a gathering of Catholics organised by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in the Regency Hotel in Dublin. As an Association we wanted to see if Catholics were interested in supporting a movement to reform our Church along the lines that God had suggested in the Second Vatican Council.
So we issued an invitation through our website (www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie) and asked God to give us a bit of a hand with it. He did. Or someone did. And over 1000 people turned up. As they streamed into the hotel and we worried if we would have room for them, a colleague commented that regardless of what happened on the day, it was already a huge success.
What we discovered on that day was the huge appetite of Catholics in Ireland for reform of their Church. Like Cardinal Martini who died a few weeks ago, they too believed that our Church was ‘200 years behind the time’ and change was needed. Just as a scientific survey commissioned by the ACP had clearly indicated that Catholics want their Church to change, the same message was coming from the huge gathering in the Regency.
For years, indeed for all of my almost 40 years as a priest, I’ve been banging on about the Second Vatican Council and the reforms that were obstructed at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. As far back as 1979 I wrote an article for the Furrow magazine called ‘Lost Opportunities’ and I’ve been on about it since – some might say, obsessively.
I lamented the fact that reforms that would have given a huge impetus to the message of Jesus Christ and to the life of the Church were ignored and opposed over the last 50 years. I argued for the energy and the promise ‘a People’s Church’ would bring. I stuck my neck out in pointing out awkward truths to those who didn’t want to hear them. And it was easy to paint people like me as troublemakers or ‘dissidents’ or ‘radicals’ – or whatever you’re having yourself.
Then, of course, as we know everything imploded and we hadn’t the structures or the capacity to deal with the problems we faced. We had scorned the richness a People’s Church and we ran around like frightened chickens as the credibility and authority of the Church went down the tube. We knew better than God, Pope John XXIII and the assembled bishops of the Catholic world. And we’ve paid a huge price for that (mainly clerical) arrogance.
The ACP was a voice crying in the wilderness, trying to hold our hands around a little flame while those who should know better were reaching in over our shoulders trying to blow it out.
Then, more in hope than in expectation, we organised the Regency event. More than 1000 people turned out on a bank holiday in May to tell us we were on the right track, to encourage us to keep going, to lift our battered flags in the desert. It was like a mirage in the middle of the Sahara, a battalion arriving unexpected and unannounced to raise the siege.
As long as I live I will never forget it. It was just, well, wonderful. People spoke honestly, passionately, energetically about what their Church could be. They were angry too, some of them, unhappy with their Church, unhappy that they feel excluded from any form of respectful decision-making, unhappy that their concerns are ignored. And they are devastated by the fact that they can see their Church, which they have loved and supported for decades, falling apart in front of them. They see their adult children walking away from the Church (and, they fear, from God) and they see their grandchildren facing a life without God, without faith, adrift without anchors to help them negotiate a difficult future.
The meeting, as expected, was made up of mainly older people but that wasn’t surprising in that it was a fair enough reflection of the age levels of priests and practising Catholics. But there was too an extraordinary energy in the room, a feeling that we were running out of time and space as a Church, a conviction that we needed to take the tide of reform, a passion for change and the opportunities for church and for faith that would follow..
The big complaint from people who had made the long journey from the west was that we needed a similar event in the west, because so many would have wanted to come but couldn’t.
So we’re gathering in the Clayton Hotel in Ballybrit in Galway on Saturday, October 6 from 10am to 4.30pm to provide that opportunity again for as many people from the west as would like to come. Everyone is welcome, and it’s free.
If you’re a committed Catholic and you see the trouble the Church is in, please come. We want to hear you tell us what you think and how you feel. If you are just hanging on by your finger-tips to the jars of the Catholic door, despite the fact that it sometimes seems the Church itself is trying to prise open each finger one by one, please come because we need you to tell us your story. If you have left the Church, even if you feel a sense of relief or freedom in getting out from under it, please come because we want to hear why.
Please come too for another reason. The Catholic Church now is a cold place for anyone encouraging change. We need you to travel this road with us. We need your ideas, your experience, your wisdom, your abilities, your energy. We have come to a point where you are the hope of our Church. Put it in your diary. Now.
* Full details of the ‘Towards an Assembly’ gathering in Galway are at the top of the Home Page on this website. You are invited to register