30Oct How the ACP relates with the Irish Bishops

Since the founding of our association dialogue with the Irish bishops has been a priority for us, the leadership team, and indeed also for our members. There have even been times when some of our members have criticised us for what they perceived as a lack of urgency on our part in pursuing this agenda.
Our first meeting with any members of the Hierarchy was in relation to the introduction of the New Missal. We met with the relevant Episcopal commission, which had three bishops as members. There was some discussion at that meeting, but unfortunately it did not have any effect on the outcome, as we know.
At our insistent request there was a further meeting last Spring. Three members of the ACP leadership team met with two representatives of the bishops’ conference. It was a private meeting, very pleasant and affable. Sitting around the table there was almost no difference between us on the issues we raised concerning the current state of the Church. But at the end all that was made public was a formalised statement containing little or no information. This type of private meeting went against what we have tried to do from the beginning, being open about all our activities. But we felt it was worth going along with this as a first step. We also knew that more meetings like this would not serve any useful purpose. There needed to be openness and transparency in our dealing with the bishops in the future.
So, in late June of this year, we sent the following letter to Cardinal Brady:

Dear Cardinal,
There is little need to rehearse the elements of the present position of the Catholic Church in Ireland: the decline of Mass attendance, the lack of confidence in anything that has the name ‘Catholic¹, the steep and sharp decline in vocations to the priesthood.
The Association of Catholic Priests believes that what is now needed is a proactive emphasis on unity within our Church. The need for this ‘Communio’ has been voiced by Pope Benedict and has been the theme of the recent Eucharistic Congress.
There are, as we know, huge ‘dis-connects’ in our Church that need to be addressed: between people and priests; between priests and bishops; between bishops and Rome.
These gulfs are damaging the Church, damaging the preaching of the Good News, leading to a huge loss of confidence in our identity as Catholics and in our ability to come to terms with our critical situation.
The Association of Catholic Priests believes that the current crisis demands real engagement between the different groupings in the Irish Catholic Church. Unless this engagement takes place it will not be possible to plan strategically for the future of our church. There are many people who still value their Catholic heritage and who want the Christian message to be promulgated in a way that will challenge the values of our time, as evidenced by the large participation in the IEC and in our recent ‘assembly’ meeting in Dublin.
In seeking this engagement we consider four factors to be essential:
1. The present reality needs to be named. This necessitates that the conversation includes all shades of opinion within our church – those who are disaffected as well as those who believe that the rules must be rigidly obeyed. The differing voices need to be heard; it is not good enough to tell some people that if they are not happy with the present rules to go elsewhere.
2. This process of engagement must give as strong a voice to the lay parishioners as it does to the clergy and the bishops. We need to trust that God is with His Church as surely when discordant and critical voices are heard as when there is assent and agreement. As experience indicates time and time again, there is a tangible energy, vibrancy and enthusiasm when lay people are present in assemblies with clergy and often a palpable sense of dejection, depression and sometimes almost despair when clergy gather as a group.
3. We need to face the question as to what is going to happen as more priests retire. The present clustering of parishes is, in our opinion, not the answer. The question everyone is asking: what will we do now to save the Irish Catholic Church from becoming, in twenty years time, a Eucharist-free zone and, as the Eucharist is at the heart of Church, from effective collapse?
Twenty years ago we could be excused for not facing that question on the grounds that we were not fully aware of the pace of change that was about to take place. This excuse is now gone. We need to urgently address the challenge of providing a scaffolding of worship, of ministry, of community – effectively, of Catholic life – within which the Good News can be presented, valued, honoured and lived.
4. We need to communicate clearly and assertively to Rome the reality of our present situation and to create the space in the Irish Church to allow for the kind of conversation we need to have at parish, diocesan and national level.
The Association of Catholic Priests, on behalf of our members, respectfully and urgently requests that the Irish Episcopal Conference respond positively to this proposal: to begin, in cooperation with priests and people, a conversation about the future of our Catholic Church that will move purposefully from a reflective consideration of where we are to where it is God will lead us.
As a first step in this process, we request a meeting with the Episcopal Conference in the near future.
Pope Benedict has spoken about the need for the ‘renewal’ of the Irish Church and the opportunities offered by the upcoming ‘Year of Faith’. We accept that analysis and that guidance. By listening to one another, by hearing what is being said, by recognising both the limitations and the opportunities of this time, by trusting in God’s Spirit to guide us on the way, the Year of Faith could become a new springtime in our Church.
We stress that the Association of Catholic Priests is not ‘against’ the Church. We are part of it, we care about it and we want it to survive.
We would like a response as soon as possible.
On behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests
Tony Flannery, Esker Retreat House, Athenry, Co. Galway, 087 6814699 Brendan Hoban, PP, Garranard, Ballina, Co Mayo. 086 6065055
PJ Madden, Graiguecullen, Carlow. 059 9141833
Sean McDonagh, SSC Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath. 087 2367612

The reply eventually arrived in October. It was as follows:

Dear Father Hoban,
Further to my letter of 24 July 2012, I write to let you know that your correspondence was circulated to all members of the Irish Episcopal Conference and discussed at the recent meeting of bishops.
The Bishops are of the opinion that engagement with the Association of Catholic Priests would best take place at local level by using established structures such as the Council of Priests.
With all good wishes etc
G Dullea
Executive Secretary

We are both disappointed and saddened by this response from our bishops. It is hard to understand why, in this time of great difficulty for the Irish Church, neither the bishops as a body, or any individual bishop, is willing to meet with an association that has a membership of over one thousand priests.
We also note that Cardinal Seán Brady, in a letter to the ACP on May 1 of this year wrote that ‘the ACP has already met representatives of the Bishops and also attended a meeting of a Commission of the Episcopal Conference and we expect that there will be ongoing meetings of this nature.’
No such “ongoing” meetings have taken place. Given the reply which was signed by Fr. G. Dullea is it foolish of the ACP to anticipate any further meetings?

21 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    Yes,it comes across almost as dismissive and the gap between sending the letter in June and having to wait 4 months on a reply seems disrespectful. I am wondering, having watched the BBC documentary on that honest and compassionate priest, Brian Darcy, last night (Monday 29th Oct), and seeing glimpses of a personal letter Cardinal Brady wrote to Brian, expressing warmth and affirmation, (my opinion) if the personal approach might work better. The ACP is an organisation and the Episcopal Conference is also a group and so the relationships between groups/organisations can appear formal, distant, lacking in humanity and compassion. Just a thought. Men can seem to lose all sense of heart when they become a corporate, group or organisation.
    Keep at them. Write again. Write to individuals. If necessary, call on each bishop at his palace/mansion/ dwelling place. We have to see each other as decent, caring, warm hearted followers of Christ and whilst it is hugely frustrating for the ACP leadership (who work like beavers on behalf of the rest of us and to whom we are enormously grateful) I appeal to you not to give up, give in or surrender a gram of hope. We are all with you and if you need any of us to do any picketing my placard is ready! (joking, I think. Am I???)

  2. patrogers

    I felt that your June 2012 letter to Cardinal Brady expresses very well the critical situation of the Church in this country, and is pretty much the view of most active priests in Ireland, not only of the subscribed members of the ACP. The painful irony – as you point out – is that our diagnosis of the problems facing us would be largely agreed by individual bishops, in private conversation. What they don’t (yet?) see is the need for open dialogue with our (declining) Church membership, on how to respond positively, in ways that will help towards a rebirth in our Catholic Church in 21st century Ireland.

    While I agree that the taciturn – almost brusque – reply of the Irish Episcopal Conference (through IEC secretary Monsignor Gearoid Dullea) is less than encouraging, it need not totally rule out further meetings with individual bishops, who surely must be as distressed as we are by the stalemate in “vertical” communications within our church, if I dare use that phrase to describe the virtual blackout between the episcopal conference and the faithful.

    If you have not already done so, may I suggest that each individual bishop (including the Nuncio) be sent a warm, personal invitation to attend the upcoming AGM — and that, if any of them accept, they be given at least a ten-minute speaking time from the podium, to share with us the shape that they relistically hope that our church will take in Ireland, over the next couple of decades.

    It is important, I think, that the offer of communication be continued from our side, regardless of the bishops’ brusqueness towards the ACP so far. One might envy the situation of the Catholics in Switzerland, whose parish councils have the full right, in civil law, to determine what proportion (if any) of their church tax (Kirchensteuer) will go to the support of the diocese. This right, enshrined by Concordat, graphically illustrates the inter-dependency of the bishops with the laity and local clergy, and militates against the sort of “Mexican Stand-off” that the conference is currently showing towards the ACP. It will be of keen interest to see whether the IEC shows any greater willingness to dialogue with the Association of Irish Catholics, once they get started on Nov. 10th.

  3. Kevin

    Priests are their own worst enemies. Seems so little ‘fraternal love’ and less trust. It’s no wonder you become jaded, dejected and depressed. That you get no ‘ongoing meetings’ is no real surprise.

    Is it foolish to try, expect more ? It may well be. They are laying out the rules, the context in which any such meetings might take place. This Council of Priests. I can see you’re jaded and it’s understandable. But you are strong and have a message, a voice that needs airing.

    “Sitting around the table there was almost no difference between us on the issues we raised concerning the current state of the Church. But at the end all that was made public was a formalised statement containing little or no information.”

    Why the two faces. This is dishonest. Seems like fear won the day – again. And Paul says there is no fear in love. No real trust. No real understanding. No love.

    If this is to be the reality of further meetings then I’d say yes it’s foolish, and demeaning. Wholly dishonest. Immature.

    But you speak of trusting God to be in charge. If this is the reality then maybe there is a need to hold onto hope, especially when all seems lost. Do what you can. Meet where you can. Say what you can and leave it to God. Whatever the outcome keep your peace. Not easy – but try not to become dejected and depressed. That is the one thing you don’t compromise – your peace in believing, knowing you did, do your best. If we don’t find peace in ourselves we won’t bring it to anyone else. And at the end of the day I am now convinced where we find no peace, we must wipe the dust and walk.

    To use the words of one mentioned in this piece, “that’s my tuppence worth”. So very telling those words. Heart says one thing but the head according to Rome must speak another.

    Maybe take time away from it all and spend some time ‘meeting’ Jesus with the kinds of people Teresa Mee mentioned last week. Or the only people who will truly profit from it all will be ‘Big Pharma.’

    If truth sets free. Sure sounds like a lot of people are being held in unnecessary bondage.

    Good luck ! Will pray for you all.

  4. Ger Gleeson

    I can only support fully that which patrogers has stated. Our Church is dying. Can just one Bishop attend our meeting on December 10th?

  5. Ger Gleeson

    Sorry, that should read November 10th.

  6. Teresa Mee

    I have the impression from the bishops’ response that they’re glad the ACP is there, but they don’t dare ‘engage’ with it as Association.

  7. Raymond Hickey Bordine

    At what point does an individual or a group say ‘enough is enough’ when trying to dialogue with those of hardened hearts? I give my encouragement, support and admiration to the ACP in their attempt to make the RCC a Christian community. But for how long can any of us continue to hit our heads against a stone wall without losing all sense of reality and purpose?

    It seems to me that we risk our integrity and raison d’etre if we persist in a continuous denial of what is clearly a message from the bishops of ‘keep quiet and go away’! We lose momentum, authenticity and credibility if we fail to act in the face of intractable and obdurate defiance of the Christian message. After all these attempts at dialogue on the part of the ACP in the face of an insensitive and hard-hearted hierarchy, I would simply shake off the dust from my pant cuffs and move on to a community that really desires the good news heralded by Jesus, the Christ. Too many good men are being suppressed and sacrificed in an attempt to placate an un-Christlike hierarchy. Time to move on. My complete respect, admiration and esteem is with the members of the ACP.

  8. Eugene Sheehan

    “New wine, new wine skins.”(Luke 5:36-39) Thus Jesus instructed his disciples to leave behind the old religious institution of the time,and live the new life through him. Are we again at that point in our Christian history? It seems clear to me that the current clerical model of an institutional Church is no longer fit for purpose, so perfectly described in the teaching of Christ when he said “those who would be first, shall be last…”(Matt.20:16) The Bishops’ response to the ACP is just another example of the exercise of power to dismiss and humiliate! What is the point in engaging with those who appear to have little interest in attempting to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Church? Vatican 2 did not create the model of discipleship as “people of God” – Jesus did. I believe the ACP and the ACI are the seeds, along with similar movements throughout the world, of a new way of discipleship that puts the life, death and resurrection of Jesus at the centre of our lives – instead of the Vatican, the Curia and clericalism. (Hardly a new way – just shows you!) It is time to stand up for the Truth, and stand against the “heresies” that are driving so many people away from the Church in a “silent schism”.

  9. Les

    Yes defintitely include the new nuncio.

  10. Chris McDonnell

    CROP

    The crop failed,first one year
    and then the next.
    Driven from family fields by hunger,
    they moved to towns
    and then took ships across the water.
    The great migration of an Island people
    who sought relief from poverty.
    In ravaged, weakened frames
    they journeyed to another place.
    An overwhelming emptiness
    was left languishing in a deserted land.

    Now in our present time
    a new hunger harrowes the land.

    O Eucharistic Christ remain
    to ease the growing doubt
    and endless pain.

  11. Eugene Sheehan

    “New wine, new wine skins.”(Luke 5:36-39) Thus Jesus instructed his disciples to leave behind the old religious institution of the time,and live the new life through him. Are we again at that point in our Christian history? It seems clear to me that the current clerical model of an institutional Church is no longer fit for purpose, so perfectly described in the teaching of Christ when he said “those who would be first, shall be last…”(Matt.20:16) The Bishops’ response to the ACP is just another example of the exercise of power to dismiss and humiliate! What is the point in engaging with those who appear to have little interest in attempting to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Church? Vatican 2 did not create the model of discipleship as “people of God” – Jesus did. I believe the ACP and the ACI are the seeds, along with similar movements throughout the world, of a new way of discipleship that puts the life, death and resurrection of Jesus at the centre of our lives – instead of the Vatican, the Curia and clericalism. (Hardly a new way – just shows you!) It is time to stand up for the Truth, and ignore those who are driving so many people away from the Church in a “silent schism” by their power games.

  12. Eddie Finnegan

    I agree with Fr Pat Rogers on the need to keep courteously plugging away with individual bishops and, yes, with the Nuncio. When, during the Cuban Missiles Crisis fifty years ago, two contradictory missives arrived from Comrade Kruschev within hours of each other, the Kennedy brothers decided to ignore the second hardline one and responded to the earlier softer one. It worked. The episcopal comrades probably want to be helped off their own hook too. Watch out for the gentler overtures when they come.
    National Bishops’ Conferences were never designed to be either flexible or collegial (either ‘upwards’ or ‘downwards’.) So three or four months to answer a letter because, mar dheá, they needed to discuss it at their Autumn Meeting. The Press Release from that Maynooth meeting lists and then details the issues dealt with at their meeting. No ACP letter mentioned. Did a few of them mention it on their way from the Columba Centre to the refectory, or over lunch? Or in the loo? We may never know as all that may be far above Msgr Dullea’s paygrade.
    .
    Maybe in inviting the Apostolic Nuncio the ACP leadership should first invite him to unpack the correct interpretation of the final section of his November ‘Intercom’ interview:
    “I would also add that in the renewal of the Church in Ireland, priests will have a central role; indeed, real renewal depends upon them. Certainly priests, in particular, have had a difficult time in recent years. But one of the most gratifying aspects of my different trips around Ireland has been the experience of meeting the priests of the country – young and old, diocesan and religious, from North and South – who are serving the Lord and his people with amazing love and faithfulness, without fanfare and publicity. These are the men who have served the Church in a difficult period and I have the highest respect and admiration for them. When the history of our times is written, it will be these faithful priests who will be remembered and appreciated.”
    It’s just that phrase, “without fanfare and publicity”, that gives me pause. Does it skew the apparent inclusivity of the whole paragraph? Are priests who found associations and hold meetings outside recognised structures perhaps in the fanfare and publicity brigade? Is the Nuncio including the ACP among “These are the men” and “these faithful priests” in his last two sentences? Caveat Lector.
    Or maybe my natural scepticicm has marinaded into cynicism in my 70th year. :-(

  13. Martin Harran

    The episcopal comrades probably want to be helped off their own hook too” ( Eddie Finnegan)

    I think that hits the nail on the head; note how a number of bishops such as Edward Daly have come out and said much the same as ACP once they have retired!

  14. Martin Murray

    No Eddie, immediately I saw the words ‘without fanfare and publicity’ I highlighted them to make the same point that you went on to make. It would seem silence and deference are still seen as the primary virtues.

    Could I also suggest while we await meaningful dialogue with the offical hierarchy, we have plenty to be going on with in getting the punters in the pews (like myself) to start thinking what at present seems unthinkable and to engage in conversations in which they speak that which is presently considered unspeakable.

  15. seán eile

    Any reasonable person will agree that individually the bishops are fine upright Christians. What happens to them when they come together? In the old days I think we used to call them a ‘bench’, now we use ‘conference’ – can somebody good at english explain the meaning of this word; does it fit with what is going on? … and I have great sympathy for bishops!!

  16. Eddie Finnegan

    Seán eile (15) asks a good question. You’d expect that a ‘bench of bishops’ like a ‘bench of magistrates’ would be a great collective wielder of magisterium, or at least be able ‘to put a bit of stick about’. But a Conference of Bishops is a pretty toothless paper tiger. In case there was ever any doubt about a National or Regional Bishops’ Conference’s toothlessness and unauthoritativeness (following its formalising by Vatican II and its implementation by Paul VI) the 1983 Code and John Paul II fifteen years later knocked any notions of grandeur out of its head.
    A Bishops’ Conference can’t substitue for its members’ share in the magisterium; a 30-strong conference of bishops is doctrinally weaker than its weakest member; it can’t pool its collective magisterium as a Super Strength National Brand, Mag30. It’s not a college of bishops; it’s not even part of the College of Bishops, though each of its members is; it’s not an extension of the Council on its home turf. All it can do is ‘confer’ intransitively and convolutedly; it certainly can’t ‘confer’ transitively any extra powers upon itself. Yes, if it can muster up a two-thirds majority approval from the individual bishops, it can seek a ‘recognitio’ from Rome for a doctrinal declaration.
    In the 1940s-’50s the Bishop of Diocese ‘C’ could declare it a mortal sin to dance after midnight in any dancehall in the diocese – and he didn’t have to consult or confer with anyone. The fact that his flock could cycle across the border and dance till 2 or 3am in Diocese ‘A’, and return home more or less in a state of grace, is of course another story.

  17. Eddie Finnegan

    I can’t help but notice that, following its Maynooth meetings, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference is much more in favour of the Press Release than of the Press Conference or even the Press Briefing. It’s hard to ask questions of a Press Release. I suppose when bishops like +Eddie Daly and +Willie Walsh retire and find themselves “free at last! Thank God A’mighty, we’re free at last!” nobody could blame them for being a bit demob happy, able to open their mouths for a change. They’ve crossed the great divide, no longer indentured servants of Episcopal Conference but free citizens of Episcopal Release. It seems a shame that bishops have to wait for retirement to share that sense of Release.
    I’m sure that ACP priests have a pastoral duty to prepare, say, the 20 most amenable members of the Bishops’ Conference for Release & Rehab. I’m not sure whether a two-thirds majority of the ICBC is 21 or 19 – depends whether you count the three vacancies or not. There seems to be every reason to hope that, after a period of serious “engagement with the Association of Catholic priests . . . at local level”, the most promising score of bishops should be able to command a two-thirds majority in favour of disbanding the ICBC and requesting a recognitio from the Holy See for their new Release organisation, the ICBR.

  18. Tony Conry

    The refusal of the Irish bishops to accept dialogue with the ACP should neither surprise nor disappoint us. It was as expected. They seem to be lost in a time machine, determined to relive the power struggle of Canossa(1077). But the central issue is no longer Lay Investiture but the meaningful participation of both laity and lower clergy in the life of the Church, by virtue of their Baptism into the Body of Christ. Times have changed and the world has moved on. To suggest that dialogue should be through Priests Councils is both offensive and in very bad taste. A lack of sensitivity permeates the whole process, unworthy of anybody committed to basic Christian values and attitudes. It exudes concern for power and control, with little worry for building up the Kingdom of God.
    As we begin this Year of Faith reflecting on the 50 years of Vatican II it is essential that we remain faithful to the spirit and the structures laid down by the Council. It was called in a moment of divine inspiration by the “good” pope John the 23rd. It continues to inspire us. The fruits of the Holy Spirit have been given to us in abundance, not least of all through the birth of the ACP and similar groups in many other countries.
    Fr. Tony Conry,
    São Paulo, Brazil.

  19. Margaret Lee

    The Nuncio, in my opinion, is a very “political” person. I suspect that when he appears to praise the priests who work without “fanfare and publicity” he is really having a go at the Association of Catholic Priests. Sad, but fairly predictable.

  20. TREASA HEALY

    What a great pity and a missed opportunity. I was surprised the Cardinal responded in this manner. Looking up the various Diocesan Web sites I found only a few listing Priest’s Councils, and I checked Canon Law for their composition. Amazing! How ever do Bishops get the ear of the ‘ordinary priest’ – and of course not an iota from a lay person. Reading the encouraging Articles 906 and 907 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (based on CIC 605) it does not auger well for their implementation…. but of course 50 years have already passed ….How Long, O Lord, how long!!

  21. TREASA HEALY

    OOOOops! Wrong Canon….should be 212.3. But maybe paragraph 904 of the CCC, itself taken from Lumen Gentium 35 needs greater emphasis…
    Treasa.