Over 350 attend the Cork ‘Towards an Asembly’ meeting
Three hundred and fifty people gathered in the Radisson Hotel in Cork for the ACP Regional Assembly. Tony Flannery welcomed everyone and handed over to Máire Mulcahy who chaired the first session from 10 to 11.15. Brendan Hoban gave a brief talk on the founding of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). The ACP was founded to give a voice to priests at a crucial point in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland. While the ACP is committed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council its members are at the heart of the Church and are not dissidents. They love the Catholic Church but want to see it become much more relevant in the lives of the people. Brendan’s talk is already on the website. John Lawless was the second speaker. John is a former priest of the Diocese of Waterford. He was ordained in 1968 but left the active ministry in the mid 1980s because he felt that the Catholic Church was becoming irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people. For him, the structures of the Church do not bring people closer to God. In fact, they are often alienating. He felt that there is much fear in the Church and the priests and laity must stop looking over their shoulders and give themselves permission to become the people of God.” For him and many like him the clerical Church has nothing to offer and urgently needs to be replaced with structures that foster love and compassion.
Marian Mortell was the next speaker. She began by saying “I am a woman and a Catholic.” The majority of those who attend Church are women, as are the majority of readers, ministers of the Eucharist and cleaners. She reminded the group that women were disciples of Jesus; they stood by him at the foot of the cross when the men had run away. They were the first to experience his presence after the Resurrection. They travelled with Paul and provided leadership at the Eucharist. Very quickly in the history of the Church, women were silenced. Today despite the work which women do in the Church, their voice is not heard in the decision making apparatus of the Church. They are not accepted as equals. As a result the gifts that women could bring to the Church are lost. This needs to change quickly and radically. Co-responsibility must be at the heart of Church leadership in the future.
Michael Ryan was the next speaker. He is a teacher and he reflected on why his grown up daughters do not feel the need to attend the Eucharist each Sunday. He said that they were wonderful, talented people, but somehow the Eucharist doesn’t attract. They are also sceptical about the current teaching of the Church on sexual morality, especially the teaching on gay and lesbian relationships. According to Michael, these people have little interest in the “rules and regulations of the Catholic Church but are very much committed to promoting love and compassion.” This is the future and we need to grasp it.
During the discussion, one woman shared her pain at the fact that her son is gay and is planning to enter into civil partnership early next year. She wondered would she be able to attend the ceremony and, to date, had received very little help from Church people.
The second session was chaired by Pat Moran OSA. Niamh Lucey, a young woman, began by saying how glad she was to be at a meeting where people were searching for God. For her, Christ came to include all people, whereas often the Catholic Church excludes people on the basis of their sexuality. She felt that the Church must make compassion and standing in solidarity with people in trouble more central in its life and teaching.
Niam Hourigan pointed out to the priests, nuns and religious in the audience that they have an important role to play in modern Ireland. She first became aware of this when a doctoral student of her’s asked her why, in the women’s prison in Mountjoy, more people queued outside the office of the chaplain than outside the office of the social workers. For on-going research in this area she felt the social worker’s paradigm often viewed criminal behaviour as the result of deprivation and that the behaviour was basically irrational. In other words criminality was pathological. On the other hand, a person grounded in the values of the Gospel of Jesus had no problem standing in solidarity with people, no matter what they have done, even when they recognise that the behaviour was criminal and sinful. She gave the example of the woman taken in adultery in John 7: 53 – 8: 11. Unlike her accusers Jesus did not condemn the woman but he did say to her “go and sin no more.”
The discussion which followed emphasised the need for more compassion in the Catholic Church. One or two speakers spoke very positively about the recent programme on RTE where Gay Byrne interviewed Mary McAleese about what her faith means to her. For many the most important element of that interview was Mary McAleese’s emphasis on inclusion being at the heart of what it meant to be a Catholic.
Noel McCann, the last speaker before lunch spoke about the setting up of the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI). “The ACI is committed to the renewal of the Catholic faith in the changed and changing circumstances of the 21st century and the reform of the institutional Church which, at this time, is experiencing conflict, crisis and a lack of credibility.”
The conversation continued over lunch.
In the afternoon session, Donal Dorr gave a wonderfully clear presentation of the vision of Vatican II for the Church and the Laity. Vatican II made a breakthrough on a whole series of fronts for the Catholic Church. 50 years later some people are saying that it is important to see Vatican II as a major break with the past, while others are saying we should emphasise its continuity with the past. He highlighted two key words aggiornamento (bringing things up to date) and Ressourcement (returning to the sources, especially the bible and early Church).
Donal felt that the energy of groups such as the ACP and ACI should be focused on a commitment to teaching meditation and prayer. Liturgy should be flexible with a lot of variety. The Catholic Church should be focusing on ecology and social justice and that there needs to be a dialogue on the Church’s teaching on sexuality.
In terms of structural change, Catholics should be able to participate in the selection of bishops and the pope. Leadership should be seen as a team engagement, rather than invested in an individual. Decision making and leadership should be characterised by subsidiarity and decentralisation.
He ended by saying that people are not powerless to effect change. We should not allow ourselves to be dismissed as “cranks” but we need to give courageous support to priests and others who take risks. One hopes that the complete outline of Donal’s powerpoint will appear on the website. It could be a good starting point for discussion groups whether parish or diocesan based, on how the Church in Ireland should celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.
Tony Butler summed up the day and the meeting ended at 4.00pm
Sean McDonagh SSC is a member of the Leadership Team of the ACP. He represented the association at the meeting of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative in Vienna