Church described as a ‘juggernaut’ at Leighlinbridge meeting
Approximately 75 people attended the ACI meeting in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, on 6 February. The meeting was held in the Lord Bagenal Hotel and was organised by local man, Pascal O’Dea, from Bagenalstown.
Pascal chaired the meeting which opened with a prayer. Following a welcoming statement by Pascal, Noel McCann, a member of the ACI Steering Group, addressed the meeting. Noel described the background to the establishment of the ACI and outlined the work of the Steering Group. He also referred to the ACI Statement of Objectives and explained the vision for the development of the ACI as a nationwide association with local groups in parishes and towns across the country. Noel stressed that the ACI is committed to the reform and renewal of our church and wants to engage positively to develop a new model of church where the lay faithful will play their rightful role. The association recognises the need to support our priests who work tirelessly at parish level often in very difficult circumstances. Noel emphasised the importance of people, like Pascal, taking the initiative to organise local meetings. These local meetings will serve as ‘listening exercises’ where the ACI objectives and vision can be discussed and they can be the catalyst for the establishment of a network of ACI groups.
Fr. Sean McDonagh, a member of the ACP Leadership Team, then addressed the meeting. Sean spoke about the background to the formation of the priests association. He emphasised in particular the concerns of the ACP in relation to the ability of the Church to continue to serve the people and provide access to the Eucharist in future decades as the number of priests declines rapidly. Sean spoke passionately about the importance of constructive dialogue aimed at identifying the key issues which are at the heart of the decline in Church membership. He cautioned against complacency and referred to parts of the world where, over the centuries, strong catholic church communities disappeared in a relatively short time span.
Both Noel and Sean spoke about the ‘co-responsible’ role of the laity in the life of the church as envisaged in the teachings of Vatican II. Pope Benedict in a speech in Rome on the 24th August 2012 referred to the importance of the laity being “persons truly co-responsible for the being and activity in the church”. If ever there was a need for the laity to be invited to take on this role it is now, given the crisis in our church.
Pascal then requested those in attendance to break up into groups of 8-10 and to consider the following three questions:
· What is the current state of our church and why are we where we are?
· What changes would you like to see in the operation of our church at parish, diocese and national level?
· What are the follow-on actions needed to bring these changes to reality?
At the end of the ‘break out’ session the appointed rapporteur from each group summarised the views of the group members. The following are the key issues identified.
The church is seen to be in crisis following the revelations contained in the Murphy and Ryan Reports and the subsequent diocesan reports on the clerical sex abuse scandals. Despite the passage of time there is still anger and disbelief at the way some senior church leaders in Ireland, and elsewhere, placed the reputation of the institutional church above the well-being of victims.
A clear ‘disconnect’ was identified between the local church at parish level and what is seen as the institutional church at diocesan and national level, not to mention at the level of the Vatican. People expressed general satisfaction with the way the church operated at local level but highlighted the absence of leadership from those in positions of authority in the church in our country.
The church was described as a juggernaut with the institutional church out in front and Jesus to the rear – the ‘cart before the horse’. These, and other similar descriptions, were used to express the view that the compassionate and loving message of Jesus is very often seen to be secondary to the exercise of power, control and authority by the institutional church.
The imposition of the new missal (‘by Rome’) without engaging in any consultation process was cited as an example of what is wrong with the church. There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the convoluted language in the new missal which confuses people and results in frustration for priests and laity alike.
Serious concerns were expressed in relation to the dramatic decline in the church attendance of younger people. There are many reasons for this development but those in attendance felt that young people above all look for authenticity, relevance and compassion in any organisation or movement they might consider supporting. These are not words one would currently associate with the institutional church.
People want the church authorities to ‘read the signs of the times’, recognise the role of the laity and to listen to them and engage with them in dialogue and discussion about the future direction of the church. Without the active involvement of the committed laity the church in Ireland may find it difficult to survive in the decades ahead.
The declining number of priests and the impact on parish life is a very serious issue for those committed to their church. Options, apart from clustering, are required, otherwise people, in parts of Ireland at least, may well be faced with a situation where they will not be guaranteed regular access to mass and the eucharist. The issue of married priests was raised and whether parishes could support priests with families. The point was made that other (minority) churches in Ireland have managed to sustain this model of priestly ministry over the years.
People want to hand on the faith to future generations. For this to happen new structures to facilitate the full involvement of the lay faithful are essential. The old ways and structures have failed and the time for change has arrived.
The issue of catechesis was discussed. We have to look for new ways of engaging with our faith. The faith formation of our children in the future is an issue of concern given the changes taking place in the way in which primary schools in particular are structured and managed.
An ‘open forum’ discussion followed the reports from the groups. The Fr. Tony Flannery situation, which had been referred to earlier by both the ACI and ACP speakers, was raised again. People expressed anger and disappointment at the way the CDF has handled this situation and they discussed various ways of articulating their views to the Papal Nuncio and to those responsible in Rome.
Pascal then thanked all who had attended on the night and those who had assisted in the preparations for the event.
The meeting concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving.