08Feb Clogher group unhappy with ACP leadership and this website

Clogher ACP Meeting Report

A meeting was held on 30th January in Clones of Clogher ACP. Nine Priests attended including Bishop Liam, nine sent their apologies.

There was much discussion about Fr. Tony Flannery and where he finds himself today. While a lot of what has happened is coming to us through the media reports and the ACP website, there was an uneasiness expressed among a number of members, there was also a fear expressed that what has happened Fr. Tony has implications for us all, and while confusion as to what has exactly happened still exists, many felt saddened at what was perceived as ‘heavy-handedness’, surely our Church is big enough to find other means of resolving situations like this. Is this the only way, the best way of dealing with differing opinions, and where does all this now lead ‘me’, with my own conscience? Why has the bar being raised since September 2012 when the then Congregation Prefect accepted Fr. Tony’s creedal beliefs? Is this partly an attempt to suppress the ACP? If so, this should concern all members of the association.

In saying all that, members expressed their concern at the direction the ACP at national level seems to be taking as reported through the website. Much of the commentary and opinion offered on the website does not represent the views of its membership, at least judging from ourselves. One voice compared our association to a growing child, and suggested that at national level, the time had come for the ACP to grow up.

Because we communicate on line, because our only presence as an association is online through the website, personal contact, personal engagement with the members is at a deficit, wider engagement does not exist and our public image is formed by this alone. The Association, through its website’s presentation began very positively with many fine aims in its launch manifesto, but it has never really developed towards a real and deep and positive and meaningful uplifting discussion forum. There is now among members, at least in Clogher, less of an appetite to view the site for it is now viewed as not good for one’s morale, we are no longer comfortable with it, we wish it was different, and some are now having to admit that they are not sure if they can remain with it.

But as members of the association we also must hold our hands up (and in challenging ourselves, we challenge all members of the ACP) for we have to admit that we offer nothing to the website, we do not ask or send articles for publication, we have not responded to published commentary, so each of us, collectively and individually must take responsibility, we must therefore pick up our ‘mouse’ and play our own part in how the ACP grows and develops in the years ahead, because as priests we are in need of a national body to support us, to encourage us and to uplift us in our ministry today.

As Diocesan Priests, we must also raise the question with regards our association, whether there are issues with regards Religious and Diocesan Priests attempting to find a common vision of where we might go as ACP. Are there two different expectations existing? Are there two different life experiences existing? Are there two different views on Church and ethos existing? And are these differences proportionally or disproportionally represented within ACP?

It was decided to invite the ACP leadership to come and meet with the membership in Clogher so that these views might be discussed at a more immediate level and in the hope that together we might bring together a more common vision of what we are about. That invitation was issued since our meeting and will be taken up on the last day of our Forum on Wednesday 10th April. All Priests attending the Forum are invited to attend that gathering.

Because the above reflection and discussion had taken considerable times our main topic for discussion: ‘Looking towards 2023 at Priests in Clogher’ received very little attention, but it will warrant significant time at our meetings into the future. The stark reality was brought home to us when we were informed that at the moment we have 80 Priests within the Diocese, that there will be no Priest under 40 come May of this year; there are 14 Priests between the ages of 40-50, 18 between the ages of 50-60, 20 between 60-70, 16 between the ages of 70-80 and 12 Priests between the ages of 80-90.

We have 37 Parishes at the moment. Projecting to 2023, in ten years time, taking retirement age of 75, there will be 34 Priests for 37 Parishes, that would be reduced to 24 Priests for 37 Parishes if retirement was at 65.

These are the stark statistics. While structural changes are one aspect, personnel is the big issue; ministry will have to change radically and this will mean a considerable ask. More lay involvement will be required, voluntary and paid. There was some brief discussion about whether ordaining Deacons may also be part of the way to go, but there are many unanswered questions about this ministry as yet.

With regards the possibility of forming another Pastoral Reflection/Support Group, this idea will continue to be kept open to development, and the invitation to join will be made again at our upcoming forum.

With regards the setting up of a directory of Spiritual Directors, Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Supervisors as a means of self care, three members have taken responsibility to initiate that process, and when completed will be made available to all Priests within the Diocese.

Our next gathering will take place at our Forum on Wednesday 10th April from 2.00pm – 3.30pm.

14 Responses

  1. Andrew

    “Looking towards 2023 at Priests in Clogher’ received very little attention, but it will warrant significant time at our meetings into the future. The stark reality was brought home to us when we were informed that at the moment we have 80 Priests within the Diocese, that there will be no Priest under 40 come May of this year; there are 14 Priests between the ages of 40-50, 18 between the ages of 50-60, 20 between 60-70, 16 between the ages of 70-80 and 12 Priests between the ages of 80-90. We have 37 Parishes at the moment. Projecting to 2023, in ten years time, taking retirement age of 75, there will be 34 Priests for 37 Parishes, that would be reduced to 24 Priests for 37 Parishes if retirement was at 65.”

    Steady the knees and take a deep breath colleagues. You sound like a child yourself, constantly looking over the shoulder to make sure the parent is still there or is prepared to lead and guide you. You have clearly anunciated one of the most important areas for discussion and action; namely the developing chronic shortage of priests for the number of existing parishes, a problem which will not go away and for which there is no quick or administrative answer. The Holy Spirit has begun its work in all of us and is calling us to faithful service in the love we have for the Church. Let’s start to grow up and take responsibility. After all, its our Church and its our legacy to our children and our children’s children. Congratulations to Bishop Liam for attending with his colleagues and his people – time to lead Liam, its the reason why you were ordained a bishop in the first place, to nurture and feed the People of God in accordance with the Gospel values of Jesus Christ – and not an institutional parody of the same.

  2. Mary O Vallely

    “But as members of the association we also must hold our hands up (and in challenging ourselves, we challenge all members of the ACP) for we have to admit that we offer nothing to the website, we do not ask or send articles for publication, we have not responded to published commentary…”

    Interesting report and good to see that priests in Clogher diocese are alive and talking to each other. Let us see you talk to the rest of us on this site then otherwise you will have the likes of me and other “lay spouters” taking over and frustrating you even more.
    I jest. Sort of. There is truth in a lot of what you say but I’d love you to say it online here (and c’mon Armagh though our clergy are all under 45 and the happiest clerics you’ll ever see. They thrive under that heavy barometric pressure). Once the ACI site is up and running there will be an outlet for the rest of us lay folk who have no voice at all and who sometimes get carried away with their own verbosity. Mea culpa. Still, nil desperandum, men of the cloth of Clogher. You are at least alive and thinking (and kicking) :-)

  3. Darlene Starrs

    I realize that the ACP is intended for the clergy. It would seem that most members of the ACP have been reluctant to contribute to the website as was mentioned above. Their contribution is vital.
    As Hans Kung had so passionately stated, the “pressure” for change must come from the “grassroots”. Certainly, without more of the ACP members “visible” on this site, it is truly difficult to know how much “real energy” there is among the priests for renewal. The bishops might well be absolutely pressed to pay attention, if the priests were such that they simply could not be ignored. The people, too, might well have more cofidence in the assertion, that change is necessary, and in supporting it with their voice, hands,and feet. I can tell you, that watching the website for a even a short time, shows, that it serves the vital purpose of not only showing support for the ACP and Father Flannery, but it has raised the “consciousness” of some, about the abuse of power, in the Church. This abuse is at all levels, but it takes a while for such a reality to find its acceptance. Now, I suspect, there isn’t the energy to ram the doors of the vatican, or to nail all of the thesis, on their doors, so, there remains, a need to continue providing material to raise the consciousness. The meetings are absolutely necessary and particularly those of the ACP’s counterpart, the ACI. As Father Gerry O’Hanlon says, in his book: A New Vision: A View From Ireland, changes, and the structural changes, that Father Flannery speaks of in the Canadian Interview, those structural changes come with the initial stage of “Listening”. This is why the Listening Process of Killaloe was almost “revolutionary, maybe it is revolutionary, given the state of “stagnation and stubborness”, on the part of the Vatican. We must listen, and not just to our similar viewpoints. It is amazing to me, the clear “positions” for and against, the acceptance of Vatican II and all that it intrinsically calls for in terms of changing structures, changing roles for the laity and clergy, changing liturgy, changing views about the role of women specifically, and changing how we approaching preaching the Kerygma. While we experience, this deafening noise inside the Church, and the obvious chasms of thinking and understanding, the focus of preaching the Gospel is suspended. In my view, there is one significant aspect of “secularism” that has crept into the Church, and that is, that there are many alternate ways to salvation. The fact, that the world, is in pursuit of anything, but God, is nothing new. Jesus talks about storing treasures for this world….that’s not secularism……what is secularism,.is the abandonment of understanding, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and no, He is the path to salvation. Because, we all want to get along and respect one another, and we must do that….it gives us permission, to say, well, I don’t have to preach Christ, because, well, people find their own way. So, while, we are absorbed in what is a completely unnecessary struggle to do what Christ commanded both at the resurrection and at the Vatican Council, we do not realize the incredible problem we face with the preaching of Jesus Christ.

  4. Eddie Finnegan

    Thanks again, Clogher. You have been persistent in your meetings and in your reporting back, in season and out. The instinct of the founding members was sound in seeking to make available a forum for a voice for priests. I think your instinct is also sound insofar as the initial promise for this forum has not been fulfilled. But the ‘leadership’ can’t really give the membership “a voice to reflect, discuss and comment” unless priests themselves give voice. I think it was Fr La Flynn who made the point here, a year or more ago, that priests can be comfortable with the conversational mode, even by email, but that what they find here is more the megaphone than the chat or discussion (my words, but I think that’s what he meant).
    Unfortunately, as you say, priests haven’t joined in to give voice in any great numbers, unless they’ve been very well camouflaged! Except for the big occasions: to defend Kevin Reynolds and Tony Flannery, for instance. Unfortunately, online fora being what they are, and nature abhorring a vacuum, we “lay spouters” mad for a Speakers’ Corner elbowed our way in, and sometimes we can be truly abhorrent and vacuous. Priests of Clogher, reclaim your rightful place and put us back in ours. Regards to Bishop Liam, Joe Mullin, Tom Quigley and Tom Finnegan – and tell them we expect to hear from them too.
    But as for Armagh, I’ve given them up as a bad job. It’ll take more than “a clean pair of hands” or even “a safe pair of hands” to work miracles in that quarter.:-)

  5. Darlene Starrs

    I suspect if we take away the voice of the “lay spouters”, we have almost “silence”. Is that preferrable? No, what is preferrable are more of the voices of the priests, but as you say, Eddie, they want to remain anonymous, because, of the perceived threat. They would appear to have more to lose, that “lay spouters”. As Mary V says, lay people have had no voice, and particularly the women, so Thanks Be To God, that is forum is open and available. One of the criteria, and it should be the main criteria for placing comments on this website, that the commentary aids the discussion. I certainly honor that request and by and large, with some exceptions, people aid the discussion in various ways…….by affirming people and their ideas, exchanging theological information, expressing concern, offering suggestions and so on.

  6. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    I understand exactly where they are coming from. When I first came to the website, I quickly identified a message from the ACP – they were going to tap into and grow a parishioner network and identify that the Spirit was communicating through us upwards to the Vatican; we can demand instant and revolutionary reforms. It was pretty simple – the message was clear. Now, what has ensued is a bit of a media circus, which is not the most respectable of strategies and not one which is complementary to a grass roots based establishment, especially when the only real talk now is of Fr. Flannery and the state that the Curia has put him in. It would be great if the ACP became a household name but what would be better is if the goals of the Association, which are common among a huge percentage of Roman Catholics, moved to the forefront.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    “The less said, the better” has long been the mantra of the Irish clergy. It is heartening to discover that when the silence is broken it turns out that thousands of priests are thinking and feeling the same way.

    This website may not be a great success, but it is at least not a colossal debacle like the Pope’s twitters: https://twitter.com/Pontifex/status/288964083825405952

  8. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Oh and I might add, if the ACP is worried about the dialogue that is taking place between the Associations and Rome, they may want to start asking questions rather than making points. Statements through the media can be avoided by Rome, every step of the way – they don’t have to address statements. When a question is asked of them in an open media forum, then that is a direct attack and something the media will run with. The media themselves may do the follow up you are requesting because it makes for a ‘fuller’ story and there is nothing better for the ACP when the interview ends with ‘attempts were made to contact Rome, but they declined to comment’ – they won’t decline to comment for long. I know that all of you are new to the media game, there is a public relations strategy that will help your cause, but if poorly executed, will continuously set you back. Most battles, unfortunately, will take place in the desert of the ‘real’ and not in these virtual public forums but this setting can at least show Rome that you mean business – because right now, they are not only in control but they seem to be in a completely different league.

  9. Kevin

    The desert of the real. Interesting metaphor and so very true what you say about battles. I do think it just as well they take place in our real worlds. I have to admit that internet fora have been for the most part places for rantin’ n’ raving away the frustrations of our respective war weary realities. Sublime to ridiculous and downright hilarious at times. I’d imagine any priest coming here might need it to be a place of safety primarily. Whatever the grievances – having the ‘safe space’ to air those thoughts. Not sure how you achieve that online. I did not appreciate so much that it is in the first instance a support group for priests for which there is clearly a need. Maybe we lay people should not be here. Can all become a tad voyeuristic and feel anything but safe for a priest needing that kind of outlet/support, even online. It can play a significant role. To paraphrase from an old movie – “We read to know we are not alone.” Nice to hear the thoughts of all people on various issues religious etc. But there may well be a need for that ‘safer space’ too – online and in those desert realities. I hope you can find such means of supporting. We all need it in life. Even the recently retired 86 year old Benedict.

    If a religious /clerical house is not a home then it becomes a home full of neurotics in need of spam baps.

    This is no reflection on the site or admin. These places are difficult to manage at best of times. Just acknowledging that you may need your own space/s too. Good luck with it all.

  10. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Kevin, I woke up 15 years ago. The process was made ‘easier’ by reading a whole lot of Baudrillard (God rest his soul) but I couldn’t disagree more. I know full well that this “safe space” will never be a message board for all to see. Like minded priests need their own “confessional” and can do so with the heads of the Associations via personal email. But I honestly think that the blog section of this website is the most important thing. Why? Because it keeps the ACP active, humble and connected to a voice, outside of their own consciences (from the far reaches of the globe). There can be no possibilities of isolation there. If you are to look at the PI, the AUSCP and the ACP, the ACP is much more energetic and vibrant because they knew it was important to poll the parishioners early on, remain connected, and that this empirical evidence was enough to push forward – but now they are taking credit for it which will create impediments. The worldwide associations have to unite and represent one public platform: that a worldwide vote has to be held at a parishioner level so that the Vatican can know what the Spirit is saying upwards through Christendom. If they deny this, then they are a totalitarian state, which they should never become, per natural law. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with governance but voicing our concerns is a seperate issue.

  11. Darlene Starrs

    Lloyd MacPherson makes a very excellent case for the necessary contribution of the lay voices on this website; he makes a very excellent case for how to approach the Vatican, and a very excellent case for continuing to put front and centre the goals and objectives of the ACP. I would hope that the executive or administrative team of the ACP, is able to follow the comments on this website, as it does become clear over time, there is a “process” unfolding on the website, and if carefully watched gives direction as to where the energies of renewal need to go and maybe even the efforts of the ACP and the ACI.

    Happy Valentines Day To All

  12. Kevin

    Hi Llyod. I do believe it’s a great place here. Just seeing that there is a need for support network for the priest members and that they have provision for that. As much as I want to see a Church where all are truly equal in Christ, I realise the priests need their own network, support possibilities — I hope they achieve that however they do. Help them and ultimately us. I don’t really know many here and don’t know who are the priests or laity at times. Whatever we all need, have to do to create real harmony – unity. Am new here and not acquainted with all the members.

  13. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Thank you Darlene. Hello Kevin. We are certainly an opinionated bunch, rarely if ever disagree on things (lol) but even more than that I think that we are all drawn here for one reason; something is not right in the world, and possibly, the potentional that giving the individual a recognized voice on equal footing for something so near and dear to all of our hearts comforts us. When I read that the ACP polled 1000 parishioners, I personally thought it was the most progressive thing that has happened in society in 50 years. The easiest way to show support at this stage, and I’m sure most of you have done this up to this point, is covering the membership cost of €20 that is easily payable through paypal. This is a great way to show your support to the ACP and through their actions, they have certainly shown that they support us.

  14. La Flynn

    I note that a column in yesterday’s Irish Times (Sat 16 Feb) picked up from this report of our recent Clogher ACP meeting the piece that sounded a critical note about this website and ACP nationally. In fairness the headline above the report highlighted the same aspect. The part that is self-critical was not newsworthy, I suppose. Visitors to this site get to read the whole piece and to hear the wider context. Thanks for the comments here to date, and for the range of views about the role of this website. And I am myself glad to read in the Clogher report that since our meeting the opportunity for a conversation between national leadership and ourselves has been firmed up for 10 April.
    For me, the matter of priests sourcing the support they really need is a crucial one and one that we in ACP Clogher have been engaging with. The forum that ACP nationally and particularly through this website offers, where priests’ concerns can be named and shared, is one part of it, as is the local ACP bi-monthly meeting for those who come. The complementary need for ‘safe’ settings like the pastoral reflection group, and the importance of self-care by engagement with trained professional help such as spiritual direction – these are other aspects, and some of the comments to date have touched on various aspects of this.