Large number of clergy attend ACP meeting in Athlone
More than 250 priests attended a meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests in Athlone on Wednesday February 20th 2013. The meeting opened with a prayer asking God for guidance, wisdom and support so those who were taking part in the meeting would engage in meaningful discussions which would help them in their ministry to build up the body of Christ. We prayed for Pope Benedict XVI, that God will grant him good health and peace in mind and body. We prayed for those who are tasked with electing the next Pope, that the wellbeing of the Catholic Church be foremost in their minds as the cast their vote.
After the prayer, Brendan Hoban outlined the work of the ACP during the past few months. We expressed our unhappiness with the present procedures for stepping down priests against whom allegations of sex abuse have been made. We argued that in their present form, the current procedures compromise the basic constitutional rights of the priest.
When the Bishops refused to meet with the leadership of the ACP, they suggested that we meet with the Priests Councils in various dioceses. We have begun that process with a meeting with the Priests Council in Dublin which was also attended by Archbishop Martin. The focus of the ACP’s discussions at these meetings is the dire situation which is now facing ministry in every diocese in the country. None of the solutions put forward to date – revival of the deaconate, the clustering of parishs,- adequately face the current and future crisis. Brendan drew attention to the fact that Church authorities say that one reason why they initially handled the sex-abuse crisis badly was that they were unaware of what was happening at the time. Brendan said that we cannot use this excuse in context of addressing the current collapse of priestly ministry in Ireland. The issue is staring everyone in the face. Unfortunately, he said that often there is a disconnect between the priests and the bishop and, obviously, there is a disconnect between the Irish bishop and Rome.
Brendan also drew attention to the secretive and unjust ways in which priests that are held in the highest esteem in Ireland have been discipline by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
At this point the meeting was open to the floor. The discussion that followed lasted for almost two hours. There was an extraordinary level of participation, and a great openness in the group. One speaker summed it up well by beginning his contribution with the words like this: “I hadn’t intended to speak, but I can see that this gathering is a safe and accepting place….” Maybe the fact that this type of atmosphere is now present at ACP meeting is one of the greatest achievements of the association. It would be impossible to do justice to all that was said in this short report, so we have just picked out some points. Apologies to those who are not properly reported.
Jimmy McPhillips spoke about the post on the ACP website from some priests in Clogher who were critical of the fact that the leadership of the ACP did not seem to be aware and sympathetic to the difficult situation in which priests find themselves today- with low morale and multiple problems among the faithful, from financial problems to dealing the suicide epidemic. In many situations he said, “priests are at breaking point.” He did acknowledge that the priest who were criticising the way the website was being used/abused did not take part in discussions on the website.
Des O’Donnell pointed out that an excellent document drawn up by the Irish Bishops on forming Parish Councils had not been approved by Rome. This raises questions about the proper relationship between local Churches and the Holy See. When someone asked why the Bishops had sent the document, Des interjected that the Bishops had not sent the document to Rome, rather the Papal Nuncio was the person who had sent it.
In reflecting on the silencing of Irish priests and the complete lack of due process and dialogue, Pat Rogers, said that it was ironic that the Pope’s Intention for June 2013 was “the promotion of dialogue among the nations.” We could do with a lot more dialogue in the Church, particularly when people’s rights and good names were at stake.
Gerry O’Hanlon followed on and said that, in the Catholic Church, we need to move from a culture of deference to one of dialogue.
In relation to the way priest have been silenced and removed from ministry through actions taken by the CDF, Tom Jordan pointed out that, in the Dominicans, since 1974 when questions are raised about the orthodoxy of a member, the issue is first dealt within the Order before it ever gets to the CDF.
Tom Bardon from Ardagh was critical of how the new missal was forced on the Irish Church, and felt that the ACP had caved in too easily on the matter. He was also critical of the way Tony Flannery had been dealt with since many share Tony’s positions on a host of issues and pastoral questions and the future of ministry. John Collins from Dublin made the same point and said that there was huge support for Tony at this time. Kevin Reynolds asked whether those in authority in the Catholic Church had forgotten the lessons of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Quite a number of people said that priests, the ACP and the bishops need to engage more forcefully with many of the current economic, political and ecological issues that dominate peoples lives. Padraig McCarthy from Dublin pointed out that there was more engagement with these issues during the recession in the 1980s.
John Hassett who had resigned his position as Dean of the Maynooth district in the Archdiocese of Dublin because of how Tony Flannery had been treated said that he had received huge support locally and from across the diocese and country for the course of action which he had taken in support of Tony.
Many commented that there should be other FORA on the website where people might share concerns on Youth Work, Social Justice, Liturgy, Catholic Education etc. The consensus was that we need to broaden out our perspectives on these issues.
Enda McDonagh from Maynooth agreed with this and wondered whether small groups of people with common interests might have something to contribute to the ACP and the website on these issues. Questions about how women are currently treated in the Catholic Church is a major cause of upset to many committed Catholics.
All of us priests are grateful to Pat Rogers for his contribution to the website, especially in the area of biblical reflections and daily and Sunday homilies. Pat asked that others would contribute on this front also, by sending their homilies to him on the website. Here again we encourage those with talents in this vital area of priestly life to share their thoughts with others.
Before the meeting ended Sean McDonagh proposed a motion to ask the Irish bishops to intervene in the present context where, without any due process, priests are being removed from ministry through actions taken by the CDF. There is a preamble quoting the Synod of Bishops, 1971, and this is the resolution:
In the light of the above teaching from the Synod of Bishop in 1971, especially, no 40 We the undersigned ask the Irish Bishops’ Conference to meet, as soon as possible, with those Irish priests who have been censured by the Vatican in recent year. The purpose of the meeting would be to request the Bishops’ Conference to enter into discussions with the CDF to :
1. To (explore) how best to resolve the matters that have led to the censuring of the priests and;
2. To set up local mediation structures to address any such issues in the future.
We would like to see this happen as a matter of urgency.
This motion was passed unanimously, and will be on the website in a few days, with a facility for people who wish to add their names to it.
Finally, Tony Flannery spoke about his situation, and where he found himself now. His talk was greeted with a standing ovation.
The meeting ended with a prayer.