The Irish Church: ‘We need to talk’
The Independent (Monday 4th February) had a column on the Meeting of the Priests’ Council (Dublin) and the leadership of the ACP. It was a sloppy piece of journalism and a distortion.
We met. We talked. There is nothing extraordinary about that. We shouldn’t be surprised or excited or euphoric. It is what adults do! This is Communion. The Church doesn’t belong to the Bishops or to Rome or to anyone. We are the Church.
It is good that the ACP and the Council of priests meet. It also is a problem: It creates something the ACP never wanted: It spawns administration; More meetings; more travelling; more is dumped on the Leadership. They get sucked into this Bureaucracy of life. It can mean the kiss of death.
People need to talk. The Bishops and the ACP need to talk. Bishops need to talk to each other. Priests need to talk. There needs to be talk all across the Church. There isn’t an Us and Them. The ACP isn’t about dissident priests. They are by definition priests who love the Church; who find their Inspiration in Vatican 2 and who want the Church to face today’s world and not hide away in the past. The catch word of the Council was: Aggiornamento. This bringing-up-to-date is an evolutionary process and never ends. The Incarnation means that the Word has to become Flesh in everyday life but there is a problem.
The Mission Statement of the ACP is a commitment to Vatican 2 whereas Rome is rushing back to the past and seems committed to unravelling the heart of the Council. This retrenchment can put Roman church at odds with the ACP. That can also mean that the College of Bishops is reticent to get involved except in a piecemeal manner – via the Priests’ Councils (The deferential model is still around). Are they put off by the tag of dissidents? John Wilkins wrote an article recently – ‘Bishops or Branch Managers? ‘ (Doctrine and Life). We call on Bishops to be Bishops and our Bishops to be a College.
There are no heretics lurking around the ACP. It may be convenient to dismiss the 1000 priests if there was a hint of heresy. (Tony Flannery is also not a dissident or a heretic but only an ordinary thinking priest who is alive in his faith and is in touch with the Irish world). The ACP is a place of encouragement; a place really of Evangelisation. In fact, clearly and obviously, all new Bishops should be ‘recruited’ from the leading ranks of the ACP. The Bishops should be delighted to join the serious banter of theological reflection in the ACP. This is what they most want for a living, throbbing Church. The Nuncio too should be listening and learning. He too needs to be more than a diplomatic puppet from Rome. If he has any chance of understanding the heart of Irish Catholicism – he has to humbly sit and listen among the gathered priests and listen ‘attentively’ to all who are the ‘faithful.’ It is also expected and demanded that the same priests are listening to their people where they are and are sharing Communion in their Communities. Many wonder at what is being inflicted on the Irish Church as new Bishops are appointed. How can these poor men cope with the needs of the Irish Church and the expectations of the Roman politburo. Sometimes there is an immediate conflict between the criteria (of Rome) and the real needs of the Local Church.
The Irish church is best known by the Irish. Rome fears, in a concerned way, for the Irish Church. But we don’t need static or stagnant theology which oozes out from officialdom at present. The Church of Jesus Christ is not like that. We do need to reclaim our Church and speak up to Rome (The Missal alone tells us of their Theology!). One of new shoots of hope was the strong correction made by our four Archbishops to Tim Dolan of New York on his Report (Irish College). That is the robust manner which should sum up our Irish Church. We must work together; our Community of Faith. We must all become Faithful (full of faith). We must have faith in each other and faith in the Spirit who leads us. Communion is our challenge.
There is no euphoria in the Meeting of the Priests’ Council and ACP. It is what the Church is about: Communion, Communication, Community. This is Evangelisation. And we need to be evangelised – the whole Church.
Mulala Yousafzai spoke yesterday from the QE2 Birmingham. She thanked God for getting back her life (even if she still awaits a cochlear implant – how appropriate too this is for us as a message to ourselves!) and then spoke eloquently of her commitment to fighting the battle for the education of the young girls in Pakistan. The Taliban won’t stop her. Can we too be that brave? If there is fear around the Church; if there is a sense of ‘watching our backs’ (note Doctrine and Life re Dissidents); if some of our Ministers of the Gospel are being shot down in their Ministry – then we must ask why is Jesus Christ and the Gospel being suffocated? How can fear rust the soul of the Church? It can’t and it won’t. May the ACP do its work. And the Bishops too.
Seamus Ahearne osa