Does fear of clericalism keep priests like Pádraig Standún off the ACP site?
My suggestion in yesterday’s article that parish priests of mature years and judgement across 26 dioceses and 32 counties do not post regularly on this website because they’re afraid to risk sticking their collective head above some episcopally or Cabra-constructed parapet, is (probably) just the type of hallucination that only a geographically and temporally detached ex-Maynooth layman could entertain. Maybe parish mpriests have other ways of putting in their day, offline.
Pádraig Standún, now PP of Cárna in SW Conamara, managed to remain a curate for his first 39 years of priesting in Tuam’s Gaeltacht areas. In June 2010, about to leave his last curacy in Mayo’s Tourmakeady near Lough Mask, he described the beauty of the place in the early summer as he went about his favourite task of First Thursday and First Friday visits to the sick and housebound. He’d been there for 15 years, following on 24 years in Inis Oírr, An Ceathrú Rua agus Inis Meáin. His conclusion: “the real beauty has been the people.” Yet, reading the signs of our parish-clustering times, he added that in Tuar Mhic Éadaigh both he and the retiring Canon Grogan would be replaced by one priest – whether that meant he was useless or irreplaceable he wasn’t quite sure.
Less than three years later he has recently stressed the sheer difficulty for a priest in a one-man rural parish of getting away for even a few hours, say, to the funeral of a friend or former archbishop, or someone like the late Joe Cassidy who might well be both. There’s just nobody for miles around who could cover for a baptism and three Masses in separate places on Saturday afternoon-evening. As he puts it, if something serious isn’t done about it, there’ll be resignations or burn-out or death. Possibly, logging on to an ACP website wouldn’t be top priority for a 66-year old parish priest, even a priest-novelist, in Cárna. Pádraig confided it instead to his weekly column, Standún’s Station, in the Connaught Telegraph. Just as Brendan Hoban’s Just a Thought has been a long-running feature of the Western People, so Pádraig’s column has supplied a need further south. Contrasting in tone but complementary. That same weekend, Mattie Long shared with us on the ACP website his experience of 21 years “looking in from the edge” of Tuam and Ireland [‘Irish dioceses should imitate the courage of Pope Benedict.’]
Time, maybe, for Yeats to return and update his 1893 ‘Ballad of Father Gilligan’, no doubt inspired by a folk-memory of a Sligo, Mayo or Galway priest:
“The old priest Peter Gilligan
Was weary night and day,
For half his flock were in their beds,
Or under green sods lay.”
A poem from our primary school repertoire that even the most battle-weary or sophisticated or unclerical of priests should read or recite about once a week, while not really expecting the Man Above to send “one of his great angels down / To help me in my need.” Solutions are certainly nearer to hand, if only Pope Francis or the Irish bishops could see them. Strange, though, that the young 28-year old mystically inclined, theosophy dabbling, Anglican-descended Yeats should image God as an omnipotent yet kindly post-Cullen Roman Irish archbishop!
“He who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in his care,
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.”
Pádraig Standún is the most unclerical of priests. I know because he told me so. “I think it necessary for priests to live outside the clerical box, think outside the clerical box, and have interests outside their main occupation and preoccupations.” So far, so ordinary. Probably most priests would agree with that. Probably even Cardinal Sodano would agree, if the price and perks are right. As Kevin Hegarty remarked in a Furrow review of one of Brendan’s books a few years ago: “The study of local history was a leisure-time pursuit for priests before they discovered golf.”
So unclerical is Pádraig, however, that even joining the ACP may be a proximate danger of the sin of clericalism, best avoided: “I was not one of the 300 priests present in Portlaoise recently,” he writes [1st October 2010, just ten weeks after moving to Cárna] “ . . . no reflection on those present or the new association. I admire their gumption and their energy, and am pleased to see west of Irelan
d clergy featuring prominently. If there is membership to be had or a fee to be paid, I will gladly support their aims, but personally I have gone past meetings and groupings.”
As for that phrase, “a voice for Irish priests at a time when that voice is largely silent,” Standún the writer and parish priest says: “Not me. I never felt that my voice was heard or that I belonged in any way. I have found that the best way to have a voice heard is to write it down, and let people agree or disagree with it.” Which might seem the perfect reason for contributing to discussion on this website, as complement to his weekly Standún’s Station and his creative writing in Irish and English, even while pursuing an abstentionist policy. “My dread in this regard is of clericalism, of being sucked too deeply into the clerical caste, culture and mindset . . . . A slight fear I would have for the new association is that it would become an elitist clericalism, despite the best efforts of those involved. The list of names published in The Furrow after their initial meeting suggests all the usual suspects, the brightest and the best, the movers and shakers in various orders and dioceses. Great theologians, thinkers and workers, but hardly representative. I say that as someone who only represents myself.”
One of the alternatives Brendan Hoban suggested, if only to dismiss, at that Portlaoise launch was: “We could focus on our own work in parish or in school or wherever and effectively disengage from the wider Irish Church and the wider world.” I don’t think that’s what Pádraig Standún is doing, though he avoids clerical meetings and groupings like the plague. He may in fact be in closer touch with Church and world than many of the most inveterate groupies. I think if he were to take time to go through the past 30 months of this website, its dominant concerns and our dependence on the instant comment as our drug of choice, Cárna’s sagart pharóiste might conclude that his slight fear of a new elitist clericalism is justified, despite the apparent online absence of 98% of Ireland’s clerics. Bergoglio is right; our clericalised little world is a cold house para los pobrecitos del país, del mundo.
15 Questions arising
- Is Fr Pádraig Standún’s first reaction to the infant ACP what’s oft been thought in parishes over the ensuing 30 months, though ne’er so well expressed?
- Or is it just one man’s take on yet another group in which he wouldn’t feel comfortable after four decades of proving that “I’m not a clerical insider”?
- Does the suggestion from the recent Clogher-ACP meeting have more than a grain of truth: the question of ethos as to “whether there are issues with regards Religious and Diocesan Priests attempting to find a common vision of where we might go as ACP”?
- Whatever about attendance at some set-piece Association gatherings, or clicking on a petition, are there not whole swathes of Irish dioceses – e.g. down the South-East from Ferns across Ossory, Waterford & Lismore, Cashel & Emly, Limerick into Kerry – whose priests seem relatively, or even absolutely, unexcited by the ACP’s existence?
- Was Fr Joe McGuane of Cloyne’s Ballycotton right when, in his sole appearance on the website (1st Nov 2011), he suggested that two-thirds of ACP members may be paper members only who, when push comes to shove, will evaporate like the dewfall?
- What proportion of the 1,000+ are ‘in it for the insurance’ or legal safeguard rather than for Reform?
- Even in an era of pastoral councils and shared pastoral areas, does the isolated nature of parish ministry make for loners and freelancers rather than joiners or teambuilders?
- As regards the current Petition, do most priests only respond at or after a Leadership-initiated meeting (Athlone, Killaloe), or when someone exerts a little pressure (Killala, Armagh)?
- Why launch an important Petition – “We would like to see this happen as a matter of urgency” – then leave it as nobody’s business in particular, rather than shepherd it towards the success that real numbers might ensure?
- As 56.2% of the first 1,200 Petition signatures are women’s, would priests sign online petitions more readily if they were (a) married? (b) women?
- If Fathers D’Arcy, Fagan, Flannery, Moloney, O’Sullivan et al were all diocesan/secular priests, would the current online Petition be much more successful?
- Of priests who do post ‘content’ on the website, why do only a handful contribute to the Response or Comment section – i.e. why don’t more priests muck in to the discussion alongside us plebeians?
- In posting meaty articles, original or externally sourced, for our enlightenment, do even ACP Leadership members feel more at home in the ‘broadcast’ or homiletic mode? [For the Greeks, of course, the ‘homilia’ was always a comm-unio, a get-together, an as-sociation, a con-versation, a spot of inter-course, a teacht-le-cheile, a céilí in the old country neighbourly sense.]
- By relying on the Leadership to be sole spokesmen and protagonists vis-a-vis media, Vatican Visitors, Bishops’ Conference, professional liturgists, individual bishops, diocesan priests’ councils etc, aren’t ACP members, by their silent invisibility, just fomenting a neo-clericalism and hierarchy-mark2 ?
- By staying with this website, even in its current clergy-lite form, do we ‘lay spouters’ become even more clericalised than Jorge Mario Bergoglio (aka Francisco) ever dreamt possible?
(Continued on 27 March)
Eddie Finnegan firstname.lastname@example.org