Historic meeting held in Redemptorist Monastery in Limerick
Friday 1st March 2013 was an historic night in Mount St. Alphonsus, Limerick. Fr. Adrian Egan, Rector, in welcoming those in attendance, referred to the historic nature of the evening as the first gathering of the Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI] in Limerick was also the first lay meeting in the monastery since the completion of extensive refurbishments.
Approximately 50 people were in attendance. The local ‘Leadership Team’ opened the meeting and outlined the agenda for the evening.
Noel McCann spoke on behalf of the ACI Steering Group and outlined the background to the establishment of the association. He also described the ACI vision for the future of our church in the context of the ACI ‘Statement of Objectives’.
The Facilitator then presented the meeting with three questions which would be considered in groups of approximately 8 people:
· Describe the state of our church to-day.
· What model of church would you like to see in 5/10 years from now?
· How will our church get from where it is to-day to where you would like it to be in 5/10 years from now?
The following is a summary of the comments received during the ‘feedback’ session which followed the very vibrant group discussions on the three questions.
Question 1 [Describe the state of our church to-day].
Our church was variously describes as ‘being in a shambles’, ‘ in crisis’, ‘out of touch’, ‘dogmatic’, ‘authoritarian’, ‘hierarchical’, ‘lacking in leadership’. Other comments included ‘a church that does not listen’, ‘a church that is unable to respond to change’, ‘a church that has failed to involve the laity in a meaningful way’, ‘a church that is not relevant to the lives of many, especially young people’ , ‘a church that does not value women’.
There was strong support expressed for the church and the priests at local level and a significant gulf was identified between this local church and the institutional church. The good that is being done by church people and church organisations is not being adequately highlighted in these challenging times for the church.
The wording of the new missal was criticised for the awkward language which is not conducive to active and meaningful participation by the laity.
The question was posed ‘if Jesus returned would he recognise the church of to-day’?
Question 2 [What model of church would you like to see in 5/10 years from now?]
The desired model of church is one which is ‘inclusive’, ‘collegial with strong grass-roots’, ‘less hierarchical’, ‘where there is a place for the lay faithful at the top-table’, ‘which welcomes the marginalised’, ‘which has a tolerance for expressions of difference’, ‘where women’s voices are heard’, ‘where at least discussion on the ordination of women is tolerated’. People desired strong and dynamic ‘faith communities’ rather than the current, very static style of church. Make the gospels and the eucharist central to our local faith communities as was the practice amongst the early Christian communities.
Question 3 [How will our church get from where it is to-day to where you would like it to be in 5/10 years from now?]
The reality is that we must start from where we are – with all its problems. Openness is essential – the church authorities must disclose the ‘full truth’ behind all the scandals and problems before we can start to move forward in a positive way towards church renewal. The essential discussions on the issues at the heart of the decline of the church should begin immediately. The lay faithful ‘are the church’ and must be included in meaningful dialogue with the bishops on the future of our church. Church governance must, from now on, be based on the principle of ‘service rather than control and power’. The local church must be run on the basis of ‘co-responsibility’. We need to build strong faith communities based around the scripture. The current process used in the identification of candidates for appointment as bishops should be revised and include an input from the lay faithful.
The talents of individuals should be used more in support of the church – irrespective of gender. The question was posed ‘why can’t the church appoint some women as cardinals in recognition of the role and importance of women in our church communities’?
The shortage of priests should be addressed by examining the option of re-admitting married priests who have left the church over the years. The church has facilitated married Anglican clergy through the creation of the Ordinariate. Priestly celibacy should be optional.
There was criticism of the imperial and monarchical symbolism of the ‘regalia’ worn by the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops.
New technologies offer huge potential for embracing innovative ways of ‘spreading the good news’.
Fr. Tony Flannery: During informal discussions before and after the meeting, as well as during the meeting itself, very strong support was expressed for Fr. Tony Flannery who served for many years in Mount St. Alphonsus.
The meeting concluded with a decision to meet again on the 1st May at the same venue to continue the discussion.
The ACI Steering Group would like to thank all who attended on the night and contributed to such a vibrant debate. A special thanks to Fr. Adrian Egan for providing the superb facilities at St. Alphonsus. Congratulations and thanks to the local ‘Leadership Team’ for the very efficient organisation of this meeting. The ‘foundations have been laid’ for a very strong ACI Group in Limerick.
The Steering Group would appeal to all those interested in the ACI initiative to follow the example of those who have already organised meetings around the country and call a meeting in your own area. The Steering Group is available to assist and advise on preparing for and organising such meetings. There is now a fairly simple template emerging for these meetings which significantly reduces the workload involved.