07May Has the momentum of the Regency meeting dissipated?

It’s twelve months since the Assembly in Dublin when over 1,000 of us squeezed into the room in the Regency Hotel for a truly inspirational event which at the end of the day left many, if not all, of us full of hope and confidence for the future in an inclusive, compassionate and Christ-like Church. There have been further meetings since in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere but, overall, things have gone very quiet. It seems unlikely that we could recover the vigour we witnessed at the Assembly. Why is this?

Perhaps it’s due to the election of Pope Francis who brings renewed hope to the Church. Perhaps it is because we exhausted our agenda on that first day and have really nothing further to say. Or maybe it’s because we have no way of breaching the citadel of power that is the official church as represented by the Vatican and the hierarchy. Our role as laity is to listen and accept what we are told – we have no opportunity of engaging with and developing our Church through dialogue.

Hopefully Pope Francis will take an approach which will, in time, diminish our need for an ACP or an ACI. Nevertheless, we must deal with matters as they stand at present. I think we have lost momentum and perhaps we should review where we’re going with the ACI. In particular, I think the decision to have separate associations for the laity, or more correctly the ‘unordained’ (sisters, brothers and laity) and the priests – the ACI and ACP respectively – doesn’t help matters. The following are some points that might be considered:

  • By having separate associations we are starting off with a decision to maintain the very divisions that I understood we were trying to remove.
  • The daily lives of priests, sisters, brothers can be changed radically by decisions of the hierarchy. The hierarchy doesn’t have the same hold on the laity so the motivation to sustain an organisation such as the ACP/ACI is far greater with the religious than with the laity. On the other hand, it would appear that the ‘powers that be’ in the Church view the activities of the ACP as those of just some ‘dissident’ priests – priests against whom they can bring sanctions. There’s a chance they might respond differently if they saw that it was a movement across the Church as a whole with large numbers of people over whom they have no direct control. So, working together, the religious and the laity can provide motivation and protection for one another.
  • It is very likely that an association that included priests and the unordained would be represented in most parishes in the country.
  • It has been proposed that the ACI would be an ‘umbrella group’. Umbrella groups tend to generate bureaucracy which causes energy to be dissipated in political game-playing between the individual groups represented. Some level of politics and bureaucracy is inevitable, indeed essential, but they are also very effective at smothering the initiative and spontaneity of ‘people power’. Also, an umbrella group excludes individuals such as myself who are not attached to any other relevant group or association.
  • Pobal Dé was founded in the 1980’s in response to the concern about the need for reform of the Church at that time. We Are Church was founded as an international organisation in the 1990’s because of similar concerns about the need for reform. What would the ACI have to offer that these associations don’t already provide? Also, it would be interesting to know how successful these have been in maintaining their original momentum and achieving their objectives as an indicator of where the ACI could hope to be in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if membership of the ACP is to be confined to priests, then it will remain an all-male association – not a good start in the light of our objectives!

In making the above comments, I am not overlooking the enormous amount of work the members of the Committee of the ACI have undertaken over the past year or so in bringing things this far and the amount of time they have given to organising and attending various meeting etc. around the country.

18 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Martin for that enlightening update…..Growth happens in stages and I believe that what the ACI and the ACP have done is identify the “energy” that does exist for renewal and the full implementation of Vatican II. The ground needs preparation and you have done much to prepare the Irish Catholic Church for future change. Change is inevitable, but it has a timing in and only with the Lord. He must take the lead. Though the institutional church and its heirarchical leadership is very much in control, and appear to be somewhat immovable, it is the institutional Church, which, ironically, has pointed the way to renewal. The new evangelization must take precedence, and you will find, that eventually, structures will go through a metamorphasis. There have been many “lights” of renewal in Ireland….We Are Church Ireland, ACP, ACI, Jerry O’Hanlon and the Jesuit Center for Justice, the Killaloe Listening Process, and something which I wish had taken off…..Scripture Ireland. As well, Father Michael Hurley seems to have a knack at starting small Christian Communities. What’s more and what is greatest of all, is that, underneath everything….there is faith. The new evangelization needs to be a focus…and not just for Catholics who no longer attend.Church…because Jesus is always coming in the “now”. So, everyone is to be invited to “sit” on the hillsides as it were…sit at the feet of Jesus…listen to him…learn from him, and rebuild your communities “cell” by “cell”…..Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God and All These Things Shall Be Added Unto You.

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Martin makes some very interesting points. Outside of having a clear “mission statement”, I don’t think it is clear what the plan is on either end. Does the ACP/ACI have a plan? I understand it’s hard to have a plan when the Vatican can flex its muscles and create impediments at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t have to be this way and it’s a terrible division to have both an ACP and an ACI working seperate angles . To me, this is a very simple association. It is a Global Parish initiative – the priests listened to the parishioners and put two and two together. We see the response in the inception of such associations forming around the world. Together we form a very vocal support of Vatican II and some of the more important social reforms needed. The Canons hint at wanting to create a universal voice, depending the prestige the voices possess. Imagine every parish coming together and voting on issues that affect the future of the Church. This was the wind that initially filled the sails of the good ship ACP. It’s what initially got me invigorated with the possibility of reform but this poll was quickly forgotten. I work full time but it looks like this work will be coming to a close soon. I’d love to spearhead a social media drive and really push this message in directions it’s never been before. It would take little effort from everyone involved on the website and certainly a great deal of input from the B of D. Our role as laity is to make known, the great matters of importance, to each and all the members of this Church (depending the prestige in which we possess).
    In my opinion, the most important point that you make Martin is concerning the protection. If the Associations become nothing more than a persistent voice paying our demands forward, this umbrella will protect the individual priest. They can still belong to the Association, but the Association’s mission statement will be that it is a conduit for those who are demanding reform in the Roman Catholic Church.
    Anyone who has read my posts on this website, know that I’m very vocal about “the mission” and I’ve never been shy with both the US Association, nor the Irish about how I could contribute to this. My small (I don’t even have a website) social media company called “the Avatar Agency” is at your service. In the last two years, in my spare time, I helped a young musician gain access to an email distribution on youtube of 28,000 people and a friend network of 300,000 in over 28 countries in the world. His largest demographic is Europe with the US and Canada falling second. His name is Mark Boutilier and because of work we’ve done together, he is well known within the corporate offices of both Global Zero and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We posted a video one month prior to the Fukushima disaster in Japan about the Nuclear devastation in Japan from the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki – the name of the song aptly is : Turn the Tide. A coincidence you ask? Possibly. I’m a firm believer that when a person’s heart is open and their focus is their passion for the future, your intuition can have its own voice and guide you in ways that you never thought possible.

  3. John Wotherspoon

    Laity are to the clergy what Hispanics are to the US political parties….include them and succeed, leave them out and fail

  4. Darlene Starrs

    There is one thing that would pump new air into the renewal of Ireland and support the concerns of the ACI and the ACP, and that is a visit from Pope Francis. The caveat is that he would have to be willing to listen and discuss with persons outside of the bishop’s circles as well, so that everyone was included.

  5. Mary J

    So glad that this discussion is happening! I think that so much has developed and grown over the past year since that meeting in the Regency. It has happened quietly in the background however, a sort of strengthening and bonding from the grass-roots level. We are not necessarily looking for a the ruckus and chaos of the Regency that we had a year ago.

    Energy takes different forms. This is now a humble energy but a driving force none the less. Look at the work done by the ACP and the ACI so far – defending Tony Flannery, regional meetings for those who cannot come to Dublin, a wonderful new website. These things take time and effort and commitment.

    We have grown and are growing in a mature, spirit formed way. One organisation or two organisations working closely together, it doesn’t matter: the spirit there.

    What we all need to do now is to support in whatever way we can, this growth. Come to the ACI meeting on June 1st; Offer your services to ACI; Get off the fence and stop nay-saying; Don’t wait to be invited, just roll up your sleeves and get involved!
    Don’t like something? join up, propose and make a case for the changes you would like – if these organisations are true to their values, you will be listened to!

    You are all needed and you can all help shape the future of these Reform and Renewal groups and, in turn our Church! Opportunity knocks on June 1st in the Clarion. Come and play your part by meeting real, live people who share your dreams.

  6. Mary O Vallely

    I do love Mary J’s optimism and I heartily concur with her sentiments. :-) More info needed re the launch of the ACI, please, as people will need to make travel arrangements etc; It is always good to meet up and to be re-energized by the Spirit we find in others. Reform/renewal is a slow process and we mustn’t expect too much too soon. Good to be able to meet “real, live people”, as Mary J says! So many of us are half moribund, weary, burnt out old cynics… not what Christians are supposed to be at all. Hearts burning within us? Some of us need to dig deeper to find a heart at all. (now, you can see I’m badly in need of a large injection of Mary J’s enthusiasm!)

  7. Nuala O'Driscoll

    What an honest appraisal! It has shown me up for the fraud that I am. I didn’t even know there were two different associations. I have not paid a subscription because when I clicked on to subscribe I was asked if I was a religious or a lay person. I didn’t want to be labelled so I didn’t pay. I lost my faith some years back but this website drew me to it because of the nature of the discussions and debates. But there is no going back, you only leave Plato’s ‘cave’ once. Thank you for allowing me to sojourn here for a while.

  8. Donal Dorr

    Thank you Martin for new inspiration. Also I agree particularly with what Mary J says (comment 5 above). I note that most of the comments on the website and many of the main entries are from people who are not priests, so from this point of view the ACP website is by no means exclusively the domain of priests. I note too that there are already two active organizations run almost entirely by ‘lay’ people — ‘We Are Church Ireland’ which is now very active, and Pobal which has survived over the years; and the AIC is now up and running in close harmony with ACP. I think it would dilute the specific purpose of the ACP to make its membership all-embracing; priests do need an organization to represent them as priests. And I think the bishops and Rome are (or will be) compelled to take them seriously because they see the priests as ‘the civil service’ of the institutional church. For me the main value of the ACP is that the organizing team have consistently insisted that the agenda of the ACP is simply that of Vatican II. They leave the more radical agenda to groups like ‘We are Church’. For that reason the ACP cannot easily be dismissed as a bunch of cranks — especially now since Pope Francis has come out so strongly in defence of Vatican II. Please keep up the good work.

  9. Mary O Vallely

    Nuala @7, please don’t leave. Your contributions have been very valuable and far from being “a fraud”, you come across as a wonderfully honest, intelligent, vibrant person. The ACI has not been launched yet so we are still in the very early stages. I’m sure I speak for many here who would appreciate if you continued to give of your wisdom and continued to probe and to challenge. We all need each other and your voice is a most welcome addition. Hang on in there! :-)

  10. Eddie Finnegan

    Martin, I suspect the problem arose not after the Regency Pentecost but some 20 months earlier. I had a feeling from the start that, rather than calling on poor old Gamaliel at Portlaoise, Brendan should have been calling on an earlier Brendan (Behan) to advise on the first item of the first Agenda: THE SPLIT or, more accurately, THE SPLITS.
    .
    Of course that first Portlaoise meeting was an ‘all-priests affair’ – rightly so, I still say. But it’s clear that lay people, male and female, were the elephants on the front lawn, if not in the room, however reasonably Brendan might explain the new association’s raison d’etre:
    “Yes, we believe in the right of lay people to be centrally involved in their Church and we accept the thrust and the spirit of Vatican Two in that regard, but this association is specifically a voice for priests because priests, because of their experience, wisdom and work over many decades, have something specific to say and what we have to say should not be diluted or deflected. It deserves to be listened to – in its own right.”
    And now, 32 months later, the gatecrashing guests are not satisfied to swamp the party, diluting or deflecting what priests were trying to say – no, they just want to t(h)rash and abolish it. Priests never had a raison d’etre, it seems. Of course, as Evangelist Garry Wills says, we are not anti-priest – some of our best friends . . .etc.
    .
    So, did the Split happen when the gatecrashers, nicely tanked up on ACP’s Woodstock Website and after smoking some good stuff at the Regency Rave, thought their own umbrella outfit would let all God’s creatures find their voice? Or did the real Split happen when the priests of Ireland, and even of the ACP, decided that despite their decades of experience and wisdom they didn’t particularly want a voice for priests as they mightn’t have anything very specific to say, and if they did atself they damn well weren’t going to say it in the open where it would certainly be diluted, deflected or even (perish the thought!) refuted?
    Of course Brendan Hoban was right in September 2010 as Donal Dorr (@8) was right last night: priests do need a priest’s association, not just an hour for a hurried ‘private business meeting’ on the final morning of a joint gathering. What’s still bugging me, though (despite Donal’s humorous understatement: “the ACP website is by no means exclusively the domain of priests”) is why 97% of Irish priests’ 25% Vatican-II-Vanguard would want to ignore, or certainly not contribute to, that website. Pastors, we don’t want to hear your secrets but we do want to see you joining the party and not abandoning it entirely to the gatecrashers!
    .
    As for that dissipated crowd Martin recalls from the Regency Rave –
    I’m glad to see that both he and Donal Dorr mentioned Pobal Dé. Donal is no stranger to Pobal. One of my own small memories from the Regency a year ago was a ‘still small voice’ from over in the far corner reasserting without fuss the continuing presence of Pobal. I got the feeling that, when some of the more hyped up ‘movements’ have disappeared from centre-stage, Pobal will still be ploughing its quiet furrow. It’s 26 years since its work on the ‘lineamenta’ for the 1987 Synod on the Laity produced the statement that, I have no doubt, galvanised Tomás Ó Fiaich into telling his fellow synoders it was long after time to awake the sleeping giant: “When one recalls the high hopes of twenty years ago, it is sad to admit that the laity in most parishes are still a largely untapped source.” He didn’t forget to chide them about their ignoring of feminism: “It would be unwise of us bishops not to listen to as many lay voices as possible, both those which criticise as well as those which are satisfied.”
    25 years later, Diarmuid Martin couldn’t find his way from Drumcondra to the Regency; Charlie Brown skipped out of Cabra to hear and praise the voices of those good priests and laity who are well satisfied; and the Northern Bishops thought a Whit Monday on Lough Derg would make the ideal break from their worries.
    Pobal Dé, back in 1987, were foolish enough to “think it vitally important that the hierarchy should avoid any appearance of standing apart from their fellow Catholics or give the impression of overridng the laity in anything pertaining to the rights of Christians.”
    .
    The tragedy is that the 1987 Synod wasn’t followed by regular Irish Church synods and diocesan assemblies over the following quarter-century. Pobal Dé would really have had the chance to flourish as the real representative of – well, POBAL DÉ. Stalwarts of the ACP like Donal Dorr, Tony Flannery, Enda McDonagh and Wilfrid Harrington would be Pobal’s best champions. It seems to me, Pobal Dé remains the only ‘umbrella’ the Irish Church needs.

  11. Darlene Starrs

    The June 1st meeting might be very telling!

  12. Mary J

    I think that by arguing among ourselves about a “split” is just reinforcing further splits. There can be two groups or there can be more, including all the reform and renewal movements in Ireland and the world… We are just missing the main point here: we all want reform and renewal!
    Let’s just go with the flow and stop point-scoring, isn’t that what we want to get away from?
    Different groups appeal to different people, we just have to recognise the charisma that each of us have and learn how we can work together and compliment each other to present a strong united voice for general change in the church.
    By the way, I wasn’t around in 1987 and am only getting into reform and renewal now. What is speaking to me at the moment is ACI and the ACP – I don’t know anything about Pobal De or the other groups so it doesn’t matter to me at all what the history is! Now, in front of me, is this meeting on June 1st and two united organisations with a strong web presence, capturing a zeitgeist. Who knows what they may or may not achieve, what is important is that these organisations exist in the first place. Bravo to them for standing on the shoulders of giants and keeping the flame burning. (Sorry for the long comment)

  13. Brendan Cafferty

    Every new body starts off with a flourish and a big crowd- remember the PDs filling up Leisureland in Galway,and where are they now ! After the novelty things settle down a fair bit. That is when leadership and direction must come into play. A clear plan of aims and where you at is required. I also suspect that many people, priests included, think Pope Francis will rectify everything and that many are just sitting back waiting for it to happen. While he is a good man, I suspect that he will not be able to fulfill much of what is expected of him.
    I would urge the ACP to hold together and move forward. If this venture were to fail, what then ?

  14. Eddie Finnegan

    A reform movement – lay, clerical, hybrid, political, whatever – that can’t send itself up from time to time, perhaps needs to retain the services of an independent sender-upper, preferably pro bono. Hence my preference for Brendan Behan over Gamaliel above(@10) – though I suspect that what Old Gamaliel (Acts 5) really meant was, “Now look, lads, just leave them alone – they’re more than capable of splitting under their own steam before their next meeting.”
    .
    Mary J (@12), whom I don’t know from Eve, seems to have taken my talk of ‘the split’ rather personally to heart. I cannot think why. I thought I was responding to Martin’s valuable post one year on from the Regency. Like him, I found that event inspirational. Like Elijah, I walked in the strength of that meal forty days and forty nights – but now, 370 days later, I don’t think we’ve quite reached Mt Horeb or Sinai or any other mountain of the Lord, and I doubt whether an umbrella or even a magic carpet is the means to get us there.
    .
    Mary J., alas, is ‘of the moment’, a true ‘Millennial’, a seizer of the zeitgeist, dismissive of even the quarter-century before she was around, dismissive of a group which continues to keep alive the hopes of a previous quarter-century to ensure that this zeitgeist she’s about to capture is something more than a “geist”:
    “By the way,” she says, “I wasn’t around in 1987 and am only getting into reform and renewal now. What is speaking to me at the moment is ACI and the ACP – I don’t know anything about Pobal De or the other groups so it doesn’t matter to me at all what the history is! Now, in front of me, is this meeting on June 1st and two united organisations with a strong web presence, capturing a zeitgeist.”
    .
    Cool. Awesome! But then some of us weren’t around in or about 30AD, but we still manage to make some show of interest in a reform&renewal movement in a faraway place, even though the guy is dead.Then again they never invited me to Nicaea, Trent or Vat II, but I’d still try to horse up a bit of interest in those distant gatherings, despite their lamentably weak web presence, in case they’d shed a bit of light on zeitgeist capture and the spirit of the age.
    I was about to give a link to the Pobal Dé website – but why drag ancient history (1987-2013) into this age of enlightenment?

  15. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    In my opinion, the result that garnered the most attention and fear from the Vatican was the initial poll by the ACP. This is possibly using Canon 212.3 to its best ability. All the priests should be asking their Bishops if 212.3 gives them the authority to conduct like polls on their parishioners. Why not? If you can’t grab an angle and run with it, then what’s the point in having an Association? Questions are the most important form of communication because it is obvious when they are ignored. What is the ACP’s next step? What can the ACI do to not insult the organizations who were there before them? I agree with Brendan (@13) in that a new Pope will create a certain apathy and it is this indifference which will stall all progress. Our future is in your hands, ACP/Pfarrer/USACP/etc. If you can’t assemble and work for reform, I’m afraid that the other pressing issues on this planet will go untouched too. This will unleash a new democracy on the planet that we need right now. If a grass roots organization can move a mountain such as the Vatican on issues that affect all of Christendom, this example will provide the basis for a non governmental organization to tackle other worldwide issues; poverty, the evironment, weapons of mass destruction all come to mind.

  16. ger gleeson

    The sadness in Martins words is understandable. Yes all 1,000 of us from different parts of the country, and oversees, assembled in the Regency hotel, with high hopes of making our church more meaningful for our people. Great speakers addressed the gathering. Many priests, other religious and lay people, gave their stories and outlined what was needed to be done. It was stressed then, and on this website, that we are at the heart of the church. The one thing we needed to make progress was dialogue with the institutional church. Unfortunately we are still waiting for that dialogue to commence, and without that dialogue, nothing will change.
    We are all aware of the problems that are facing our church, few in seminaries, priests getting on in years, and too many people on the margins of church, are just some of the issues. In the last two months I attended Sunday mass in four counties, Mayo, Galway, Limerick and Clare. If 25% of the congregations were under 40 years, I would be surprised. Recently I read an article on first communion children in a parish in Dublin. The good Teacher stated that in her opinion, most of the children will not see the inside of a church again until their confirmation. After that sacrament, they will only turn up for baptisms, funerals and weddings. I truly believe that the good Teacher is talking about many communities in our country. This is just another major church problem in our country today.
    The institutional church better wake up before it is too late. Papal Nuncio and Bishops, you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, if you commence dialogue with people within the ACP/ACI. The discussions can be held well away from the media. Talk to the ACP/ACI soon. We are at the heart of our church. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide Pope Francis on this issue.
    Finally, Nuala O Driscoll @7 above, you never left the church. The church left you. You will reunite sooner rather than later.

  17. Martin Mallon

    Good comment, Mary J; the point is we all want reform and renewal. There is no need to research all the different groups or know their history. For those not involved in a group calling for reform and renewal, and those who are, the ACI appears to be a unifying group for it’s specific objectives. You express this very well:

    “Different groups appeal to different people, we just have to recognise the charisma that each of us have and learn how we can work together and compliment each other to present a strong united voice for general change in the church.”

    Understandably, some of those involved in the older groups may feel under appreciated, but they are not and it is essential we stay united.

  18. cathy swift

    I fnd this an extremely interesting discussion. Martin’s initial post chimes with my own feelings which I had expressed at the ACI meeting in Limerick; it was a great night and the ACI people are truly wonderful in their enthusiasm and commitment but even so, at the end of the evening, I remained saddened that we should be in separate groups. To me part of the energy of Regency was that we were all in this together. I can absolutely see that priests feel the need for collegiate groupings and mutual support and I do feel very strongly that it is very hard, if not almost impossible, for laity to really understand what that life is like. On the other hand, I think to be honest, we as laity need to work at developing that understanding and we’ve now ended up putting unnecessary boundaries into that process. Similarly, I think many priests don’t understand some of the difficulties or problems which some laity have with clericalism which can be rather different from their own. Also, as someone who is active in trade unionism, I don’t know that it’s always the best for supportive groups to be composed entirely of people in the same profession or with the same life experiences as one’s self; sometimes the strength comes more from the hands stretched across the divide than from the person by one’s side. I pray that the future will be good for all of us in our journey on this.