Report on a meeting between the Association of Catholic Priests and representatives of the Irish Episcopal Conference in the Columba Centre in Maynooth on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.
Those present included, Bishop Philip Boyce (Raphoe), Bishop Martin Drennan, (Galway) and Bishop Donal McKeown (Derry).
The ACP was represented by Brendan Hoban (Killala), Dermot Lane (Dublin), Gerry Alwill (Kilmore) and Sean McDonagh (Columban).
The meeting began by praying together the Our Father and asking the Holy Spirit to guide our discussions.Brendan Hoban placed this particular meeting in the context of the ongoing relationship between the ACP and the Bishops over the past two years. Early in 2013, the leadership of the ACP wrote to the bishops requesting a meeting with them in order to discuss how to deal with the serious challenges faced by Irish Catholicism today. The request was turned down, but the bishops suggested that the ACP might meet the Priests’ Council in each diocese. The ACP consented to this suggestion and about 16 of the dioceses invited representative from the ACP to attend these gatherings. Some of the meetings were very fruitful. Other meetings were less helpful. But generally the ACP felt the meetings were worthwhile.
Having completed this process of engagement with the Priests’ Councils theACP asked the bishops for a meeting to consider a range of issues which arose during the discussions with the Priests’ Council.
The first issue, which is causing real concern among priests, is clustering.
Many priests see it as an attempt to load more work on their shoulders at a time when they are getting older and are less able to cope with an extra load. Dermot Lane made two points. First of all he asked: Were the people who were designing the cluster aware that the extra pressure which was being imposed on priests was having a negative impact on their health?
Secondly, from the point of view of sacramental theology, in a ‘clustering situation’,
the priest leading the liturgy would have no real contact with the community where he was celebrating the Eucharist. In this context it is hard to see how this pastoral practice can build up
the body of Christ in that community. Some pointed to the different experiences of clustering in cities and rural areas. Others said that, at its best, clustering is only a short-term solution for a more serious problem evidenced by the fall in number of vocations to the priesthood.
It was accepted that ‘clustering’, while helping to manage the optimum pastoral care as priest numbers declined, was not a long-term solution to the vocations’ crisis. Statistics from the Irish Bishops’ website, were produced which showed the nature of the vocation situation today and how the crisis will escalate dramatically within a decade.
While it was accepted that the situation would become critical within a decade or two, opinions varied as to what might be done.
Bishop Boyce felt that there should be more prayers for vocations and that priests should be ready to recommend the priesthood to young boys. While everyone agreed that prayer was needed there was a question as to whether an increase in (male, celibate) vocations would address the extent of the crisis.
The statistics, it was agreed, were very stark. Brendan Hoban pointed out that there has been a priest in his present parish since the 8th century. But given the present statistics he believes he will be that last priest in that parish. At the moment there was a priest in every parish in Killala diocese. Within 20 years there will be 7 priests serving 22 parishes spread out over a wide area. The situation is much the same in other dioceses.
Dermot Lane said that, when he shares these concerns with his pastoral council, people ask: is there a plan or strategy to address and solve this issue of having the Eucharist regularly available to people? While there are
no easy answers he talked about the very positive impact which the 30 Parish Pastoral Workers are having in parishes the Archdiocese of Dublin. They have a 3 year training programme in Mater Dei. They have brought a new dynamism to many parishes in Dublin. Unfortunately, the programme is in trouble because of lack of funds.
3. ACP proposals
Three ACP proposals were put before the meeting and the bishops were asked and agreed to bring then to the Bishops’ Conference with a view to forwarding them to Rome.
It is the conviction of the ACP that the three proposals need to be considered in order to guarantee regular access to the Eucharist to the Irish faithful. As Vatican II says “The Eucharist is the centre and source of the Christian life.
The three proposals are:
(i) Ordaining suitable married men (Viri Probati);
(ii) Inviting priests who left the active ministry to get married to return
to ministry at some level. It was pointed out that in a
west of Ireland parish there were 7 former priests, some of whom would be
willing to help.
(iii) The ordination of women to the Diaconate.
The ACP members stressed that the solutions to the current ministry cannot be accomplished on a male only basis. Pope Francis has made it clear that he wants to see women in positions of authority in the Church. Talk will not get us there unless structures are changed to facilitate women assuming their rightful place in the ministry of the Church. Many spoke about how women of faith are more and more distancing themselves from the Catholic Church because it seems unable to integrate their gifts into the wider service of the Church.
While the ACP members conceded that their proposals would cause disquiet and
difficulty, nonetheless they were clear that in the narrow window of opportunity available to the Irish Church – at most a decade or two – to come to terms with the vocations crisis, such proposals needed to be addressed as a matter of great urgency. The point was made that the Church was edging towards change in this area.
Reference was made to a meeting between Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in Brazil and Pope Francis where the discussion turned to the shortage of priests and the possibility of ordaining married men. Pope Francis told the bishop to discuss the matter with the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference and to come back to him with suggestions on how best to solve pressing pastoral
The ACP representatives again requested that the bishops bring the three proposals to the Irish bishops as a body, that they would respond to the proposals and that the concerns underpinning them be brought to the attention of Rome. The three bishops agreed to do this.
4. The translation of the New Missal
Fr. Gerry Alwill presented the findings of a Survey of Clergy’s views on the New Missal. The survey was conducted between March 31st and April 11th 2014. (A full report on the survey will be carried on the ACP web-site.)
Three questions were asked:
1. Whey saying Mass in public do you
(a) Use all texts from the New Missal
(b) Use texts from both the 1973 Missal and the New Missal
(c) Us all texts from the 1973 Missal
(d) None of the above
77 % used texts from the New Missal. 17% used texts from both New and 1973
Missal, 5% used texts from 1973 Missal.
2. Which best describes your attitude to the New Missal? Are you
(a) Very Satisfied with it?
(c) Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
(e) Very Dissatisfied.
4% were very satisfied with it. 19% were satisfied. 14% were neither
satisfied or 33% were dissatisfied and 27% were every dissatisfied.
3. If given a choice, which of the following three options would you
(a) Continue to use the New Missal, with any further changes being made.
(b) Continue to use the New Missal on the understanding that a revised
New Missal will be available within a few years.
(c) Scrap the New Missal and return to the 1973 Missal, pending
publication of a revised New Missal.
17% continue to use the New Missal without any further changes. 44.5% Continue
to use the New Missal on the understanding that a revised Missal will be available with a few years. 35.1 % Scrap the New Missal and return to the 1973 Missal pending the publication of a revised New Missal.
In conclusion “None of those who are “Very Satisfied” with the New Missal would like to see a change to the Missal. Of those who are ‘Satisfied’ with the New Missal, over half would like to see a revised Missal become available with a few years. While 61% are either ‘Dissatisfied’ or ‘Very
Dissatisfied’ with the New Missal, a large number 80% want to see it replaced, including a large majority 81 % of those who said that they were Neither Satisfied or Dissatisfied.
After the data was presented by Gerry Alwill there was a lively discussion on the New Missal. All the ACP representative were dissatisfied with the Collects, many of the Prefaces and Canon 1. Others mention obscure language, such as oblation instead of gift. The sexist Language in the
Creed – “for us men” was heavily criticised. The ACP representative recommended that the Bishops Conference should encourage Pastoral Councils in every parish to discuss their experience of the New Missal and that this should be gathered and made available to Rome.
(i) Censured priests
The ACP is very unhappy with the way a number of priests in Ireland have
been treated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The
processes used are unjust, offensive and lacking in Gospel values and are a
cause of scandal to ordinary people. When difficulties arise in the areas of doctrine or morals they should be dealt with at local church level, as Pope Francis has suggested from very early in his papacy.
(ii) There is growing disquiet among Irish priests with the current preference for appointing bishops from outside a particular diocese, sometimes from the far end of the country. It makes a mockery of the process of consultation and flies in the face of doctrine of collegiality as articulated at the Second Vatican Council.
It is the hope of the ACP hope that the Irish Bishops attending the forthcoming Synod will embrace the response of Irish Catholics to the Vatican questionnaire – people want to see important pastoral issues discussed and acted upon. One of the most pressing at a pastoral level is the need to invite the faithful who are in second relationships to participate fully in the Eucharist.
Before the meeting broke up at 12.50, the Bishops promised to bring our concerns to the full conference of the bishops and to report back to us so that the circle of consultation is completed.
In the ACP meeting last year in Athlone when we discussed the New Missal and its impact, delegates from around the country requested that when we met the bishops we should put it to them that priests should be allowed to choose between using the New Missal and the older (1973) Missal, while awaiting a revision.
This is just to say that we made that point to the bishops and we await a response to it.
Brendan Hoban 086 6065055
Sean McDonagh 087 2367612
Gerry Alwill 087 2305557