21May Article by Paddy O’Kane, Derry


 When I was appointed to this parish of Holy Family over twenty years ago I had two curates, the parish was about half its present size and I was obviously a lot younger.  My hair was even dark, I notice as I look at old photographs!

It is the same in many parishes down from three to one .  Soon there will be priestless parishes in this diocese .

‘How do you cope’? is a frequent question I am asked.  I answer that most reasonable people have lessened their expectations and understand.  For the unreasonable people –most of whom do not normally come to church anyway – well, what can you do except try to explain as best you can  that you cannot be in two places at once.

Priests in Abundance

There may indeed have been so many priests here in the past that people became overly priest dependant. ‘What are the priests doing about it’ became a chant  when a problem arose. This happened to me in Moville when the opening of a strip club coincided with my arrival there as Parish Priest! I  also remember often having to go out with my fellow priests in St. Eugene’s to  try and  dispel a riot during ‘the trouble’s.  We got involved with a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with the Church.  I was once criticized by a parishioner for not having a boxing club for they youth.[I had one growing up’, he said]. An unhealthy chronic co-dependency developed.

I heard someone once  say that the Holy Spirit clearly told the Church at Vatican II to have the laity more involved in running the church.  The church’s response hovered between ‘slow’ and ‘non-existent’. Too much emphasis on a clerical model of the Church has left us with an impoverished legacy of neglecting the gifts of baptism and confirmation in the laity. So the Holy Spirit said to himself  ‘If they will not listen to me than I will just have to try something else to give the lay people their proper place –I will lessen the number of priests’. 

While this interpretation of how the Holy Spirit works is open to question it still focuses our vision on where the future lies – ‘awakening the sleeping giant’ of the laity as Cardinal O’Fiach once said. Because we did not want to lose control of the reins now we have to let go because there are not enough hands to hold them all.

Lay Involvement

  Already many parishes of this diocese have a finance council and some, including are own,  are in the process of forming Pastoral Councils.  These initiatives move lay involvement away from the role of simple service such as cleaning the church, collecting the money, reading or as a minister of the Eucharist, more closely into a role of co-responsibility.  We could learn much from our fellow Christians churches on how to be less priest- centered and  more accountable to those we serve.   

The flood of vocations to the priesthood in the past became a stream and is now a trickle.  The trend is worrying.  The danger is that it will dry up completely and as we have a sacramental church who will baptize, preach and lead the Eucharistic assembly in the future?  We cannot have a church without the Eucharist or priests.  Last Sunday was Vocation Sunday and we prayed for more men to answer the call to priesthood .‘The harvest is great and the labourers are few’.  These words of Christ are very true today.

Other Solutions?

This concern led an Australian bishop, William Morris, into trouble.  He simply asked the question if it  is not now time to consider other options such as:

Ordaining married, single, or widowed men endorsed by their local community.

Welcoming back former priests who have married.

Ordaining women, married or single.

Recognising the validity of the orders of Anglican priests.

This was  in an Advent pastoral to his people in 2006.  A few weeks ago his eighteen years as bishop ended with a stroke of the papal pen.  Pope Benedict has had him dismissed after a secret investigation, the content to which not even Bishop Morris was seemingly given access.

This takes us back to the serious issue about how the universal church is run, (not the running of the parish this time)- how it is governed from the top, about the secret processes involved, accountability and an openness to new ideas.

Is it time for a Third Council?

  But that is a topic for another day.

9 Responses

  1. Martin

    I made the point elsewhere that having Vatican III anytime in the next 100 years or more would be like tucking into a second KFC Bargain Bucket before we’ve finished eating and digesting the one we’ve got. Councils may take hundreds of years to be implemented and to bed down and become part of the Church’s life.

    Click on my name for an interesting document on the lay apostolate.

    Vatican II also devoted a document to the issue of the lay apostolate:

  2. Joseph O'Leary

    Paddy, great to hear of your ministry and that you have kept your admirable good humour.

    Martin, more ghastly groans from Fr Finnegan — do you really find him interesting?

  3. Joseph O'Leary

    Problem with a third Council is that if it were held now, with the JP2 bishops, it would undo the last Council thoroughly. A Council representing the sleeping giant of the laity would be another matter altogether.

  4. Martin F

    I’ve tried posting here before but it seems that no critical comments are permitted so rather than say anything I’ll just leave this link and maybe some of you may find it interersting


    If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15: 19)

  5. Joe O'Leary

    The topos of Mary saying “I am holding back the arm of my Son, which is ready to strike” is typical of the “apparitional tradition” — to which Irish Catholics devote far too much attention, at the expense of true scriptural or liturgical culture. A deluge of creepy and decrepit superstition has poisoned our church for a long time.

  6. Martin F

    What’s poisoning our Church presently is articles such as Fr Paddy’s which while stating that we cannot have a Church without the Eucharist, he implies that he favours the consideration of ordination of women priests which would totally remove the Holy Eurcharist from our Churches, as any consecratiion of the gifts performed by such would be invalid.

    Fr Paddy fails to realise that the male priesthood is of Divine institution and not a mere judicial discpline subject to change. I thought our present Pope had made that distinction very clear.
    If like Fr paddy says, “We can learn much from our fellow Christian Churches,” then he has once again blurred the distinction between the one true Church founded by Christ and the countless sects founded by man.
    BTW, Fr Paddy was the priest who officiatedf at our wedding (all those years ago). I love the man but not his theology.

  7. Martin F

    Cardinal Recants Erroneous Claims About “Female Ordination.
    His statement can be found here.


  8. Joseph O'Leary

    Cardinals are past masters of innuendo. ‘I am sure the Holy Father would never…’ is cardinalese for ‘the Pope is wrong’. ‘I don’t want to foment dissent against the Holy Father’ is cardinalese for ‘his views are wrong.’ This ain’t nothin’ like a recantation. If anything Policarpo has thrown his hat in the ring for the coming Conclave.

  9. Martin F

    You could well be correct regarding his motives but at best a healthy scepticism can be permitted (only God can read hearts).
    However, the qusetion remains, Is the male priesthood of Divine origin and therefore unchangeable, or, is it a matter of mere Church discipline?
    That qestion has already been answered by JP2 and our present Holy Father. How can it then still be open for discussion as dear Fr Paddy has suggested?

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