15Aug How do we plan a future? – Cloyne Diocese – The Future

Cloyne Diocese – The Future

The recent standoff in Kerry between the people of the parish of Kilcummin and the Bishop has again brought to light major challenges facing the church in Ireland. Firstly the shortage of priests and also the seeming lack of communication and collaboration between those making decisions and the people whom those decisions directly affect. The problem is not just a Kerry one. On the 9thof May this year the diocesan priests of Cloyne received an email from Bishop Crean. He informed us that there would be no changes of priests at this time. He encouraged his priests to reflect on “the adjustments of mentality and approach” and “to reconfigure our ministry across parish boundaries”.

This news was probably met with different reactions. Some of us might have felt a sense of relief, at least for the present we are safely staying put. Others will be disappointed, for a variety of reasons; they had hoped to move or step down from their position.

The Bishop ended his letter by saying that a discussion amongst priests would follow at deanery level, to discuss and plan a way forward. In the light of above I want to add to the conversation and pose some questions for our reflection.

At the Synod on The Family in Rome on 17thOctober 2015 Pope Francis said “The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from His Church in the third millennium. A synodal Church is a listening Church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each of us has something to say.”

As regards this conversation about “the way forward” I am wondering why this conversation should  only take place among priests? Should not any discussions involve all affected parties? Would this not be an ideal time for a diocesan synod, as Pope Francis recommends, where all, Bishop, priests, and laity work together to plan a way forward?

This synodal approach would allow collegial ownership of an agreed strategy as well as a unity of purpose and direction. Truthfully, how inclusive is this at the moment, even amongst us priests? Circulated minutes from the Council of Priests of the Diocese of Cloyne on the (17thof June 2019) stated that no Synod will take place but instead “some representatives of parish Pastoral councils” would meet with priests twice a year. This minuted decision was taken by only 10 priests who happened to be present at that particular meeting. Thus a significant far reaching decision has been taken before any wider discussions were held.

How practical and possible would it be to organise and implement a diocesan synod? Well we certainly do not have to reinvent the wheel as we know other dioceses (Limerick and Kilala) have already taken that route and have produced a way forward. What we are looking at is a map for the future, a plan where all have an input, where an agreed consensus could be worked towards and a strategy to help empower people and which gives hope.
Yes we need a facilitator or better a mixed facilitation team, but I propose that we dare to trust our people and believe we can all be led by the Holy Spirit. We need to reflect, and ask ourselves, what do we fear, and why? Are we afraid of cost, of investment in people? That begs the question, what are our priorities? We can spend millions on Church buildings and their contents. Shouldn’t we be prepared to invest in the church members themselves? At present preparations are underway for a synod for Amazonia and for the church in Germany. Writing to the German faithful lately Pope Francis said, “we must ask what the Spirit is saying to the Church today” he said “the whole process of listening , reflecting and discernment aims to make the Church more faithful, able, agile and transparent to preach the Gospel with joy” Surely our purpose also.

Many oppose a synod because of fears of “the laity” naming expectations, hopes, and requests that might be interpreted as “threatening demands”. Predictions like this fall into the category of what Pope Francis calls “babel syndrome”  a term he appropriates to the time “when I do not listen to what the other person is saying and think that I know what the other person is thinking and is about to say”

A look at the reality of our situation identifies the critical nature of what is at stake. The area in which I work, is Midleton deanery and it has 10 parishes. It is served by 23 working priests, a large number you might think and it is, much more than some others Deaneries in the diocese. We have 51 weekend Masses in 27 churches and 2 institutions. The age profile of the priests gives food for thought. There is one over 80, two over 70, nine over 60, ten over 50, and two over 40. Fast forward fifteen years and the very best you could hope for is ten priests for all that area and even if healthy they will all be elderly men. That is the stark reality.

I acknowledge the need to group some faith communities. But is this “band-aid”, albeit necessary as things stand? But I feel it is far from ideal and is simply postponing what will soon become inevitable. Before it is too late could we not have a full proper Synod along the lines proposed by Pope Francis.

Possible topics could include the process of closing churches in the Diocese? They have served us well in the past but have they, like other religious buildings, become a burden financially and in terms of the demands that they make on priests.

How many churches to one parish? Surely no parish should have more than two churches; in Midleton deanery three parishes have four Churches’. What of the possibility of parishes with a very large church, closing the smaller one?

I am wondering if decisions are taken and that aging priests be expected to take on even a heavier burden just so as to maintain the “old way” of doing things.

What is a priest meant to be? Is he to be just a ‘sacramental dispenser’ dropping in and out of different parishes or a man of faith journeying with his flock? We really need to reflect and pray about this.What about faith communities? How do we identify these and what are their needs? As a diocese are we outward looking, wanting to evangelise or have we settled for maintenance? Is it time to allow lay people “the people of God” a meaningful role in the decision making?

This is a critical moment for our church, a time of huge change but surely this is equally a time of huge opportunity. Let the conversation begin.

Tim Hazelwood

8 Responses

  1. Mary Vallely

    .
    “A synodal Church is a listening Church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each of us has something to say.”

    The key word is reciprocal and we cannot listen to one another if we do not allow safe spaces for people to hear each other. How often have we heard that plea!

    As a member of the lower order, that of the laity, I am well used to not being consulted but it is downright insulting and hurtful to priests if bishops do not listen to them, particularly to those working at the coal surface so to speak and not just pen pushing. I believe that some Parish Pastoral Councils work effectively but we have had too many examples where the Parish Priest is still in dictator mode and far, far too many examples of lay people who suffer from that insidious disease of clericalism which robs them of their belief and trust that the Holy Spirit is working within each of them.

    The lack of dialogue between different groups is what has mainly got us into the mess we are in up here in the North. It really is about time adults were treated like thinking, caring, human beings in this Church of ours. The vocation crisis is one which can be solved if minds were open to listening to solutions and if fear and pride were set aside so that all voices were heard. Fear is a terrible affliction among many hierarchs and fear of losing power, or losing face in particular I think.

    Doesn’t it say something in Ut Unum Sint about encouraging everyone “to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion”. Surely that applies to within the RCC as well as outside? ( I am no scholar nor in any way theologically literate but I am a passionate, paid up committed Catholic.) If we do not work at uniting hearts and minds in our own Church, just as we must do here politically on my own side of the border, how can we ever solve our problems and work at creating a more welcoming society/Church where all feel cherished and worthy of inclusion in decision making.

    Tim Hazelwood, I admire your continual efforts, your courage in speaking out and your lack of fear. Well said. Beir bua agus beannacht.

  2. Tony Flannery

    Well said, Tim. Any diocesan authorities that make decisions that effect the faithful without consulting them are clearly out of tune with the type of Church that Pope Francis is calling for. I find it hard to understand how bishops or priests would even think of acting in this way.
    Assemblies/Synods are central to the future health of the Church.
    But one caveat: a well organised and conducted synod/assembly that is not followed by positive action can be counter productive. It can lead to a sense of hopelessness or cynicism among those who put a lot of time and effort into the event.

  3. Joe O'Leary

    There was a book by Leonard Swidler some 25 years back titled “Dialogue: The Way Forward.”

    Dialogue between all parties in our church community, on an equal footing, and in a “safe” environment, would not only defuse the adversarial stances needlessly held up as obligatory in regard to the referendums of 2015 and 2018, but might generate actual positive inspiration. Without dialogue, it is clear that nothing will happen to reverse church inertia.

    Dialogue should include inviting guests to share their wisdom — people from other religions, from the worlds of the arts or politics — our best academics. The idea that the “simple faithful” cannot be expected to think beyond the limits of the parish pump has sent thinking and questioning Catholics fleeing from their churches.

    The Irish bishops should be delighted to see any sign of lay concern and discussion, but traditionally their reaction has been caution and control, in performative contradiction with talk of renewal.

    Theology is thought of as a science of control instead of a banquet of joyful wisdom and daring inquiry, close to the other humanities such as art, music, literature, and philosophy.

    Perhaps all the problems of the Irish church stem not from secularism or scandals but from dullness and lack of imagination, plus lack of trust in the power of intellect and imagination and in the charisms of individual Christians.

    Quench not the Spirit — break down the needless barriers — and the way forward will emerge, luminous, and full of joyful promise.

  4. Phil Greene

    Thank you Tim Hazelwood , when we have more bishops, priests and laypeople thinking as you do we will see real progress. I can see why priests might indeed think that laypeople will put demands on them that they possibly no longer have the energy for or indeed the will to listen to, but we are here to help too. The pendulum will swing from one extreme to another first and then settle somewhere in the middle when balance is restored.
    As for the Holy Spirit ,sadly it’s extremely difficult to relate to him as he is definitely a male Spirit.. very strange ways of guiding men to act for/on behalf of all his flock..
    You are quite fearless speaking out before being retired.. we usually hear a considered response when the bishop no longer has too much power over his priest. I hope many join with you and support you aloud, too much is said in secret. I hope we all have the conversations and are given those opportunities in safe spaces to have open dialogues. I hope your bishops read the above and will actively seek out other voices to listen to..
    For many Hope seems to be the final station at the end of a long train journey called the CC.
    God bless your spirit, you and others like you continue to fight the good fight when many of us would have faltered long ago. Take care.

  5. Eugene Sheehan

    Thank you, Tim, for giving us an insight into the debate that is currently taking place on the future of priestly ministry and sacramental celebration in the diocese. My fear is that a diocesan synod would become no more than a Clerical discussion group, grappling with Clerical issues. Yes, there would be the usual inclusion of laity to suit the optics of the occasion, but any outcome of deliberations would continue to have a “top down” approach. Richard Rohr describes the current institution as one of “Churchianity”, not Christianity. Fix the Church and all will be well! We need only reflect on Pope Francis’ visit this time last year, when Church dominated the discussions, not Christ.
    I suggest that there be meetings held in every parish where the people can have their say on what they need to deepen their understanding of and relationship with God. Invert the pyramid! Invite the loyal and the disaffected, the enthusiastic and the estranged. “What is a priest meant to be?” you ask. Let the people have their say.
    St. Augustine’s “Restless hearts” continue to seek restfulness. People are looking for Truth but, perhaps, the messengers have become the focus, not the Message

  6. Michael O'Connell

    That is a well written article and accurately reflects many of the issues that effect our church today. It feels that it is impossible to change church culture. This is little or no appetite to tackle the issues at an institutional level. In some cases there is an outright rejection. I would love to see an example of a really effective pastoral council. If Church management knew best, then the church wouldn’t be in such steep decline. Until such time as our Bishops reach out to all its members, then it will continue on it current trajectory.

  7. Cainneach O Bradaigh

    We need new conversations, new participants. Einstein says that the mentality that created the problem cannot solve it. New wine, fresh skins. Trust the Spirit. We are seed scatters not controllers of outcomes, the Lord gives the growth.

  8. William Herlihy

    Fr Tim,you are an extremely brave man, you personify what being a Shepherd of his flock should be,
     You are a voice crying in the wilderness,for the following reasons:
    1) The problems with our Church, are top down, i.e.the Bishops are a group of extremely conservative Clerics,who pay lip service to the laity being involved  in decision making in our Parishes.
    2) The Parish Priest has a pivotal role in running the Parish.
    3) A progressive Priest who is truly interested in his Flock,this man is like gold, because he immerses himself in parish life, his Pastoral Counsel will be a hive of activity,his Parish will be a hot bed of Evangelization.
    4) Sadly, most Parish Priests are conservative Clerics, who see themselves as the “Church”,these men are quite happy managing decline.
    5) Sadly, for the above reasons, our Church as presently constructed is dying.


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