31Oct Annual General Meeting 2019 – a brief report

Annual General Meeting ACP, Athlone, 30 October 2019

This year’s AGM held the promise of being a little different; it was planned without a keynote speaker so that members could have more time to discuss and share their concerns.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but on arrival at The Bounty in Athlone I wondered if fireworks were likely as I was greeted  by the sight of a fire engine and rescue truck from Athlone Fire & Rescue parked in front of the venue. It turned out they were on routine business and that their skills would not be tested or required by the ACP.

The AGM was opened by Tony Flannery who took the chair at short notice in the absence of Gerry O Connor, following the death of his father. Tony reminded us of Pope Francis’ remarks at the opening of the Amazon Synod when he said we must ensure we do not block the work of the Spirit. Tony led us in prayer, ‘Come, Holy Spirit …’ and a candle was lit in memory of deceased ACP members and family members.

Roy Donovan then gave an outline of his experience of attending the annual meeting of the International Church Reform Network [ICRN] in Warsaw. He spoke of the invigoration and enrichment received from meeting inspirational people from different continents over a number of days.

Roy reported that some young people from Poland spoke of their fears for the church in Poland; that some bishops appeared to be aligning themselves with elements of extreme nationalism, diversity of any type was being discouraged and there was a targeting of gay people. They also expressed a fear to speak out and that their voices are not being heard in the church in Poland at present.

One of the other sentiments expressed was that while the church had been good at preaching justice in the world, it was not so good at practising it at home. Many church members had been badly treated by authorities in the church despite justice being central to Gospel values. Roy then outlined a Charter of Fundamental Rights for our Church that had been drawn up by the ICRN. (Read it Here]

It had been based on the document of the synod of Bishops on Justice of 1971 and the U.N. Charter of Human Rights.

Tony thanked Roy and stated that the charter was something that could be studied further by the members and a decision made whether to endorse it.

Tony then gave a brief outline of meetings held during the year by the ACP;

4 meetings of the leadership team
2 meetings of the advisory group
7 regional meetings
The conference “Women and the Church”

The next part of the AGM consisted of Tim Hazelwood giving an update of the work done by the ACP in supporting priests who find themselves in any type of difficulty.  Tim’s presentation linked to previous items and stressed the need for justice to be seen to be done through ‘due process’ in cases where allegations are made against anyone.  With the safeguarding guidelines now in operation and their implementation being audited it is regrettable that when it comes to “Guidelines for the Care and Management of Respondents, Standard 4” as outlined by the National Board for Safeguarding Children, that it remains the one area not subject to audit.
It leaves each bishop, diocese and religious order to act as they see fit when dealing with an accused person. Tim emphasised again the need for priests to acquaint themselves with their rights in civil and canon law as outlined in the card that the ACP has issued to members and that is available for all. [See the Card here]

Tim thanked Robert Dore, Solicitor, who remains willing to offer advice and assistance.

 

John Collins of the leadership team introduced the topic of the retirement of priests. He said that it was an item that surfaces at all regional meetings and there is great divergence between dioceses in how it is dealt with. Peter McCarron then gave an outline of his retirement, due to medical reasons, and what he has found to be helpful. He gave particular mention to Bishop Eamon Walsh for his support and help. Peter said that he found as he grew older he had to take on more and more duties and responsibilities. On medical advice he retired. He is now accustomed to retirement and has found it helpful to have frequent meetings with fellow retired priests, members of a Caritas group, family and neighbours and engages in Christian meditation and mindfulness. Peter said that he has also become active with a number of hobbies.

Tony thanked Peter for his input and spoke briefly of his own ‘enforced’ retirement and how it has affected him. There was a certain irony in the man who led his prosecution in Rome now being the leader of a group dissenting from and opposing Pope Francis and his ministry,

 

The AGM was then opened to allow members share views and opinions.

  • Many spoke about the role of women in the church and the great need for change.
    Emphasis was placed on the priesthood all share in through our common baptism.
  • The sacrament of orders needed to be looked at because there was no point in just ordaining women to orders as they are currently constituted. We don’t need more clerics, female or male.
  • Ordination of women will come as there is now an unstoppable momentum concerning equality and the rights of women.
  • The adopting of a synodal approach in church will bring about change from ‘the bottom up’.
  • We need to consider this issue from the perspective of meeting the needs of the members of the church, this is what ministry is about and it’s irrelevant as to the gender, martial status, etc. of the minster.

Other issues were also raised;

  • The need to be positive and to share positive stories of priesthood and the need for people to realise the commitment to church and the future of the church that ACP members have.
  • The on-going problem with the use of exclusive language in the liturgy; language that alienates 51% of the population and perhaps at least 70% of congregations.
  • A call to petition the leaders of the Redemptorist Order to halt the on-going injustice against Tony Flannery. Allied to this was a comment on how some in authority positions in the church can still try to shame people with the use of secrecy and silence.
  • The need for new structures – what now defines parish?
  • There was mention of those who have been stood down from ministry for various reasons, the ‘forgotten’, and questioning of how long a person may be suspended without any charge being levelled or prosecuted.
  • The need to continue to prepare for the future, for ‘what is coming’ and not just plan to carry on as we have been doing.
  • The problem of recruiting people to serve in the role as chairperson of Primary School Boards of Management and the pressure that is then applied to a priest to take on the role, even when he feels it compromises him pastorally in a small community.
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights for our Church, that had been drawn up by the ICRN, needed to be looked at further and some of the language maybe tidied up, in particular the piece about removal of records from registers for those who have left the church.

 

Following the coffee break and some informal discussion and catching up among the members the AGM resumed with Angela Hanley outlining her recent publication “What happened to Fr. Sean Fagan”.

Angela gave a brief outline of the story of the terrible injustice that was done to a ‘good, decent man, who lived the message of the Gospel’ and who for his ‘goodness and acceptance’ was punished. Angela said his story needs to be told and that any bishops worried by the harm secularism or any other ‘ism’ is doing to the church would be better advised to look to the damage done by ‘the injustice that is woven into the very fabric of the institution’.

 

Pat Rogers then informed the members of a new venture in the liturgy section of the ACP website, the introduction of podcasts so people can listen to the readings and reflections.

Pat and Gerry Bennet went on to speak of the use of social media to promote the Gospel message and the possibilities that exist for doing so. Gerry said that media like twitter, Facebook etc. could be used to funnel people to the ACP website. There was also the possibility of building up resources such as video podcasts that people could access. Social media was where younger people now get their information and where they communicate.

Liamy MacNally delivered the financial report for the past year.

The AGM of 2019 concluded. The fire and rescue services weren’t called upon during our AGM but there is still a passion for the church and for securing its future among the ACP members as could be seen by their turn out and in the opinions shared. There was certainly a fire for justice for all members of the church and a burning desire to do away with unjust procedures that are ‘woven into the fabric of the institution.’

 

Mattie Long

2 Responses

  1. patrick Rogers

    Thanks Mattie for an excellent report of what went on at the AGM.
    My own feeling was that perhaps a keynote speech would be desirable on future occasions to focus the meeting on a few key points. And possibly our next AGM might centre more on what contribution the members of the ACP can make to the raising of consciousness within our church even at this stage. I think perhaps we didn’t give enough time to the potential of digital media to be a tool of the gospel for us. With respect I dare to say that we seem to be just as much in danger of lethargy has the hierarchy we have criticised.

  2. Seamus Ahearne

    Mark Patrick Hederman and John Feehan unbalanced our recent AGMs in different ways. Wednesday was different and better. It was almost Synodal in the way the Leaders took part! We concluded carefully. We didn’t launch any fireworks or become involved in anti-social behaviour (Church-wise). It almost felt as if we came to 5 p.m. too quickly. Mattie’s Report is excellent and very complete. He was attuned to the music of the day at every beat.

    We do have to balance our critical edginess with a visionary conviction of faith. As Schillebeeckx once said: ‘A Sacrament is a Smile on the Face of God.’ Each of us is that Sacrament. We have to show that Smile. The Desiderata (of many years ago) was a favourite, way back in old God’s time. One line said: This world (Church; Priesthood!) ‘With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, is still a beautiful world.’ It is. This Church. This Priesthood. This Community of faith. Our Parishes. Surely every day is a joy, despite the problems. We make of them, what we can. The people around us, stir us into the laughter of hope and the liveliness of faith. This is real Prayer. The problems are there. The frustrations are there. But something bigger than problems, is sparkling everywhere.

    Many of us will meet with the families of the bereaved in the coming days. This privileged access to those lives, at such times, is extraordinary. It is humbling and wonderful. Funerals demand the best of us. They drag out the very depths of our abilities and our faith – to carry people through, who in most cases, know nothing of Church/Ritual or Mass. We are pushed to our limits to create a language and a structured Ritual that speaks into their experiences and their lives. ‘The Word becomes flesh.’ We are blessed. Nothing can be allowed to darken or overwhelm the grace of ministry.

    A last word on BOMs: Brendan mentioned (as a proxy) the imposition on some to Chair Boards. No one should have to do this unless they feel happy in the role. The time I have spent this year alone on school work, is incalculable. With interviews. With daily business. With legal affairs. With time in Court (The utter stupidity of the law – Church can be bad but the arcane nonsense of the law is beyond words.) This work is never about control as some would have it. This is always our contribution as a member of the Community. But it is very demanding even when some of us can manage to ensure that meetings are concluded within a half-hour and Management is left to manage. As priests, we have to be sensible in taking on what we can do and saying no, to what is too much. We are ancient! It was good to be at the AGM.

    Seamus Ahearne osa

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