Fifth Anniversary

Last week the members of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) gathered in Athlone for our annual general meeting. Five years on from our foundation it was a time to reassess what we were at.
There was some satisfaction that the platform we proposed five years ago had been adopted by Pope Francis. He had, as one delegate put it, ‘stolen our best lines’. We had started out distrusted by the bishops and the Papal Nuncio who had refused to meet us, lectured by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome as a focus of disunity, criticised by ‘Catholic’ papers more concerned with protecting their commercial interests than the good of the Church and despised by some of our colleagues who regarded us as disloyal.
Five years on, we find that the Pope in Rome is singing from the same hymn-sheet. ‘Gratifying’ is too mild a word for the profound satisfaction that gives us. We’ve a long way to go, of course. Members at the agm gave vent to ever-increasing levels of frustration: at the Irish bishops’ refusal to develop collaborative governance in the Irish Church, even though they continue to speak positively about it; at their refusal to listen to the needs of the people at parish level; at the self-inflicted wound on the Irish Church of the present policy of parachuting bishops from far-away dioceses; and, not least, at the present hands-off policy of church authorities towards the legitimately and conscientiously held views of the ACP.
It is indicative of the huge divide in our Church that even though the pope is effectively cheer-leading for the kind of church the ACP is arguing for in Ireland, his representative, the Papal Nuncio, doesn’t seem happy to meet us – even though, as one delegate at the agm commented, he’s up and down to Mayo every second week.
Of course, we’ve been banging on about all of this for five years now and sometimes, in our darker moments, we wonder whether we’re making any progress at all. Even if, any progress can be made when so many (who should know better) are refusing to face the truth.
Sometimes it’s not easy to keep going. There can come a point when, with the best will in the world, the death-wish of those who should be providing leadership and vision is such that it seems an impossible task. But hope rules and sometimes God can deliver an unexpected reply. As with Pope Francis awho has given us a second wind. And ‘the Killaloe women’ who have sent a blast of oxygen into the lungs of our tired Church.
If you haven’t heard of the Killaloe women, let me explain. Killaloe is a diocese that takes in Clare mainly and a few years ago, after they got a new bishop, a ‘listening process’ was set in train in the parishes of the diocese. A huge amount of time and energy was invested in the process which took a few years to complete. A fundamental conclusion was Catholics in Killaloe wanted a ‘collaborative’ style of Church at parish and diocesan level. In other words that working together (bishop / priests / people was the model of Church that they would operate.
Then out of the blue last August the bishop wrote a letter to the people of the diocese inviting men to apply for the Permanent Diaconate. (Permanent deacons can do everything a priest does except say Mass and hear Confessions). There were two problems with this: one, the Permanent Diaconate hadn’t been part of the listening process and, two, the decision ran counter to the ‘collaborative’ model agreed.
Four women members of the Killaloe Diocesan Council objected to the male-only requirement for the Permanent Diaconate, declaring in the public media how hurt they were by this unexpected and unhappy development. To make a long story short, the bishop (encouraged by the priests of the diocese) withdrew his letter and his plans.
When I heard about ‘the Killaloe women’ and their extraordinary success in effectively over-turning a bishop’s decision – and credit to the bishop for accepting he had made a mistake – ­my first reaction (I have to confess) was why had they achieved so much in such a short time while so many clergy (like the ACP) were making the same noises for years and no one was the least bit bothered by them – or at least so it seems.
The answer is simple. When Catholics demand change, expecially when they know what they’re talking about and have the courage to say it, bishops listen! And when women demand change, and don’t allow themselves to be silenced by attention or tea and biscuits, church authorities listen.
And church authorities listen for good reasons. They know that if more women become disaffected parish life would effectively grind to a halt.
Two examples from my own parish: one, a meeting of the parents of over 20 children for Confirmation and First Communion was attended exclusively by mothers; and, two, the decoration of our church for our annual Harvest Mass of Thanksgiving was undertaken by five women. That’s where the real power is and it would seem, if the Killaloe women’s experience is anything to go by, church authorities recognise that.
Next Saturday, October 11th, some of the Killaloe women will be speaking at a meeting in the McWilliam Hotel in Claremorris on their experience, their ideas and their plans. The general theme of the day is: ‘The importance of women’s voices being heard in Pope Francis’ Church’. It’s on from 2.00pm to 4.30pm and theologian Gerry O’Hanlon SJ will also speak.
Consider yourself invited.

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  1. Soline Humbert says:

    I salute the women of Killaloe and hope Saturday’s meeting in Claremorris is well attended and very fruitful. I cannot attend but I am praying for the meeting and I am looking forward to reading the report.
    One small quibble: why refer to the church as Pope Francis’church?

  2. Ann Walsh says:

    What an honest summary of the five years of the ACP.
    As a lay person I would like to encourage you to continue the path you are traveling.
    I have no doubt that in holding the limitations of the Irish church up to the light, you are doing the church you all love so well, a great service. And the vast majority of lay people are with you.
    Those who make the loudest noise,in trying to break your spirits, represent a very small group of very traditional catholics. And let’s face it, they are doing the same with poor Pope Francis. But like stealing your best lines, he too is stealing your approach, in dealing with those who fear change. Just watch him manage the synod. Maybe he is a secret member of the ACP! Congrats on the anniversary. Hope you make many more.

  3. The sad thing is, it does indeed appear that Francis, Kasper, and ACP are singing from the same sheet. God have mercy.

  4. John Collins says:

    Thank you Brendan for an accurate look back at 5 years..Im sorry I could not make the AGM .. As a diocesan priest in Dublin I agree that it can be difficult to keep going and it would be impossible without the good people of my Parish and Diocese who are sticking with the Gospel .. I always try to be a positive energy as there is enough negativity in many quarters .. even on the ACP website comments.. I might suggest that one reason for many Priests from all Diocese’ not engaging with the ACP may be lack of energy .. Many guys have given many years of service and are glad to serve the Lord and his people .. However many are feeling the disconnect and are so used to being ignored or not asked in the first place .. have switched off the organisational part of the church and are making a conscious decision to work away at local level and do “their own thing” .. I will not be the judge of the rights or wrongs of this approach as I believe most priests have the church at the very heart of who they are and Christ as their model.. The Bishops not listening as you rightly say are putting the death nail into a dying Irish church .. which in my view will be a much smaller community based (bordering on monastic) Church and maybe this is what the Spirit is leading too, in spite of ourselves.. In the meantime, thank you Brendan for all you do and say as you speak for many of like mind throughout the country.. Congratulations to the ACP on our 5th Anniversary .. May the Christ of the Irish be forever at our core.

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