ACP AGM 2022 Overview – audio, script and Power Point presentation

Download and open this file to see a Power Point presentation of the AGM 2022, compiled and presented by Gerry O’Connor CSsR. It includes Tim Hazelwood’s Care of Priests presentation and details of the snapshot priests survey (survey details also available below).

ACP Audio link:

Julieann Moran’s presentation on the Synodal Pathway:

Presentation by Julieann Moran to the ACP AGM 19 Oct 2022

Synodal Pathway of the Catholic Church in Ireland – the paths travelled and the paths yet to come

So, if you can indulge me with a little look back along the path so we can talk about the way forward on the path.

Well, way back on the 7th of March last year, the General Secretary announced that Pope Francis was convoking the Synod of Bishops on the theme of synodality which, we all thought would be held in October 2023. The Holy Father’s curve-ball on Sunday has definitely made us all sit up and ask if this is one of the surprises that the Holy Spirit was preparing for us along the way, which they asked us to remain open to in the Preparatory document.

Just three days after the announcement of a universal synod, the Bishops’ Conference here in Ireland announced a five year synodal pathway. They established a Steering Committee and a Task Group and set about an initial phase focussing on prayer, listening, consultation and discernment. By October 2021 Pope Francis launched the then two-year global process with the whole People of God, with a call to what he said was to “look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say.” Between October 2021 and May 2022, faith-based conversations and consultations took place across the island of Ireland and, by the 29th of May, dioceses and groups submitted their synthesis documents to the Bishops’ Conference. These submissions were reviewed in a spirit of prayer and discernment over the weekend of Pentecost (June 2022) by members of the Steering Committee, of which I was one, and the emerging themes were presented to representatives including your own association at an assembly here in Athlone on the 18th of June. Some of you will recall that this day concluded with a prayer walk with lay people, religious, priests, and bishops journeying and praying together out at the monastic site of Clonmacnois. The gathering and prayer was seen as an historical moment following the culmination of so many processes of listening and discerning in parishes, with congregations, religious organisations, movements, and other groups. And I would simply like to commend all those who organised local and online processes to facilitate as many as possible to participate, especially when Covid-19 was still impacting people’s lives. And I’d also like to commend the dedication and integrity of my colleagues on the Steering Committee and Task Group in modelling synodality in all their planning and preparations, which led to the success of the assembly.

Following on from Athlone, a further period of prayer and discernment began and the synthesis from the Catholic Church in Ireland was prepared for submission to the Synod office in Rome. This significant moment was celebrated with a launch of the document at Knock Shrine on 16th August. And then there was a chance to catch our breaths, take stock of the paths we travelled, and begin to discern the paths yet to come.

So, what are these paths?

Well, the next step in the Universal Synod is the Continental Stage. A working document has been prepared by members of the Synod leadership team in Rome, its advisory committee, and approximately 20 other experts (laity, priests, religious men and women, and bishops) from 17 countries. This document will summarise all 112 submissions sent to the Synod office by each Bishops’ Conference or Eastern Catholic Church. It also takes into account submissions from a further 150 religious congregations, ecclesial movements and lay associations. If you were following any of the social media posts and updates from Frascati, where the working document was prepared, you will have seen and read that they too worked together in a climate of listening, prayer, and discernment when preparing this document. There will be seven assemblies for the continental stage taking place between January and March of next year. The European Assembly is taking place in Prague from 5th to the 12th of February.

Following the Continental gatherings, a further working document will then be prepared for the Synod, which as you all may know by now is taking place in Rome in two stages. The first will be from the 4th to the 29th of October 2023, and the second in October 2024. In announcing the extension to the Universal Synod, Pope Francis said “the fruits of the synodal process under way are many, so that they might come to full maturity, it is necessary not to be in a rush. Therefore, in order to have a more relaxed period of discernment, I have established that this Synodal Assembly will take place in two sessions (16th October 2022, St Peter’s Square).” Personally, I welcome this decision by the Holy Father as it is a further sign that the synodal pathway is a faith-led process based on listening and discerning more deeply, rather than an event; that this slower consensus-building approach allows time for something that is ancient but also new to emerge. By that I mean the ancientness of synods but the newness of the adjective synodal and its understanding as a way for all the people of God to participate. From the earliest days of the Church, all councils and assemblies that were held to discern doctrinal, liturgical, canonical or pastoral questions were synods, but synodal as an adjective is a new word for us; a neologism, and, according to the International Theological Commission, this linguistic novelty is a sign that something new has been maturing in the ecclesial consciousness starting from the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council and from the lived experience of local churches and the Universal Church (Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church, § 5).

But what about the Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland? As the consultations and discernment processes for the Universal Synod continue, the Catholic Church in Ireland also continues its pathway. Encouraged by the depth of engagement so far, all the submissions received from dioceses and other groups, as well as the national synthesis should continue to be used as tools and stimuli for further outreach, and to draw more people into the conversations, to bring in voices yet to be heard. It is not yet time to suggest answers nor to decide what the pastoral actions for the Catholic Church in Ireland may be. When the working document from the Synod office is published, it too will be used so we can reflect further, discern deeper, and gain greater insights. The Irish Synodal Pathway will also have to consider how it will bring together, reflect, and seek to implement the fruits and recommendations from the Universal Synod, alongside any Apostolic Exhortation issued by the Holy Father, but it will also aim to design a particular process for an Irish Synod or series of synodal assemblies.

To this end, the Bishops’ Conference recently appointed me as the General Secretary of the Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland. The purpose of this role will be to promote synodality here in Ireland, to support our continued contribution to the Universal Synod, and to prepare directly at local, regional and national level for the holding of a Synod or Synods. The synodal journey of the Catholic Church in Ireland has definitely begun. As a Kildare woman raised on grasslands of the Curragh, Naas, and Punchestown, I’ll use analogy very familiar to me: we are certainly out of the starting stalls but we are nowhere near the home straight. Preparing ourselves to think and act synodally, or synodically (I don’t think we’ve even settled on an adverb yet) will not happen overnight. Any synodal assembly without prayer, preparation, and formation risks being merely a parliament of competing voices so, at the core of this journey must be the continued listening to God by listening to one another.

The next immediate step for the Synodal Pathway in Ireland is an online briefing by zoom on the 7th of November with diocesan delegates and representatives from groups and associations so we can suggest a methodology for gathering reflections on the working document (Instrumentum Laboris) in advance of the Continental Assembly. Conscious that we don’t want to create scenarios of consultation fatigue, nor limit people’s own agency, as we integrate the Irish and the Universal processes, the Task Group can only suggest approaches to take. After all, both the Vademacum and the Preparatory Document highlighted that the synodal process should not be seen as an overwhelming burden that competes with local processes or local pastoral care, and we are very conscious that priests, pastoral workers, and others will have resources and liturgies to prepare as well as a myriad of other ministries and responsibilities as we approach Advent, Christmas and the New Year. So, on the 7th of November a methodology will be offered for reflecting on your own original submission to the Bishops’ Conference, the national synthesis that was submitted to Rome, and the working document, which will be offering a glimpse into the sense of the global faithful at the beginning of this third millennium. The methodology will be inviting us to seek insights, to find areas of convergence and divergence, to treat the documents as stimuli, not manifestos or declarations, but as documents at the service of this synodal journey, because the purpose of synodality is not about writing documents, but as Pope Francis says, it is “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands (Preparatory Document, quoting Pope Francis’ Address at the Opening of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, 2018).”

All of this being led by the question, what does God want from the Church in Ireland at this time?

Next steps also include continued engagement with people (clergy, religious, and laity) as they reflect upon their own experiences to date of modelling and practising synodality, not only during the diocesan stage of the Universal Synod, but in any aspect of our day-to-day mission and ministries. To continue promoting the local and national syntheses as tools for ongoing dialogue and further outreach, especially with those who were considered hard-to-reach during the first phase. To conduct research/a needs analysis for developing leadership and formation programmes that will support, increase, and improve engagement in the process, and strengthen the sustainability of the Synodal Pathway because synodality needs to be sustained if it is to the shape the model of Church that emerges from the Gospel of Jesus, which is always called to become incarnate in history.

The journey has begun. The processes we have participated in, and will continue to participate in, have lots to overcome: apathy, resistance, fear, ideologies, egos, self-referential agendas and so on. Pope Francis’ announcement on Sunday may mean we have to take a longer approach as we accompany each other on this journey but it surely indicates how much he cares about the dreams, prophecies, and visions; the hopes, relationships, and learnings; the healing of wounds, and the need to treasure and spend time with the many contributions that have come from, and will continue to come from, all of the assemblies at all levels, so that the whole people of God feel called to this journey. I think we may have been given a gift of time by the Holy Father; time not to be wasted on old schemes, old agendas, old ways of doing (or not doing) things. Extending the time of the Universal Synod, means Pope Francis wants us to consider that our methods for our synods are as important as the individual topics that have emerged so far. They too need to be addressed but if we don’t get our methods or methodos for our synhodos right, we could be facing an unwanted exhodos.

At this point I think it might be good for me to pose some rhetorical questions to help us put some flesh on things.

Has your experience of synodality so far changed the way you meet with, minister with, work with, or dialogue with others?

Has it changed the way you listen to others?

Reflecting on your own submission, the national synthesis, and the working document (once we have received it), what do you recognise as consistent with your own experience and what do you recognise as a divergence from your own experience?

If we were to treat any of the documents as a mirror, can we see ourselves in them?

If not, is there something we need to amplify or give more emphasis to when we are presenting our reflections at the continental stage of the Universal Synod or along the way of the Irish Synodal Pathway?

What might our documents tell us about ourselves as a particular or local Church? As the Catholic Church in Ireland? As a universal Church? As the People of God?

What is God saying to us in what we have heard, read and reflected upon?

What is the Gospel call in these realities?

How do we take the Word of God, the living Tradition of the Church, and the sensus fidei, and foster a consensus fidelium?

What I do know is this: we don’t have to wait for a document to come from Rome, or the Holy Father, or the Bishops’ Conference to live and model synodality. We know that the Church exists to be on mission, to Share the Good News, and we know that the whole people of God is called to be on mission equally by virtue of our baptism. Whilst we each have our respective roles and vocations, synodality is lessening the distinction, or perhaps the gap, between the hierarchy and laity. This is something that the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium recognised when the Church unfolded more fully its inner nature and universal mission, and restored the concept of the whole people of God. Synodality is not removing the necessity for leadership, the primacy of Peter, or apostolic authority, or collegiality of bishops. Synodality is emerging as the style with which we include the whole, so that all the baptised play a part in the consultation and discernment when envisioning the path(s) for the whole Church; that there is a proportionality of voices with laity joining the ordained in the discernment gifted to all by the Holy Spirit.

We know we can already implement synodal processes in our parish pastoral councils, our presbyteral councils, our diocesan councils, our boards of management, finance committees, in our parishes, schools, hospitals, and other institutions, our homes, wherever two or three are gathered in his name. We simply have to begin. To start somewhere and start experiencing Church where difference finds room to have diverging opinions, but we stay on the journey together, where we dialogue with those who hold different views to ourselves, but we stay on the journey together, where issues that are causing alienation can be discussed, but we stay on the journey together so that the way of the people of God is one where each can speak with courage and parrhesia, listen by listening to the Word of God and each other, pray, discern with the Holy Spirit, and offer judgements, and that this reciprocal exchange of experiences, charisms and gifts becomes the way we experience Church, the way we experience being members of Christ’s Church, and the way we shape its future.

Julieann Moran – ACP AGM 19/10/22

ACP Snapshot Priests’s Survey – some highlights:

Priests Survey

A snapshot! Not scientific!

Some figures included working priests over 75 in their diocesan priests figures, others didn’t! Some included religious working in the diocese, others didn’t!

Main Points:

Over 2,100 priests working in Ireland’s 26 dioceses, in 1,355 parishes and over 2,650 churches or Mass centres.

Almost 300 of these men are over 75! – Almost 15%.

Almost 550 are due to retire in 15 years = more than a quarter.

How will they be replaced? Maynooth has around 50 clerics…

Just over 50 of the 2,100 are under 40 = less than 2.5%.

Almost 190 working priests are from outside the diocese they work in, most are from abroad.

Around 45 priests out of ministry for various reasons.

115 permanent deacons – all male!

Diocesan Priests – includes some order priests2,116
Under 4052
Working 41-60464
Not working 41-6016
Working 61-75547
Not working 61-7567
Over 75 working Full/Part-time299
Over 75 Retired418
Working outside diocese/religious72
From outside working in diocese/religious189
Out of ministry, still clerics40
Out of ministry recently5
Permanent deacons115

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