ACP press statement – 8 Aug 2021


8 Aug 2021

The leadership of the ACP believes that the recent disagreement between the Government and some members of the Catholic Bishops offers an opportunity to reflect on a number of issues that are pertinent to both Church and State. There is some truth in the cliché that a good crisis must not be wasted.

Some bishops expressed disappointment that they were not consulted by the politicians. This could prove useful in providing the bishops with the experience of powerlessness and, from it, they may gain a better understanding of what it is like for certain groups within a church that teaches that we are all equal by virtue of our Baptism. Women, gay people and those in second relationships, could tell bishops a lot about being powerless when it comes to Church teaching and practice.

The pattern of celebrating both First Communion and Confirmation has been troubling for many priests and people in recent years. Children are presented for both sacraments even though many of them rarely, if ever, attend any celebrations of the Eucharist, either before or after the big day.

The ACP believes that the current model whereby the bulk of sacramental preparation takes place in school, in a partnership involving school, parents and parish, is no longer fit for purpose. This way of doing things has to change. It is the role of the family and parish to nurture faith and introduce children to the sacraments.

The ACP is not aware of any discussion taking place with priests or pastoral councils by those bishops who stated that they were allowing parish celebrations of the sacraments in contradiction of the stated position of both medical and civil authorities. Such lack of consultation is a far cry from the approach to decision making envisioned in the Synodal Church promoted by Pope Francis, and being launched here in Ireland this year.

Finally, the ACP hopes that the Holy Spirit still broods over the church with “warm breast and, ah, bright wings”. We may all learn that the Catholic Church has no greater access to special privilege in today’s Ireland than any other group. The result may be a humbler, poorer, simpler church, a church that dialogues with its people.


Roy Donovan 087-2225150; Gerry O’Connor 087-2320295

Tim Hazelwood 087-1337164; John Collins 086-8046020

For verification: Liamy Mac Nally, ACP Admin Sec 087-2233220

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  1. Ger Hopkins says:

    This statement seems a bit out of touch with the popular mood. Even though it’s short it still seems to contain a number of contradictions and it’s a pity it doesn’t deal directly with the matter on most people’s minds.

    Many people will be taken aback by the rather excited second paragraph. The four Archbishops wrote to government twice and weren’t accorded the professional respect of a reply.
    “This could prove useful in providing the bishops with the experience of powerlessness”.

    Hmmmm. So presumably then, the “lack of consultation” “with priests or pastoral councils by those bishops who stated that they were allowing parish celebrations of the sacraments” will “prove useful” in providing parish councils with the experience of powerlessness too? To make them “humbler, poorer, simpler”. Hardly what was intended to be said.

    There’s further obvious inconsistency in the fact that the ACP (together with ACIreland) having long demanded greater autonomy at parish council level are now complaining that the Bishops are not micromanaging the process. In reality there’s no need for intervention by the Bishops. Just in the last week schools of my acquaintance have happily sent out notices of Confirmations in August. They thank the Bishop in the first line of the email but everyone seems more than ready to manage things on their own.

    The ACP statement doesn’t deal directly with the govt regulations about Communions and Confirmations. Instead the opportunity is taken to reiterate the ACP leadership’s position on removing schools from organising the sacraments. Without reiterating any actual arguments for that position.

    I know it’s wrong, but my hope would be that the ACP leadership are out in the media this week repeating their approval of the government’s treatment of the Bishops. Public mood is with the Bishops on this one.

    The statement alludes to the agenda of the ACP leadership re “women, gay people and those in second relationships [who] could tell bishops a lot about being powerless.”

    Anything that encourages the public to strongly associate this agenda with the kind of Priest who delights in an unpopular government treating our Catholic leaders with contempt is… well you can guess what I think. Steady as she goes.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    ACP Press Statement.

    An excellent statement, lads, and all so true. That all had to be said and, thank God, you had the courage to say it.

    Very well said.

    But will they ever learn? I have me douts.

  3. Declan Foley says:

    This is an important move, and quite frankly needed. The rites of First Communion and Confirmation, appear to be more about ‘how much I collected; the dressing up of the mothers’ and dining out. By all means celebrate, but do not make the celebration centre of the rite.

    The church is a living organism, and like us it too must evolve.

    As far as I am concerned these important rites are given to children, whereas they should be given to adults who can give their own consent.

    In my day far too many went to mass because of what the neighbours would say if they did not. Far better less people intent on their worship than hypocrites daydreaming, and clock watching.

  4. Peter McVerry says:

    That’s a wonderful statement. I was dismayed that the impression given by some bishops was that the mission of the Church was being hindered by not being able to offer First Communion and Confirmation, implying that the mission of the Church was geting people to attend Mass and sacraments.
    For me, the mission of the Church is to build the Kingdom of God, here on earth, a kingdom of justice and peace. The Eucharist and sacraments are not themselves the mission but a help to us to do that. In many parts of the world, Eucharist and sacraments are not available but the mission of the Church continues there. There seems to be little questioning in Ireland of what we are doing as Church, we are just keeping “the system” going, with a little tinkering at the edges.
    The image that comes to mind is a builder who wishes to renovate an old Georgian building, but is told they must retain the external Georgian facade! Why not offer baptism to young people when they reach the age of 16 and can freely choose it, if they wish?
    Peter McVerry SJ

  5. Barry McGONIGLE says:

    I fully support the statement.

  6. Patrick Cully says:

    Heretofore, I have shared the opinion that catechesis should be in the parish as was the case in my work in Brazil. However, on reflection I wonder should we be so quick to forego Christian education afforded in school? We would expect to have children see God in the trees in the park or in the love of their friends. Why not see it during our time in the education milieu of school?
    It would seem to me that we are too fast in accepting the strict separation of Church and State that is becoming common parlance in the media. This is not the correct way to blend faith and politics. In fact, it is quite the reverse, they are vitally connected as Jesus Himself shows us.
    In addition, the idea that bringing faith formation into the parish as the silver bullet is simplistic. The problem with the negative effects of First Communion and Confirmation (the money collection, the ‘sacrament of departure’) is to a significant degree the problem of the parents’ attitudes and behaviours. These won’t change overnight or by bringing the education of Christians solely into the community.
    In the Irish context having a paid catechist or chaplain within the school would seem the best way forward. It puts religious education on a firm footing in a social setting (neither exclusively spiritual or secular). It is the manner in which health care is provided in its social setting. Above all it is important not to abandon the pitch before the match is ended.

  7. Richard O'Donnell says:

    It seems to me that Ger Hopkins @ 1 has not read the ACP leadership statement, or if he has, his understanding of the English language is very different to mine.

    I do not know how Ger knows what the popular mood is. I don’t. In any event, irrespective of whatever it is, the correct approach here is to follow the public medical advice. Postponing the sacraments is an inconvenience and a disappointment. But it hardly is as serious a matter as preventing illness and or death. My understanding is that the bishops are all strongly pro-life, as I am, but without any judgement in my case. I fail to see how allowing any activity which may endanger life is consistent with being pro-life.

    The only contempt I see in this matter is a refusal by some bishops, who claim to have the God given right to teach love of neighbour to all humanity, to follow expert medical advice, thereby putting the lives and health of those they claim to love in danger. Lack of proper leadership again by the bishops.

    The ACP leadership statement is another example of excellent public leadership by people, who, sadly, like many other excellent priests, we all know, will never be bishops.

  8. Des Crowe says:

    The prep for the Sacraments takes place in school, in church, and at home. This commands involvement and interaction of teachers, priests. Parents – and of course the children. In short, it is a communal event in each child’s life.
    Now what part of that do you ACP not understand? Where are you lot hiding?
    And by the way, people who have not developed psychoemotionally to adulthood (heterophobes, gays, whatever title you want to apply) are not excluded. Immoral actions are – anyones immoral actions.
    If you ACPs want to be Protestant, that is your choice

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    ‘people who have not developed psychoemotionally to adulthood (heterophobes, gays, whatever title you want to apply’

    Is it worth recalling that homophobia is a diagnostic category, but that heterophobia is not recognized as such. (Also your account of the etiology of homosexual orientation is that of long discredited homophobic psychoanalysts such as Bergler, Socarides, Bieber.)

  10. Nessan Vaughan says:

    I wholeheartedly welcome this far-reaching statement by the ACP. In my view, preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation should be held outside school and involve parish pastoral workers, local community and parents/guardians. We should also raise the age at which children receive these sacraments to, perhaps, 13 and 16, respectively, and with their consent. Surely the sacraments would then be more meaningful and authentic.
    Incidentally, I also welcome Peter McVerry’s comments: we (the Church: Pobal Dé) need to recover the subversive memory of Christ.

  11. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #10 “The prep for the Sacraments takes place in school, in church, and at home.”

    Yes indeed – and to prove it our churches are full of teenagers asking for Sunday School and Maynooth seminary has already declared itself overbooked for the next decade – so please, please no more letters of application. (PS. Why not try the Jesuits or the Dominicans or the Columbans instead?)

    Moreover, as every parish in Ireland has an empowered pastoral council now (#1) they are in desperate need of recruits so why not sign up for one of the prep teams of parents clamouring for prep for the Baptism, Communion or Confirmation of their son or daughter? If you can show letters of service for one of those you’re sure to get top of the list for Maynooth come 2030!

    In the complete absence of statistical data for working parish pastoral councils -(which the Irish Bishops Conference tells me it doesn’t collect) – OR for the faith forming effectiveness of Irish Catholic Schools (which the same body can never dare to ask their teenage alumni for) – absolutely anyone in 2021 can claim to know ‘the popular mood’ or to dream up an alternative universe called Hibernia CE 1950.

    We need evidence of that 2021 turn to ‘the dream state’ here as well. So well does it fill out the collage of our overall predicament that this complete page should be sealed and buried in a time capsule, to be resurrected come 2121.

  12. Ger Hopkins says:

    @Des “The prep for the Sacraments takes place in school, in church, and at home. This commands involvement and interaction of teachers, priests, parents – and of course the children. In short, it is a communal event in each child’s life.” Well said.
    @Patrick “Above all it is important not to abandon the pitch before the match is ended.” Yes.

    @Richard My reading comprehension problems continue. I have read the article, the original statement from Diarmuid Martin on which it is based and listened to Gerry O’Connor’s interview on RTE, and I still cannot find the actual argument for why Communion and Confirmation preparation should be removed from the schools.

    I get that the way families choose to celebrate these significant occasions is looked down on. But the RTE interviewer speaks for me when he asks is the real point here to get rid of A La Carte Catholics. And, as far as I can make out, Gerry’s answer is yes. Please put me right on this.

    Presumably, no matter who prepares the children, we want these occasions to be marked as very special. The children certainly do. In a wildly secular society big materialist celebrations are how we mark things out. Are the ACP looking to discourage weddings also?

    At a time when good people like Richard@9 won’t judge the sickness of abortion, some seem ready to judge families and decide that the spiritual element of their child’s First Communion is not up to par or is absent entirely. That is honestly not my experience with most families I know. It is subdued, it’s not followed up on, but the spiritual element is definitely there.

    My perception, and again put me right, is that there is a snobbishness about this, an Irish Times sensibility, that says these celebrations are infra dig. Many Priests seem happy to join with the media in this. Doing away with the school’s involvement would reduce the number taking part and reduce the rest in importance. Everything would be so much less tawdry.
    Is that it or is there an actual argument?

    This initiative was driven by the Dublin Diocese. The political will to implement it was there (but pursued with what was the usual level of effectiveness). It could have been imposed but it wasn’t. Now that we are under new management an actual argument for change is required if people are to be won over. Something beyond snobbery. An argument even I could understand.

    Until then, and at a time when few Priests are even ready to make the public demonstration of a Corpus Christi procession, I welcome those who want to go big in their celebrations. Say it loud and say it proud. Scaoil amach an Bobailín.

  13. Ger Hopkins says:

    @sean13 This might be my reading comprehension at work again but by highlighting the lack of readiness at parish and pastoral council level, the lack of prep teams and the lack even of any knowledge of how ready we are – you seem to be saying that any move away from the current situation of preparation in the schools would be way too premature.
    With this level of unpreparedness it would be reckless to go ahead with it.

  14. Richard O''Donnell says:

    Ger @ 14.It is hardly good sacramental preparation or spiritual experience where the preparation is done by teachers who do not believe, as they are fully entitled to do, in what they teach. Religious belief is rightly no longer a requirement for employment as a teacher.
    Surely being honest with the children is critical to their human and spiritual development.

  15. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #15 You are a relative newcomer here, Ger. As I made clear here in 2016, I am convinced that the continuing over-reliance on school-centred faith formation – accompanied by the deliberate avoidance of consultable research into its effectiveness on the part of the Irish Catholic educational establishment – has been disastrous. The fiction that it is effective has postponed direct clerical dialogue with parents on the issue – who have been effectively out of the faith formation loop since Vatican II.


    Did you not know that in 2011 the ICBC launched a Catechetical Directory called Share the Good News which admitted the necessity of making adult faith formation in parishes the fulcrum of the Irish catechetical structure – to be implemented by a ten-year plan which should have completed in January of this year? And that we have never had transparency on why that never took effect?

    ‘What happened to that?’ asked Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in an Irish Times interview in 2019. If he doesn’t know, what does that tell you?

    All of this is in the public domain, and summarised at

    A Dublin experiment in clergy-and-parent-led preparation for early sacraments in 2020 was apparently successful, but does Archbishop Farrell agree and plan to move to that?

    Synodality will make all things clear, hopefully – but why postpone transparency and complete candour a moment longer?

  16. Declan Foley says:

    Patrick Cully and Nessan Vaughan make quite valid points.

    Parishoners participate in pre-marriage course as speakers, so why not appoint trained Catechists from the parish to work in schools?

    I created uproar in the NW on OceanFM radio, when I said, that as far as I was concerned Bishop Doran was sinning in advising people to break the law of the land on Communion and Confirmation gatherings.

  17. Daithi O'Muirneachain says:

    “There is no expiry date on the sacraments” said one Irish Bishop. This is very relevant in the present situation where Bishops differ in their response to the sacraments during the Covid-19 pandemic.
    Fr. Martin Delaney, in his article of the same title (Irish Catholic, 12th August 2021), makes some very relevant observations. He can not understand why some of the Church leaders are giving permission for the celebrations (First Communion & Confirmation) to go ahead and are defying the current medical advice. It seems odd that one Bishop thinks that the sacraments should not go ahead in August but would allow his priests to go ahead anyway.
    Experts in one specific field sometimes express very strong opinions in fields far removed from their area of expertise. Most Bishops may have the degree of Doctor of Divinity but rarely if ever Doctor of Medicine.
    Have those Bishops, unqualified in medical matters, who are going ahead against the medical advice and guidelines, not realised that they have lessened their credibility in the future when they will be making decisions and telling the laity how to act.
    Fr.Delaney also makes the comment, “I believe the pandemic is far too scary to be used as an opportunity to score points or assert authority” and “I’m uneasy that the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation should be used as a battleground between Church and State”.

  18. Ger Hopkins says:

    @19sean Thanks Sean. I find your comments to be very considered and a great help in refining what I think about things.

    Your links led to three good pieces that anyone with the time and an interest in this question should read.

    I still haven’t located an actual argument for removing faith formation from schools. Instead the feeling seems to be (oversimplifying madly) that A: as a result of cultural changes there has been a decline, both in numbers and commitment, among teachers ready to teach the Catholic faith. And B: We can avoid dealing with this by sounding a full scale retreat from the schools and leaving the responsibility for faith formation with the relatively tiny number of parents willing to do it.

    There’s a comment after #1 above, by a soconaill, that I would wholeheartedly agree with.
    “One obstacle I see to implementing it will be the likely misgivings of current parents about their own capacity for responding to this challenge. On their own tentative faith journeys, with much of their school RE forgotten, their most likely initial reaction will be ‘I just can’t do this. I’m not sure what I believe myself just yet and have all sorts of questions myself – so how can I even try talking to my children about ‘faith’ without feeling all kinds of an idiot?’ Have you thought about how to begin tackling misgivings of that strength? Do you know of anyone’s recorded experience of giving it a go? There’s a possible minefield here, surely.”

    To be fair the last part of your article #2 does an excellent job of describing the benefits for the (few) parents who take on the faith formation of their children. And not just the benefits for them but for their children and their Parish also.

    The initiative of the now departed Archbishop of Dublin is described in #3 and featured feedback from parents. Their views are interesting but no one could think they are representative. 25 parents out of 250,000? in Dublin. The kind ready to be examined on their beliefs for 40 mins at a time to help out the Diocese. Of course these will be the parents open to faith formation at home. And fair play to them.

    Catechesis in schools is a lot less effective than it used to be. But it is still effective to some degree. Good teachers tried to teach me Irish for 11 years. It wasn’t very effective but I still feel I benefitted a lot from it.

    Patrick@8 above has mentioned one option for improving the situation in schools. There are obviously other approaches that could be taken within schools. Exploring that has to be the right use of our energies.

    The alternative is not just abandoning the majority of Irish school children but abandoning them to indoctrination in to the ideology of the HSE, the Dept of Health and an INTO capable of this

    Giving up on the majority of school children would be taken as a sign by parents that the sacraments weren’t that important. The old media would encourage that view. It’s not hard to see how they could come to that conclusion.

    It’s in that atmosphere of pessimism that we’d be asking a small number of parents to take on what even now sounds like a very challenging role.

    We’d be abandoning the committed teachers too. As it is, their students face bullying in school for being Catholic.
    Imagine trying to teach the faith after the Church withdrew from its engagement with the schools. After the centre and focus of instruction in the schools was taken away because the Church had given up on the children, where is a teacher supposed to find the energy to continue? What would it do to the atmosphere in the school, what would it say to those already hostile to the faith?

    Can anyone really believe that capitulation is the better choice? Are concerned and thoughtful members of the Irish Church really talking about abandoning the great majority of Irish children?

    It’s becoming clearer to me why it’s so hard to find an argument for this.

  19. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #22 Thanks, Ger.

    However, who is talking about an all-at-once ‘capitulation’ and the immediate ‘abandonment’ of anyone? It is a matter of recognising reality and, via that Dublin experiment, acknowledging that today’s parents are far from unwilling to listen to those clergy who want to try that approach of family-led prep.

    Also, wherever schools are indeed doing a better job than could be attempted by clergy in a clergy/ppc/parent-led model, let that continue also, for as long as it cannot be bettered.

    These days no one can or should be dragooned into anything, but why, Ger, do you dismiss the ACP emphasis when it is so likely to be based on wider on-the-ground experience by ACP priests than your own singular experience can command?

    What is inexcusable is the continuing maintenance of the fiction that there is no Irish Catholic faith formation crisis. It took my own son’s stark honesty in 1994 to wake me out of the stupor that that kind of ‘leadership’ induces. That it still continues in 2021 with the ‘what iceberg?’ stance is frankly a catastrophic dereliction of duty.

    Cardinal Mario Grech sees where we need to be heading, and why we are where we are:

    “Theology and the value of pastoral care in the family seen as domestic Church took a negative turn in the fourth century, when the sacralization of priests and bishops took place, to the detriment of the common priesthood of baptism, which was beginning to lose its value. The more the institutionalisation of the Church advanced, the more the nature and charism of the family as a domestic Church diminished.”

    Only love truly teaches anyone anything about the Trinity, and even grandparents now have things to teach their adult children who are parenting and sometimes coming looking for support. That too is the domestic church.

    All available faith resources are needed, but the continuing silence of the Irish hierarchy on the seriousness of the situation is also a continuing vote of no confidence in lay elders and parents – and the Holy Spirit – to help turn the tide. That must stop immediately, if our bishops are truly committed to synodality.

  20. Ger Hopkins says:

    Another thoughtful response Sean.
    I’m relieved at the idea of this happening only if demanded by individual Parishes. I was worried we might have awoken one morning to an IT interview announcing the ending of preparation in schools and a deadline for Parishes to get ready. Quite a relief to find that’s not what’s being looked for.

    I wouldn’t expect a Parish driven approach to be very successful though. I’d repeat the point that the 25 parents in the Dublin survey are by the nature of the thing not very representative. If a (rather clericalist) PP was to impose this on his Parish I think most parents would look at the easier option available in neighbouring Parishes where schools were preparing the children and not be too pleased. The experiment would, I think, be short lived. (And as for schools, as long as some of their pupils were in non participating parishes wouldn’t the school have to continue to organise preparation for the Sacrament? In that case would parents in the participating parishes still have the option of letting the school do the preparation?)

    I’d be surprised if the Bishops believe there is no faith formation crisis. I’d put the silence down to the absence of any silver bullet.

    Sean, you have questioned “the effectiveness of Irish Catholic schools in fulfilling the key purpose for which they were set up: the ‘handing on’ of the faith”. What’s your measure of effectiveness? Given the anti-Catholic culture that schools must operate in where would you set the bar for them being successful. What’s a reasonable goal?

    For me the fact that formation continues in schools even in the face of opprobrium is a valuable form of witness. We pay the price because we think these things are important.

    These three Confirmation videos produced by SIG in Dublin are marvellous.
    The previous Archbishop got €120M for Clonliffe which he wanted to spend on Deacons. You could put all of it in to the Church’s online presence as far as I’m concerned. It is that kind of support schools and the people need. The return is enormous.

  21. John Anthony Waters says:

    The ACP said in relation to some of the sacraments that there is more than
    one way of dealing with things. This to me was a perfectly reasonable
    statement. Very amusing to see how much argument it generated.

  22. Sean O’Conaill says:

    Search for ‘Shema Israel’ on YouTube or Google, Ger. You will find Jewish adults and children singing and dancing the creed of Jesus – the Great Commandments of love of God and of neighbour.

    Do we ever sing and dance to our own Creed – centred on our profession of faith in Jesus as Son of the same God and conqueror of death itself – for all of us?

    Or do we instead agonise over how to get the 2865 articles of a 778 page Catechism into the heads of adolescents?

    The latter self-imposed predicament is the legacy of 17 centuries of elaboration of the Creed – originally an internal reassurance against despair – into something that obviously is NOT the easy burden and light yoke that Jesus left us with.

    All to replace the 613 minute elaborations of the decalogue that were burdening the poor in spirit of Jesus’s own time.

    First, we need to repent whatever despair we currently have, and recognize the spirit of selflessness in so many people who have apparently adopted an ethic of self-sacrifice in the midst of chaos, without being ‘religious’ about that. Is it not that same spirit that is the sign of the success of all catechesis – the conviction that we are all loved equally, and must therefore love equally?

    Note Archbishop Farrell’s emphasis now on trained parish catechists as the future – not the schools. The training of the catechists would do well to begin with the singing and dancing of ‘Shema Israel’, instead of with headscratching over the 2865 articles.

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