The ACP has written to every bishop about a proposal to set up an Arbitration Panel for each province to assist with dealing with difficult issues between a priest and his bishop. “We believe that a process that reflects ‘a synodal approach’ and that involves respectful dialogue between bishop and priest – supported if necessary by professional input from competent experts in relevant disciplines – can result in a simpler, fairer, more effective and less stressful procedure for all involved.”
Letter to bishops:
On November 1st last, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) issued a statement, on complaints being received by the association in relation to ‘the way some bishops are treating some priests’. The statement, a copy of which is included at the end of this letter, arose out of our growing concern with the treatment of a small number of priests by a small minority of bishops.
We repeat the point again that our reservations should not be taken as a general criticism of Irish bishops but, at the same time, we wish to say that the problem, though limited, needs to be more sensitively addressed. We now offer a suggestion as to how difficult issues that arise between bishop and priest can be handled – responsibly, sensibly and agreeably – for the good of the Church, as well as for the bishop and priest involved.
We understand the difficulties involved in such cases – for the bishop and priest directly involved and, not least, for the Church. Our proposal is offered in the light of a growing consensus at all levels of the Church that many issues can be dealt with much more effectively at local level rather than by being sent to Rome.
We believe that a process that reflects ‘a synodal approach’ and that involves respectful dialogue between bishop and priest – supported if necessary by professional input from competent experts in relevant disciplines – can result in a simpler, fairer, more effective and less stressful procedure for all involved.
We propose the formation, in each province, of an Arbitration Panel consisting of:
- a mediator;
- a representative of the bishop;
- a representative of the priest;
- a panel of experts – a canon lawyer, a therapist, etc., with a preference for at least one of the group being a woman.
The role of the panel would be advisory with the option for bishop or priest of withdrawing from the process at any point .
Our sponsoring of this approach is based on our belief and our experience as a priests’ association that, in so many cases that have arisen, a satisfactory compromise could have been found if there was a structure that facilitated a fair, balanced and reasonable engagement with the issue.
It goes without saying that none of the above detail, as far as the ACP is concerned, is set in stone, nor is it in any sense an effort to compromise the eventual decision of the bishop. It is simply a proposal to establish a structure that slows the process down, that recognises the rights and sensitivities of all involved and that avoids the instant solution that in the long run is no service, to bishop, priest or church.
Tim Hazelwood, Roy Donovan, John Collins, Gerry O’Connor
ACP Leadership Team
Association of Catholic Priests Statement
Monday 1st November 2021
As an association founded to represent, and if needs be to defend, our fellow-priests, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) is receiving from both members and non-members an increase in the number of complaints about the way some bishops are treating some priests.
It is important to note that this is generally not the case with most bishops. With most bishops there is a respectful engagement with their priests with whatever concerns they have and whatever difficulties they encounter. That we note and accept. But there is a small number of bishops and archbishops who consistently represent the vast majority of complaints being received from priests and who need to be held to account for it. Examples of these complaints include:
(i) priests being told that they have to take responsibility for another parish at short notice, without any effort on the part of the bishop to explain the situation to parishioners, apart from a letter to be read out by the priest who is left to his own devices to negotiate the extra workload;
(ii) priests whose bishops insist on appointing them against their will to parishes, for which, by common consent, they are completely unsuited and thereby inflict an inappropriate and unnecessary limitation on their ministry and on their levels of job satisfaction;
(iii) priests who take some time out, and are then not allowed to resume active ministry. Some have been coerced and bullied into leaving the priesthood against their wishes while others have been forced to make an inappropriate public confession contingent on a continuation in ministry;
(iv) priests who have taken leave from their diocese (Diocese A) for a period and who have been refused a return to ministry by that diocese and then have applied to and are accepted by another diocese (Diocese B) in order to continue their ministry as priests but who are systematically blocked by the bishop of Diocese A;
(v) priests who are gay being refused permission to work in parishes while in other dioceses they are treated as equal and valued members of the priesthood;
(vi) priests who have concerns about the demands on their mental or physical health of remaining in full- time priestly work not being allowed to retire until they reach 75;
(vii) priests who feel unable to stand up for themselves and find themselves in inadequate accommodation and lacking a level of support that other priests in the diocese enjoy. In one diocese, the ACP had to provide legal redress for a priest on sick leave who wasn’t paid his salary for two years. In another diocese, a priest who was out of ministry was not given accommodation and had to live with his family members;
(viii) priests whose bishops comment disparagingly on their personal appearance and active ministry and who, as a result, have their confidence undermined and their pastoral effectiveness diminished;
(ix) priests who have experienced specific difficulties being refused permission to say funeral Masses for parents or close family members;
(x) priests whose bishops seem to believe that they have to dominate every encounter with their priests and who, if they ‘lose a battle’ with a priest, will later vindictively ensure that they will ‘win the war’; and (xi) priests with no accusation against them being forced out of priesthood, on the basis of a bishop’s decision that it is ‘the ‘best thing‘ for them.
The ACP, as an association committed to supporting priests in need, is prepared to challenge bishops who fail to live up to their responsibility as bishops which is to be shepherds to their priests as well as to their people. As Pope Francis has observed, ‘Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own’.