ACP Regional Meeting; Wellbeing of Priests; Ardagh & Clonmacnoise, Clogher, Kilmore, Meath

Regional Meeting, Kilmore Hotel, Cavan
Wed June 7th 2017
Ardagh & Clonmacnoise, Clogher, Kilmore, Meath
Priests Present: 48
Host & Chair: Brendan Hoban, who explained that Regional Meetings (this is the sixth) grew out of the last AGM. The Regional Meetings are an attempt to draw up protocols of support for the wellbeing of priests. These will be presented for adoption at this year’s AGM. Circles of Healing are also being arranged with a pilot planned for September. This idea also emanated from the last AGM through speaker Marie Keenan, who will also host the Circles of Healing.
Eight priests have taken their own lives in the past number of years. Among the issues raised to date: many priests are living alone and trying to deal with issues; concern for priests who can’t help themselves; retirement; health and sick leave; leaving ministry; accusations; priests being stepped down (the ‘disappeared’ – priests who have been forced to step down from ministry for reasons other than abuse accusations); workload; being gay; clustering; priests rights; bullying; etc. It is important to note that some Bishops are admirable in how they support priests at all levels in their diocese. Today is about listening to the issues that concern priests and their wellbeing.
Among the issues raised at the meeting:
Brendan explained that clustering is not a solution. It is only a management policy to get us over the next 10 years. There is a HUGE vocations crisis and all the Bishops appear to have done is open an office in Maynooth.
In reality, clustering allows faith communities to die. Clustering is a management tool that forces priests who are due to retire to work on.
Bishops don’t seem to be able to agree among themselves how to deal with the vocations crisis, obvious from their Ad Limina visit when Leo O’Reilly’s proposal to bring back married priests never even got to the table.
The faith connection diminishes with clustering because the priest spreads himself too thinly. It is important to train people for leadership because faith communities are the important issue – one way of dealing with the vocations crisis.
New ideas necessary to deal with the increased workload. How do we ease the burden? Clustering means more meetings but should also mean more decision-making powers for lay people. 90% of priests work can be done by laity – let them do it. Clergy are often the biggest obstacles to moving forward. Faith communities can take over their own parishes without the need for deacons or priests. We should ‘shed the tasks not necessary for priesthood to the laity.’
Role of Priest.
So much work being done for people who have so little contact with the church from First Communions to funerals. “We’re willing to do everything for everyone, regardless. Our confidence has been eroded when we see so many people going through the motions of faith.”
The ‘maintenance model’ of church has gone. The ACP should invoke a notion of ‘mission’ for today. Many positive things are happening and the ACP needs to be more creative, e.g., a NET team and Alpha, rather than being ‘similar’ to the Bishops.
(Brendan Hoban responded that the ACP always facilitates ideas and would welcome input from a small team who are willing to develop the notion of mission. Difficulty for ACP with any work is that there are only 4 on the Leadership Team, so we are limited. ACP is currently supporting ‘disappeared’ priests – priests who have been forced to step down from ministry for reasons other than abuse accusations. This support includes linking them with like-minded priests.)
There are as many concepts of mission as there are priests! We need to attract people back to church. We need to develop a ‘lay model’ where every problem presented has an accompanying solution.
The first qualification should not be academic but spiritual. Renew spiritually based formation.
Need to broaden the ACP agenda – more than about married priests.
Regional Meetings is the way forward for priests. Green shoots are present in ACP – 1,000+ strong. Can ACP do more with ACI and We Are Church?
Commend ACP and the Leadership for initiative and hard work.
Why do some people – bishops, priests, laity – expect priests to live under a sheet of polythene?
Sick Leave
There are very poor welfare supports when a priest gets ill. “We are reluctant to talk and say we are tired, struggling, lonely or depressed. This can be very disheartening.”
There is also a difficulty for bishops in trying to make things easier for retiring priests; some priests don’t retire because they feel they are letting the diocese down. One suggested that priests contact ‘retired’ nurses in the parish for help.– note the success of the Careright project in some dioceses – nursing supports for retired and ill priests. Depression is an on-going issue for many priests.
There are also discrepancies with health cover – some dioceses pay it while others don’t. Some priests are cutting back on health insurance cover because of cost.
There is a huge discrepancy in basic salaries across dioceses. Note the gap in some dioceses – €13.8k versus €25k. There are also discrepancies in pensions – some diocese deduct the amount of the state pension from a priest’s salary when he is 66, even if he is asked to take on extra parishes!
Some expressed annoyance at the lack of PR from the Bishops, especially in defending and answering criticisms across the media. Every group seems to have a spokesperson available except the church! Can Bishops not agree among themselves?

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