ACP Regional Meeting: Wellbeing of priests: Cashel & Emly, Killaloe and Limerick

Cashel & Emly, Killaloe and Limerick
Caherconlish, Monday 22nd May 2017.
Priests Present: 22
Host: Roy Donovan
Chair: Gerry O’Connor
Roy – welcome to all.
Gerry – prayer, followed by outline of the purpose of the meeting, Wellbeing of Priests. Three Regional Meetings held to date across the country. Issues priests are struggling with – authority, personal battles, being alone, retirement, workload, future of young priests, the right to say NO (as per Marie Keenan at the AGM), bullying, leaving ministry, wrongly accused, sick leave, etc. The question is how can the ACP take these issues forward – listening – drawing up protocols (support for priests) for the AGM to seek approval to enable ACP advocate with Bishops to make protocols the norm…resilience. Today – confidentiality requested.
Some of the issues raised and discussed were:
Priests Role.
What is the role of priests? Sacramental providers? Evangelisers? Community builders? Why do we have ‘sacramental days’ (Holy Communion, Confirmation, etc.) for people who don’t really want them? Is it easier to keep doing it rather than trying to change it, even if we run ourselves into the ground? How do we keep God alive? Where are we going with the sacraments? We need a stage-by-stage plan for parish and diocese to prepare for the future. We are asked to be a welcoming church yet we continually ignore second unions and the gay community. People who come to Mass want Holy Communion, they should be entitled to receive.
Emotionally draining when a fellow priest has an allegation against him. Many like the ACP notion of accompanying priests to meetings with Bishops. ‘We need to know justice is being done.’ Priests are not being given justice and that is a threat to all priests. Priests should not be asked to step aside from public ministry unless there is proof of wrongdoing. Justice and proof; Justice is proof. Even Canon Law supports this. You are innocent until proven guilty. Face the music if you’re guilty. Men are removed from ministry without any proof. This affects him, his family and the community. Told by canon lawyers that you cannot trust a Bishop to act on your behalf! We need to face up to the impact of allegations and the notion of safeguarding – as cited by Marie Keenan and the ‘circles of healing.’ (ACP will pilot the ‘circles of healing’ in September.)
Statutory rights, Clustering
There are no statutory rights for priests in Canon Law, only in Civil Law, as citizens. What are my rights if there is an allegation? Authority can find a way around Canon Law to suit themselves, from retirement policies to pensions. Will my Bishop support me if I want to retire at 66 with my state pension? Even ‘retired’ men have to continue working. Where are my statutory rights?
An example, a cluster of 9 parishes held together by priests, 84 years old, 83 years old and the remainder all over 70! We are denying the approaching end, as we know it. We are trying to design community-led liturgies yet the Bishop says they can only be used in an emergency! And there are different ‘rules’ in different dioceses. Bishops have opposing views! Faith communities, as we know them, are gone. It is grinding to a halt. Priests have enormous GRIEF issues surrounding this. Like the Gardaí and Post Offices, are we next? The centralisation of clustering means goodbye to local communities.
Some of our workload is unnecessary. There are too many Masses in near empty churches. The Church has survived in other parts of the world, without all the Masses. Some Bishops (who lack pastoral experience) don’t value the pastoral experience of priests. This is difficult to accept.
A shortage of priests and a shortage of lay people! People are delighted to lead liturgies, train them and allow them. Priests are often the biggest obstacles. The missionary church has lay-led faith communities. That’s where the faith lives. The ‘church’ has no vision. Many priests do not care about their diocese only their local patch. ‘We in denial about vocations – not facing reality – we are part of a dying system.’
Health and Supports.
We need to unmask and say ‘I need help!’ There is a great sense of ‘being alone,’ making our own way in the diocese. There is a lack of dialogue among priests in the diocese. Yet, people are fantastic and generous in parishes, if given half-a-chance. Our morale is affected because we are on a sinking ship. When will the ‘Counter Reformation’ take place? We’re like an All-Ireland team without a goalie!
We need a National Confidential Priests Helpline. We’re slow to look for help.
(In Limerick, a nurse visits retired priests and supports them with health appointments, etc. – Careright. It is supportive, positive and reassuring. It assists in keeping men out of nursing homes. There is also a proposal for a counsellor for priests in Cashel, Cloyne and Cork & Ross.)
Recommend Thirty-Three Good Men; Celibacy, Obedience and Identity by John A Weafer (published by Columba Press, ISBN 978-1782181675) – all ‘company men.’ We all bought into a system that is now dying. It is more monologue than dialogue in meetings. Because we’re ‘company men’ we stay silent, so we are compliant.
Bring back men currently out of ministry (married priests).
P. R. and Church
Many are annoyed with the lack of any public relations or challenging negative media by the Bishops, yet Bishops worry too much about media reactions. We need a media person (preferably a lay person) to challenge all the negative media. If the Bishops were serious about leadership this action alone would lift a lot of priests. PR is a disaster – look at all the talk of the baptism barrier in Catholic schools. 99% of schools take everyone who presents! Any group criticised on Morning Ireland will be on straight away to defend but not the Bishops. Perhaps the ACP should take this role on.
(In a meeting with Bishops the ACP highlighted many areas/issues in the media that were not responded to. It takes Bishops so long to respond to an issue that it’s out of date by the time they do.) ACP still seeking regular meetings with Bishops; the ACP is also hosting public meetings ahead of the Pope’s visit.
Young people.
Quote from a young person: “It’s not that we don’t believe in God its just that the church and priests are irrelevant to us.”
Priests’ homes.
Some are not fit for human habitation. Too much of the ‘Give it a lick of paint’ mentality. Priests have no one to assist them with planning and legal issues regarding their homes and renovations. We need to avail of professional help freely available in local communities.
Controversies and need for clarity
Sisters (Tuam Babies story) did a disservice by not clarifying exactly what happened. They need to do so immediately. It makes our job impossible, especially as we face a storm on abortion next year.
ACP website – thumbs up!

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  1. A very comprehensive, detailed and compassionate account of the regional meeting. I hope it bears much fruit.
    Some issues that arose for me included:
    1. A voice in the media. On a number of occasions the ACP has spoken out on issues affecting the life of priests and Catholics in Ireland. This is a very good thing and a positive step. Maybe the ACP could have a number of regional spokespersons to engage with the local press along with having a voice at a national level. As was highlighted at the regional meeting, if we are waiting for the bishops to compassionately engage with the media , we will be waiting for a long time.
    2. Along with offering counselling for priests, maybe dioceses could also offer spiritual direction and/or supervision to help priests reflect on ministry to help them lead a fruitful life. I can see why bishops might be reluctant to offer this level of care. I hope the ACP will push this forward.
    3. It’s over a year since Pope Francis issues Amortis Latitia. Still no word from the Irish Bishops about it’s implementation. Do the Irish bishops feel they are not competent enough make a judgment on the issue. Priests are left to make up their own minds about how to implement the document.
    4. With a recently elected Taoiseach who is gay, how does this impact how the church responds to members of the LGBT community. In America, there is a wide gap from a Cardinal who welcome the LGBT community to his Cathedral to a Bishop who excludes people in same-sex relationships. In Ireland, we have silence in terms of pastoral support. Maybe now is the opportunity for a reflection on this form of pastoral support.
    5. Finally- Vocations,Vocations, Vocations! There is so much that can be said on this topic it is best to leave it for another day!

  2. When I observe the amount of work that my own elderly parish priest does in Cork, I only wish the bishops would listen to your association’s suggestions and warnings. He told me that very soon our parish and a neighbouring one will soon be merged, with one priest serving the two. FR. Brendan, hope to be making my farewell visit to Ballina and Enniscrone early next month.
    God bless,

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