ACP Galway Regional meeting @ Croí Nua, Galway June 15th, 2017.
- Brendan Hoban welcomed priests from Galway and Clonfert dioceses as well as a number of religious priests. In a short input he explained why the ACP leadership decided on regional meetings and the response so far. The well-being of priests is becoming more and more a central issue in the lives of priests as the vast number of priests now in their 60s and 70s feel the pressure of extra-work and the many pressures of life today in parishes.
- While the usual difficulties were acknowledged increasing work load, manipulation into an effectively ‘enforced’ postponement of retirement, priests leaving ministry, sick leave, dealing with accusations, priests being forcibly laicised, more complex pastoral situations to be dealt with, ill-health, isolation and loneliness the discussion centred more on the many frustrations priests experience now, the failures of church leadership and the sense that we’re trying to ‘breathe life into a dead corpse’ as the model of Church to which we’ve given our lives has died before our eyes.
- The meeting was very appreciative of the work the ACP is doing, the support they are offering priests and the vision of Vatican Two that they support.
- At the end of the meeting Brendan Hoban explained that the results of the discussions and deliberations at the regional meetings would now be analysed, where possible developed into protocols to be proposed as ACP policy to the members at the upcoming AGM which would then be resourced by the ACP, in so far as resources allow. The value of personal support for priests in difficulties would be an important part of the response to the well being of priests.
- The Sacred Hearts (MSCs) of Croí Nua, Taylor’s Hill Galway were thanked for their welcome and hospitality.
Ferns, Kildare & Leighlin, Ossory, Waterford Regional Meeting St Patrick’s Pastoral Centre, Loughboy, Kilkenny Wed 24th May 2017
Priests Present: 21
Host & Chair: Tim Hazelwood (with thanks to Jim Murphy for arranging the venue)
After prayer and welcome from the facilitator a brief input was given outlining the purpose of the meeting.
Some of the issues raised and discussed were:
The rights of priests.
One speaker asked if priests had any rights civil or canonical. It was felt by many that clear guidelines and practical help was needed especially when it came to dealing with a bishop. Also protocols would be of great benefit as it was felt that the relationship between bishop and priest is changing. It was felt that we as priests need to find our voices; the old way is not acceptable any longer where a priest accepted everything without question. Not all dioceses deal in a similar manner with priests. An example was given by a priest present of unacceptable practice in his case. The ACP was asked to help.
A long discussion took place around the way accusations are being handled and many examples were given of how priests felt badly treated. It was felt that Standard 4 in the new Guidelines document is very generic. Does not say you’re innocent until proven guilty. A priest’s humanity is disrespected by being forced to stand down without any burden of proof. An accusation is never passed on to the priest but is forwarded to others for action. There is no mechanism to have a priest represented. No one told they can bring someone to meeting with bishop. Accused not informed that notes are taken even at ‘informal’ meetings. All ‘advisors’ are diocesan trained. No civil body would accept the structure applied to priests. Priest’s statutory rights are being denied. We need to have some form of structure and have things written down. There is a presumption of guilt by the institution against the accused. There is no strategy for innocence. Even innocent men are returned grudgingly to the diocese. All policy presumes guilt. There is nothing in place for the innocent.
Some bishops refuse to meet laymen advocating for accused priests. The system is flawed. You shouldn’t be asked to stand down following an anonymous accusation. All anyone needs is a pen and paper to destroy a priest’s name. Any priest seeking justice will have to go the civil route because he has no rights with the canonical route. Tim Hazelwood informed the group that the ACP has arranged a further meeting with the National Safeguarding Committee to discuss Standard 4.
Priests spoke about their experiences of clustering and overall it was felt that it resulted in a heavier onus being placed on priests. Priests felt isolated and responsible for the spiritual and financial burden that results. Little or no preparation is being done. Clustering means nothing to people; it is a clerical conversation only.
A lively discussion took place with regard to the ACP and how it is perceived by priests. It was felt that it has made a very positive contribution in supporting priests and fighting for their rights.
People felt disappointed that the Bishops do not engage with an organisation of a thousand priests. Some felt that it is seen as being ‘negative,’ being used by the media as the counterpoint to the Bishops. Some disagreed with particular stances that the Association took with regard to certain issues, e.g., The Missal, Statement on the appointment of the Papal Nuncio.
One priest named a feeling of support for what the Association was doing while being upset at the perceived disloyalty it comes across as. Is this a cultural issue with priests? It was felt that the ACP has a real connection with priests and that it allows difference of opinion and open honest discussion. One priest felt that the focus should be on the wellbeing of priests. It was felt that the website is always respectful and tactful. People were impressed with the ACP invitation letter. Genuine appreciation expressed across the board at the ACP hosting the meeting – ‘One of the best priests meetings in 20 years!’ ‘Great to meet priests from adjoining dioceses.’ Glad the ACP is a port of call.