ACP REGIONAL MEETINGS FEBRUARY 2019
The well-being of priests and church reform are the two main aims of the ACP.
Public regional meetings on the wider issue of church reform are planned for later in the year. These public meetings will be held across the four provinces and will support discussion on wider church topics, including the role of women in the church. They will also focus on the impending report from the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women.
Regional meetings in support of the well-being of priests were held during February in Kilkenny, Tuam, Cork, Letterkenny, Dublin, Limerick and Armagh.
These were held as a follow-up to suggestions that the AGM should concentrate more on issues that matter directly to priests and allow plenty of time for discussion of such issues rather than allocate major time to a guest speaker.
Priests’ retirement was raised at the AGM and discussed at regional meetings.
There is a huge difference in support structures for diocesan priests to those for their colleagues in religious houses. Some bishops were highly commended for having strong supports for their retired priests; others are seriously lacking.
Priests may retire at 75 under canon law. Many priests are encouraged to work on. There is no dedicated diocesan pension plan. Retirement, salary, housing, health cover and supports vary from diocese to diocese.
Fear was expressed that some retiring priests have insufficient income and nowhere to live. Some described as ‘unjust’ bishops ‘crediting’ a priest’s state pension as part of his salary, (similar to bishops ‘taking’ teaching priests salaries.)
Some priests are expected to move out of their home when they retire; this was described as a form of elder abuse. Some who retired ‘early’ for medical or other reasons were ‘penalised’ by their bishops.
The retirement issue raised one central question – are priests self-employed or employees?
- Benevolent Fund:
There was serious concern expressed about the diocesan Priests’ Benevolent or Welfare Fund. Who owns the fund?
Some bishops are reported to be ‘muscling in’ on the fund. There is also a huge difference in payments to the funds, depending on the diocese – from a few hundred to (almost) a few thousand annually.
- Assure priests that an Advocate is always available in any dealing with their bishop.
- The ACP is to seek regional meetings with bishops to discuss retirement and supports.
- Draw up a Template on retirement and supports in each diocese. This template is to be ready for the AGM with a view to agreeing a minimum standard retirement ‘package’ for priests.
- Arrange a two-day programme on retirement.
- Propose an ACP/Council of Priests questionnaire on retirement.
Other issues of concern raised at the regional meetings:
Archbishop Eamon Martin created ‘positives’ at the recent Roman summit. Abuse of nuns and seminarians also raised. Need for a wider debate on the issue of abuse. Concern over funerals of priests out of ministry – different standards in every diocese.
A priest can be ‘cleared’ by civil law but wait seven years to be ‘cleared’ by Rome. Also concern was expressed that the Bishops’ Conference has not adopted Standard 4 of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Many priests are just ‘trying to survive’ with little energy. Many are being given more work – but two can’t do what five did!
Concern over the new Lectionary translation currently being worked on.
Addiction – no unity among bishops how to deal with it.
A cultural war ongoing, especially with the media. Official Church communication is sadly lacking.
A lot of public hostility towards priests.
Lay leadership is needed amidst the dwindling number of priests and the impending ‘Eucharistic famine’ – no one is speaking about it!
The Irish Church must confront the diminishing number of priests available to celebrate the Eucharist, and firm up proposals and programmes to broaden access to priesthood.
Assemblies and Synods:
The Church needs Assemblies and Synods at diocesan/national levels.
Couples in ‘irregular unions’ (non-sacramental marriages, co-habitation relationships) – how do we react? Some priests requested to give a blessing of commitment for civil ceremonies.
Comments – ACP doing a great job – won’t get everything right but need to keep at it! It’s the only articulate voice for many priests. ACP needs to be more supportive of priests and less negative! Need ACP to survive! Only voice we have! Where are the younger priests!