Report on ACP Meeting at Ovens on Wednesday 17 March 2017
Attended by 41 priests, from Cork & Ross, Cloyne, Kerry and Limerick dioceses.
Eoin Whooley welcomed everyone, requesting confidentiality and the importance of listening to all speakers; Tim Hazelwood led the prayer and outlined the work of the ACP, wellbeing of priests and bishop-priest relations; Michael Kelleher chaired the meeting and encouraged everyone to speak freely, while Bernard Cotter took notes.
Safeguarding: Have priests any rights? Solicitors feel priests rights are ignored and are waiting for a priest to sue his diocese. Priests are not interviewed for diocesan audits. Once the diocese receives an accusation, the accuser is minded, not the priest. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ does not apply to priests. Accused priests should contact the ACP, who will go with them to meet the bishop, etc. While civil law allows discretion, canon law doesn’t. This makes all priests feel vulnerable. Diocesan clergy are ‘office holders’ rather than employees in the normal sense and rely on canon law to ensure fair treatment in the workplace rather than statutory legislation.
Westminster priests have a card that sums up their rights: the right to silence; the right not to have their house seen; the right to get a lawyer, etc. Each priest needs a local solicitor to contact. The accused priest has to deal with Tusla, the Garda and the Vatican. The sense of pain was palpable for several priests who outlined the emotional and financial cost to themselves and their families in dealing with accusations.
A de-frocked priest said canon law was a joke and not transparent; the risk assessment carried out was accepted without question in canon law; he was the victim of ‘recovered memories’; no financial support for a priest in difficulties; this “could happen to anyone.”
Clustering: sacraments are all that counts; an absence in the church of 15 to 65-year-olds; with clustering, priests take on too much; clustering disempowers lay people, with the Eucharist simply being ‘delivered.’ This also raises the bigger question about what Christianity is all about. Maybe we need to re-found rather than tinkering.
Diocesan plans are largely unrealistic. Priests are often left to their own resources – it’s as if we go ‘feral.’ Priests need to work together and decide together (e.g. in Limerick, on 25 April, there will be no Mass in Limerick diocese, with lay people leading services in every parish.)
ACPs role? Are priests there to change the Church? Or should we work on priests? Professional advice should be sought on appointments, terms of office, preparation for retirement. We should care for ourselves, see what protocols we can put in place. The ACP should be talking about retirement and the protocols that are needed.
Could the ACP organise a retreat? Is the ACP too negative? The ACP has survived, which is miraculous in the context of episcopal domination. The ACP has increasing respectability among the laity, a better narrative. The ACP can be imaginative, can provide a theology of priesthood as a human being, rather than the system. The ACP’s job was summarised as “finding a structure that could work, given that no other church structure works!”
Self-care seemed to be the key topic. How can we cover 50 funerals a year and cover five parishes? How will that encourage vocations? Will we just end up managing the dying? Can the ACP prod and cajole the bishops to plan/ hold synods, etc?
Respect came up as a key word. With bishops it’s very much ‘them and us.’ Priests treat others with respect; are we treated with respect by our bishop and our Church?
Regarding First Communions and Confirmations, etc., it’s hard to deal with the ‘unchurched.’ We treat them with respect however. We have to respect ourselves also: sometimes we need to say a respectful “No,” said Marie Keenan at our AGM.
Healing Circle: facilitated by Marie Keenan, as per AGM. Names taken of those interested.
Cover when priests are sick. Most difficult for priests in West Cork, not a major issue for Cloyne, Limerick or Kerry.
Issues for future meetings:
- Funerals of priests who had ‘been stepped down’ are often kept quiet.
- A card for priests with our rights summarised was proposed.
- Priests have no one to represent us professionally.
- If summoned to the diocesan office, priests should ask what it’s about and should not go there alone.