ACP Statement on the re-introduction of Public Masses

Updated to include the Document from Western Bishops – (Tuam, Achonry, Clonfert, Elphin, Galway, Killala) that is referred to, for the benefit of those not from those dioceses.
Monday 15th June 2020
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) welcomes the re-introduction of public Masses in the Republic of Ireland from Monday, June 29th 2020. It is gratifying that the prudent decision to re-commence religious services is now deemed appropriate, in view of the improving situation vis-à-vis the coronavirus pandemic.
It is commendable too that every effort is being made to ensure, in so far as is humanly possible, that the health of worshippers is not compromised through lack of appropriate preparation.  However, it is very clear that a ‘new normal’ for religious services will be a highly complex project to execute. Already detailed parameters have been laid down: (i) in the Return to Work government protocols; (ii) in public health regulations; (iii) by insurance companies; (iv) and by church authorities.
In the latter case, both the Irish Catholic bishops as a body and the western bishops have circulated meticulous and comprehensive directions, including (in the case of the western bishops document – Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God) a list of 13 specific guarantees in the Church Readiness Form that parish priests are expected to sign off on before permission is granted for public worship.
It needs to be said that there is widespread unhappiness among priests with the expectation, indeed presumption, that they take individual responsibility for orchestrating this demanding and difficult  task and by implication to accept blame for, say, a possible cluster of COVID cases in their parish.
Rather than bishops spelling out what priests are expected to do, it would make more sense if all dioceses might relieve some of the burden by, for example, centrally sourcing resources such as PPE and signage, as well as offering short training courses – possibly on-line – for those implementing the new regulations.
There is unease, upset and (in some cases) anger among priests that they are being manipulated, and (in some cases) effectively being bullied, into organising and ‘carrying the can’ for the reintroduction of public Masses and for whatever fall-out emerges in time.
The ACP calls for the withdrawal of the Church Readiness Form charging priests with individual responsibility for deciding when parishes are ready to proceed with public Masses and to situate that responsibility more appropriately in the management of a Parish Pastoral Council or a designated Parish Committee.
Document from Western Bishops – Tuam, Achonry, Clonfert, Elphin, Galway, Killala
Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God

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  1. Pascal O'Dea says:

    This is a fraught area of responsibility and I would agree that it would be an onerous task for a Parish Priest to sign off on a list of Covid Precautions. As a medical doctor I would not underestimate the logistical problems of providing assurances as described for the Western Dioceses.In the case of medical Gp practices a huge resource of training with on line videos, central supply of PPE personal protective equipment and a constant search for supplies of hand sanitiser characterised the
    early stages of the covid pandemeic in efforts to to equip our surgeries. Preparing a safe return to Church services is a major undertaking and unfortunately as shown in an Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) pilot survey from last summer the presence of functioning parish pastoral councils is present in only approximately 50 % of parishes surveyed,and as a result there is unlikely to be a ready support for clergy in many parishes to manage the considerable responsibility involved in re opening our Churches for services in an appropritaely safe manner considering the age profile of clergy and many lay people who are possibly likely to attend,it may be a case that less haste more safety and a recommendation that people in certain categories based on age or health risk should be advised to delay their attendance at church, The advice of the Nephet/HSE/HPSC committees on Pandemic roadmap actions would be a potential essential resource as the care and safety of people is paramount.

  2. Cainneach O Bradaigh says:

    Opening of Churches and confessions.
    Many of the people who go to confession are in the upper age group and many tend to speak loudly due to deafness. Individual confession presents many difficulties esp. for the priest who may be in place for an hour or more. Given the small number of priests under 70 and the risk to their health particularly those religious priests who live in communities of older men, why not make use of General Absolution; after all this is a pandemic. The Sacraments are for people and not people to fit into canonical and rigidity conditions and requirements. Pope Francis is calling us to act like Pastors.

  3. Phil Greene says:

    “it would make more sense if all dioceses might relieve some of the burden by, for example, centrally sourcing resources such as PPE and signage,”
    Indeed I was quite shocked to hear that our own parish had to source their own PPE equipment! Quite apart from the reasons you give for unease amongst priests, which no doubt you are all finding very difficult, this way of working makes no financial sense at all.
    The respective dioceses are being less than transparent with all those that contribute their hard-earned money , generally after tax – to their diocese and/or their parish.
    We are all aware of “economies of scale”, the Church as one body should be able to command fantastic discounts/ “buy one get one free “ etc. that an individual parish cannot avail of.
    Why has the Church been so lax with people’s money in this regard?
    It would be relatively easy to put together a Procurement team and Distribution team as there must be people with the relevant expertise available and the Church are fantastic at finding resourceful people. I hear that parishes are told where to go to get the best price, and that’s it , they are on their own .. this way of working is a nonsense given the purchasing power of the Church as a whole. Individual parishes cannot be getting the best price!
    At the same time we in Dublin are told that our priests must take a 25% decrease in salary and that they should tell their parishioners about this as donations are down. Well , this stinks of manipulation of lay people. If our priests still think that must obey their Bishops then like the rest of us who have to earn our crusts and fight for our rights, they must decide themselves how to resolve this matter.
    We know that giving additional contributions helps the status quo, so why should we contribute?
    – does the Catholic Church or the individuals within contribute to any “women only” body that excludes men from certain key positions , purposely and without foundation?
    Saying that, I would very much like to contribute and support the good work that I see/have seen done by many good priests so it is not easy to say no, but unfortunately it is necessary; and there are other ways to help.
    Transparency Gentlemen (after Pastoral care) is where the Catholic Church needs its focus, the rest will follow.

  4. Mary Vallely says:

    Fair point, Cainneach@2.
    There has to be a greater flexibility and less reliance on the rigid appliance of canon law. The law of compassion and understanding of exceptional circumstances has to be invoked these days.
    It also means having to open up to listening, really listening to other voices in the Church. I am talking about the non ordained here. May I direct you all to a hard hitting thread on the ACI website, “Ireland’s Bishops Turn Up the Gaslight”. You can find the link on the right of this page. (the green logo)
    How do you restore trust when mental reservations and dishonesty have formed part of the clerical culture for so long?
    This is surely the time for all those who care about the future of Catholicism in Ireland to cast aside those old entrenched attitudes of deference and for the non ordained, the ordained and their different layers of hierarchs to meet on an equal basis and to honestly listen to each other and to work together for the good of each single person as Christ would have wanted.
    The safety of the most vulnerable, the elderly, who are the backbone of our congregations, is absolutely paramount. There is no need to rush back to public masses and certainly not to private confessions. We need to have a long and thoughtful discussion on how we worship and in what better ways we can live out that commandment to love one another.
    All those priests who are uncomfortable with the status quo need to demand (with respect) a proper hearing with their bishop. If people do not have a forum to speak out honestly then they are living a life of fear and that’s no life for a real Christ follower, is it.

  5. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    “The ACP calls for the withdrawal of the Church Readiness Form charging priests with individual responsibility for deciding when parishes are ready to proceed with public Masses and to situate that responsibility more appropriately in the management of a Parish Pastoral Council or a designated Parish Committee.”
    Ah Brendan, if only! From your perspective, I can see that you would wish to situate the responsibility for managing the re-opening of the churches in the Parish Pastoral Council. That, however, would assume that PPCs had some power/authority. We don’t! We are simply a consultative body. So, I’m afraid you (and I don’t mean you personally) can’t have it both ways – give us no authority, but expect us to carry the can. The “handbook” for PPCs, Living Communion, states very clearly
    “A Pastoral Council possesses a consutative vote only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop”
    And again
    “ The task(s) of the Parish Priest as President (of the PPC) include the following
    • Taking into account the integrity, expertise and prayerful deliberations of the council members, preside over and ratify all stages of the process leading up to and including final choices and implementations”
    Having said that, I do understand how and why priests feel as they do. It is not fair that they should be left to shoulder the whole responsibility as individuals in their individual parishes.
    I think that this situation shines a spotlight on a lot that is wrong within the power structures of Institutional Catholicism. The bishops are passing the buck to the priests and expecting them to be good obedient little boys and get on with it. The priests, rightly, see it as being an unfair responsibility to land on them and want to pass the buck to the laity in the shape of the PPC (some do). But those same laity have not been given any authority whatsoever so why in Heaven’s name would they take the blame if things go wrong?
    It’s way beyond time to get back to the drawing board and make some real changes rather than trying to fool us with the beautifully worded pieces of lip service pertaining to co-responsibility that you’ve been giving to the non-ordained up till now.
    And the sad thing is that the people who need to hear this, won’t!

  6. Tim Hazelwood says:

    I can’t but smile at he irony of the post by Jo, #5, accusing priests of trying to “pass the buck” of responsibility on to PPC’s, while at the same time the post addressed comments to Brendan while the statement comes from the leadership team.
    Is it the case of nobody knowing who is doing what or wanting to be able to blame somebody?
    Jo, I am sorry to hear that your experience of Pastoral Council seems so grim. I know what the official documents say but there are many PPCs who operate from a lot more collaborative model.

  7. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    Oops! My apologies to Brendan. I had been reading his article on the struggle for the soul of Catholicism and somehow got it conflated with the statement from the ACP. Mea culpa. I still stand over what I had to say about PPCs, but obviously Brendan can’t be held responsible for trying to pass the buck. In fact, from what I think I understand of Brendan, he would have no problem sharing responsibility with the non-ordained.
    As I said at the end of my error-ridden piece, the people who really NEED to hear what we’ve got to say just don’t listen.

  8. Sean O’Conaill says:

    Re transparency, Covid-19 and the need for parish pastoral councils to take responsibility for opening churches – the ACP must surely now be polling its members to discover how many parishes have PPCc capable of taking on this responsibility?
    And will be telling us its findings soon?
    ACI’s exploratory pilot study of 2018-19 indicated that only a small fraction of Irish parishes may have PPCs that could take this on – the reason we appealed to the ICBC to conduct a thorough survey. We heard nothing back.

  9. Aidan Hart says:

    The complaint in the above ACP statement is a problem that has, at last, come home to roost in many Irish parishes, as recent research by ACI has clearly revealed. Now that there is hard work to be done parish priests have discovered the necessity of having a committed and representative lay pastoral/parish council with real and effective power. That is a situation that should have been recognised and put right at national, diocesan and parish levels many decades ago. It should not have taken a pandemic for PPs to admit that they cannot run their parishes properly without effective lay involvement. That involvement is the moral right of lay Catholics in every parish and dioceses.

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