Association of Catholic Priests, Annual General Meeting
07 November 2017
The Bounty, Dubarry Park, Athlone was the venue for the ACP 2017 AGM. The Lower Deck is its conference room, nestled alongside the pristine rugby grounds, home of the Buccaneers Rugby Club. To say the conference room was full to capacity is an understatement. Time after time the trip was made upstairs to get more chairs as more members arrived. The final number was close to 170.
Gerry O’Connor chaired proceedings, leading all in prayer, remembering those who died during the year and highlighting the words of Pope Francis:
“You can have flaws, be anxious, and even be angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world.Only you can stop it from going bust. Remember that to be happy is not have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, relationships without happiness. To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord”. Pope Francis
Jesus, we turn to you, our model and mentor of giving and receiving. We recall how you poured yourself out in service to those who crowded around you. We bear in mind, how you withdrew to the mountains to pray and restore what was depleted in your body and spirit. Grant us, Giver of Gifts, the wisdom, inspiration, and discipline to cultivate a healthy balance between generous service to others and compassionate care of ourselves. Amen.
Gerry then presented findings from the Regional Meetings held throughout the country earlier this year.
He reported that following on from the AGM 2016 the ACP organised Regional Meetings this year. There were seven such regional meetings covering 21 dioceses with 253 priests in attendance.
- Claremorris, Co Mayo – Tuam, Achonry, Killala, Elphin,
- Caherconlish, Co Limerick – Limerick, Cashel & Emly, Killaloe
- Ovens, Co Cork – Cloyne, Cork & Ross, Kerrry
- Dublin – Dublin
- Loughboy, Kilkenny – Ossory, Ferns, Kildare & Leighlin, Waterford & Lismore
- Cavan – Ardagh, Clogher, Kilmore, Meath
- Galway – Galway & Kilmacduagh, Clonfert
Summary of ACP REGIONAL MEETINGS
Comments and Questions
- Bishop/Priest relationship is damaged and soured;
- Need for protocols and clarity about policies as they impact on priests;
- Inconsistent response by bishops to ‘priests’ within and between dioceses;
- Priests have a right to say ‘No’;
- Some priests feel bullied;
- Vagueness around the rights of retired priests requires attention;
- Retirement should not mean being allocated two or three parishes;
- Diocesan clergy are ‘office holders’ rather than employees;
- What are the funeral ‘rights’ of priests who have being stepped down from ministry?
A Church Without Vision
Concerns and Frustrations
- There is no tangible Church vision for the future;
- The Church is in ‘In denial’ about the prospects for future vocations;
- We are all part of a dying system;
- Bishops’ Conference is into monologue rather than dialogue;
- The Church is paralysed in relating to the media;
- Many people still identify faith as important, but see the church as irrelevant;
- Scandal after scandal undermines;
- Male only diaconate alienates those closest to us;
- Bringing priests from abroad is a limited strategy;
- Bishops need to think for themselves, and put Roman concerns aside ;
- Important for priests to keep expanding the role of the laity until told to stop;
- There is a contradiction between certain ‘Church Teaching’ and being a welcoming church;
- Priests have enormous grief about disappearing faith communities.
In Search of Meaning
- Sacramental providers? Evangelisers? Community builders?
- Is it easier to keep going rather than trying to change things?
- Priests are calling for a stage-by-stage plan for parishes and dioceses to plan for the future;
- Priests are expected to be leaders, financially astute, experts on safeguarding etc., but training opportunities and support systems are inadequate;
- In an effort to be super respectful to everybody, have priests diluted certain core values?
- The absence of dialogue with priests about the appointment of bishops is unacceptable;
- Sometimes priests are the biggest obstacle to change, having never bought into the Vatican II vision;
- Priests are often ‘company men’, and very slow to be disloyal in public.
From Care to Wellbeing
- Priests need to learn to say: ‘I need Help’;
- Priests need to learn how to say a respectful ‘No’;
- Great sense abounds of priests being ‘Alone’;
- Need for a Confidential Priests Helpline;
- Imagine what it is like to celebrate 50 funerals a year and cover 5 parishes?
- Concerns about the number of priests opting for suicide;
- Depression is very common amongst priests.
Accusations and Safeguarding
Healing and Justice
- Standard 4, of the ‘The Seven Safeguarding Standards’, is very generic. “Care and Management of the Respondent”- Standard 4, requires critiquing and strengthening;
- Priests statutory rights are being denied;
- There is no strategy for innocence;
- Innocent priests often grudgingly returned to ministry;
- It is unjust that a priest is asked to stand-down on the basis of an anonymous accusation;
- Circles of Healing sounds like a great idea.
- There is an expectation that a priest will eventually sue a diocese for ill-treatment, bad practices etc.;
- Innocent until proven guilty does not always apply to priests etc.;
- Justice delayed is justice denied.
Workload and Responsibility
- Creating a heavier workload for priests;
- Expanding responsibility for priests around financial matters;
- About keeping buildings open that cannot be sustained into the future;
- Creating a dynamic, whereby priests will have no choice but to resist and say ‘No’;
- A model that some say is in some respects ‘abusive’ of elderly priests;
- A sign that we are sacramentally obsessed;
- A clerical conversation only;
- Disempowers lay people, with the Eucharist simply being ‘delivered.’
Impressions of the ACP
Real Connections with Priests?
The ACP (on a constructive note) is…
- Making a positive contribution towards supporting priests;
- Fighting for priests’ rights around retirement, access to ministry etc.;
- Accompanying priests at threshold moments in their lives;
- Providing excellent opportunities for priests to meet from adjoining dioceses;
- Connecting with priests, it allows a plurality of opinions;
- Helping to prioritise ‘Wellbeing’ of priests as an important issue;
- Delivering some of the best meetings in years;
- Offering a Website that is respectful and tactful.
The ACP (on a critical note) is…
- Too negative;
- Perceived at times as being disloyal;
- Is seen as a pawn of the media, and used by the media, to hit the Bishops;
- Obsessed about the last Papal Nuncio;
- Overly focused on Church governance.
Participants, encouraged the ACP:
- To, ask, why it is, that young priests are disconnected from the ACP?
- To articulate a theology of priesthood (based on Priest as human being) and make such a theology relevant for today;
- To organise a retreat;
- To cajole the Bishops to hold a national Synod.
The Rights of Priests – Tim Hazelwood
Leadership Team member Tim Hazelwood, using case studies then addressed concerns over protocols and standards in dealing with priests who are faced with allegations. Tim also highlighted concerns over funerals of accused priests and launched the ACP Information Card for priests.
Tim said that since the foundation of the ACP there has been a steady stream of priests contacting the organisation seeking help and support after an accusation had been made against them. A common theme, and one that continued during the recent regional meetings, was that very little support was being offered and many felt that their right to due process was denied to them.
During the past year, the ACP was invited to meet the National Board for Safeguarding Children. This was the very first time the Board heard from priests. At a subsequent meeting we outlined what we were hearing from priests. We asked why the treatment of priests differed according to diocese and religious order. There was no uniformity of practice or any semblance of ‘best practice’ that is mentioned in the foreword to the policy and standards document from the sponsoring bodies, i.e. the Bishops and heads of Religious Orders in Ireland.
In that document, Standard 4 deals with ‘Care and Management of the Respondent’ (the accused Priest). It begins by saying that the Church has in place a fair process. Yet, in the two pages devoted to this it does not outline what this process is. All it deals with is the management of the individual. During our investigation we discovered another document (one that is not easily accessed and not available on the National Boards comprehensive website) that offers Guidance in the implementing of Standard 4.
Firstly, we look at what is the actual practice. These are the experiences of priests who have told us their stories of how they were treated and what guidelines were followed. These are not historical, they are recent and tell us what is actually taking place. No names are given and ‘superior’ means either Bishop or Superior of Religious Order.
- Was contacted by phone by superior and was asked to come and see him. Not given any reason or advised to have someone with him. He was informed at the meeting that there was a complaint against him. He, the priest, asked if he should get a solicitor and was told, “It might not be a bad idea.” That evening he was visited by the Child Protection Officer. He was not offered any support.
- Contacted by phone by superior and asked to come and meet him, no reason was given. He was not advised to bring anybody. Met superior and a Canon lawyer. The priest was told he did not have to say anything and was advised to seek the help of both a canon lawyer and civil lawyer. He suffered huge trauma and felt someone should have been with him.
- Was asked to come and see superior. He was not told to bring anyone with him or the reason for the call. The superior was with the Child Safeguarding Person. The priest was informed of allegations. He had little memory after that. He was told he could have a support person of his choice.
This is what the Guidance document recommends:
Standard 4 – CARE & MANAGEMENT OF THE RESPONDENT.
Guidance On Informing The Respondent (Cleric and Religious) (Indicator 4.2 ):
- The Church authority should inform the respondent that they will be accompanied by the DLP;
- The respondent should be informed that they can be accompanied by another person at this meeting for their own support;
Guidance On Informing The Repsondent (Cleric and Religious) (Indicator 4.2):
- The respondent must be informed of their rights to both canonical and civil legal advice;
- The respondent must immediately be advised of their right to remain silent – they may admit, deny or decide not to respond at this stage;
Guidance On Informing The Respondent (Cleric and Religious) (Indicator 4.2):
- A dated, written record of the meeting is forwarded to the respondent for signing. This record should detail what they have been informed of, and their response (if any);
- The respondent is given written information about the Church procedure, so that they are clear about the process that will be followed.
Tim pointed out that these guidelines are not being followed. He said ‘we have discovered that this document has not been ratified by the Bishops and the heads of the Religious Orders. It is only there to be used, if they feel like it.
With this in mind, the ACP has today launched an Information Card for priests.’
ACP Information Card
- When contacted by your Bishop/Superior always insist on knowing what it relates to.
- Bring someone with you who is of strong character and aware of the process. (ACP can provide someone.)
- We advise you to say nothing at the meeting.
- Request the diocese to resource a canon lawyer and civil lawyer of your choosing.
- Sign nothing and give no verbal undertaking at the meeting.
- Do not be persuaded to ignore or bypass these guidelines no matter how often they say it is in your own best interest.
- Ask the person who accompanies you to take notes of the proceedings and to sign them.
These Guidelines are in keeping with recommendations made by The National Board for Safeguarding Children. Contact Tim Hazelwood 087-1337164
Tim also spoke of the concern that has been expressed for the funeral ‘rights’ of priests who have been stepped down from ministry. “Again, there appears to be different practices by different Bishops and Religious Orders. The ACP acknowledges the great strides made over the past number of years in safeguarding children in the care of the Catholic Church. Clear and direct policies plus a robust evaluation has meant that the Catholic Church is now a much safer place for children and vulnerable adults. We commend the role played by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the creation and auditing of these policies.
Despite this progress, the one remaining area of concern is the treatment of accused priests. All we ask is that they be afforded the same due process that is the right of every citizen.
Standard 4, in the Safeguarding Children Policy and Standards for The Catholic Church in Ireland 2016, is concerned with “a fair process for investigating and managing child safeguarding concerns.”
Tim concluded his presentation by saying, “We are asking that the Guidance document for the implementation of Standard 4, a document that has been prepared by the National Board, and which by and large, has been ignored, be ratified as policy for all dioceses and religious orders. We are also calling for the National Board to audit Standard 4, which deals with the care and management of the accused priest, to oversee the implementation of this particular standard as it does all the other standards.”
In the Open Forum that followed one of the contributors was ACP solicitor, Mr. Robert Dore. Responding to concerns that some priests face difficulty being restored to office after false claims he said some priests would have a legal case against their Bishop/Superior. This was a justice issue and an avenue that could be explored.
Tony Flannery then made a small presentation to Robert Dore, who has taken on many legal cases for priests, most notably Rev Kevin Reynolds and RTÉ.
“Robert Dore is the face of Christian compassion,” said Tony. In reply, Robert Dore said his ACP work was “rewarding for me and I hope I am a support.” Regarding being a “defender of the faith” he said there was never “a more unlikely one!” He received a standing ovation.
Gerry O’Connor then introduced the Advisory Team members. He spoke about the Circles of Healing – another initiative form the 2016 AGM. The ACP has organised its initial Healing Circle for members and non-members.
Date: Tuesday 28 Nov 2017
Venue: Ovens Parish Centre, Co Cork (near Ballincollig)
Cost: €20 per person
Register with Tim Hazelwood on 087-133 7164
Following a coffee break guest speaker Dom Mark Patrick Hederman was introduced by Gerry O’Connor.
In his address Mark Patrick Hederman was critical of the ACP: the association’s criticism of the hierarchy; being political; putting him under pressure to join; and the issuing of press releases without consulting the 1,000+ members. He cited the ACP press release on the Missal Translation circulated 24 hours after the Pope issued his Motu Proprio giving Bishops more responsibility for Mass translations.
“Battling beleaguered bishops won’t hasten a reconciliation,” he said, adding that the bishops are not all as bad as painted by the ACP. “Many are more pleasant and less pompous than those of the past.”
On Church renewal he said that the ACP was best placed to hear what congregations are saying, pass it on to bishops and onwards to the Pope. The public sees the Pope, bishops and priests as all in the same boat “an oligarchy.” Pope Francis is engaged in a velvet revolution, through a synodal church.
Open Forum followed and inviting contributions, chairman Gerry O¹Connor said that Dom Hederman had given the ACP a “good Glenstal rugby tackle!”
Contributors from the floor included the following:
“It was refreshing to hear criticism of the ACP, but unfair.”
“You have to have some strategy. There must be a couple of bishops who will
“Even the Pope is extremely political and critical up-front of the Curia. He is very confrontational. The ACP has tried to be honest in its response. It has struggled as to how to open a new relationship with bishops. The ACP has tried. How do we re-imagine the working relationship with bishops? Working together doesn’t always mean not being in conflict at times.”
“I appreciate the ACP Leadership and Brendan Hoban speaking on the future of the church. We need more voices.”
“Dom Hederman’s candour is valued you gave a personal, monastic perspective. Members gave ACP Leadership authority to speak on their behalf. They’ve done that. We can’t consult or have a referendum on every issue! In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is always voices that spoke out. The concept lacking in the Church is a loyal opposition. I’ve soldiered for 47 years. Loyalty was always a challenge. This is not a mutiny. The ACP is promulgating the vision of Vatican II. It is hard to have a dialogue with the deaf. The bishops always sent emissaries. While it is important for us to listen to this challenging talk the loyalty of the ACP is beyond question and I express my confidence in the Leadership.”
“We also need the laity working with bishops and priests. A lot of small parishes are dying.”
“We need ‘lifeboats’ to be rescued. We do not have a voice as individuals. We have given the ACP Leadership our voice and they have used it very well.”
“(When) I disagree with an ACP statement I use the comments section on the website. I encourage people to use it and make it a forum for discussion.”
“As priests we carry a collective anger. We love to speak the truth as against speaking the truth in love. We need to look at this. We can see ourselves as care workers in a hospice with death the outcome or as midwives where every new life is a fresh wave on the ocean.”
Reply: Mark Patrick Hederman then replied to the comments. He started by saying: “I am in total agreement with everybody…this is about process” and said he was not making any point in favour of the (Missal) translations. “But I do not want my voice to be used by anybody.” He added that the translations would not be changed until Veritas makes enough money on the (current) new translation!
On the ACP he said that he was speaking the truth in love. On approaching bishops, he said that it is a question of diplomacy. He is not saying not to be political but politics should work and not be counter-productive. People here know the bishops approach them. Let the ACP work with the bishops now. They (bishops) are young. The job is to “find whatever diplomacy and policy will allow you to say and work together;” not apologetic for suggesting that you can be perceived as mutinous.
The business end of the meeting continued with the financial report. Summary:
Excess Expenditure over Income -€17,242.23
Balance at 30/08/2016 €31,154.85
Balance at 30/09/2017 €13,912.62
Gerry O’Connor advised that a Married Priests database was now live and encouraged members to let married colleagues know. LGBT is also an issue and is being currently being examined, with reports promised in the future
The meeting concluded with prayer.