Annual General Meeting 2018

Association of Catholic Priests

Annual General Meeting

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Bounty, Dubarry Park, Athlone

An audio recording of the presentations made at the AGM on 10 October 2018
is now available from Eist. It is available on a 2 CD set or by email. 
The total cost for either is €15 .
To Order, please contact Eist on  or phone 087 278 9390

Chair: Gerry O’Connor

Gerry welcomed all and invited all to share in the opening prayer.


Opening Prayer

An Autumn Blessing

Blessed are you, autumn,
Chalice of transformation,
You lift a cup of death to our lips
And we taste new life.

Blessed are you autumn,
Season of the heart’s yearning,
You usher us into places of mystery
And, like the leaves, we fall trustingly
Into eternal, unseen hands.

Blessed are you autumn
With your flair for drama
You call to the poet in our hearts,
“return to the earth, become good soil:
Wait for new seeds.”

Blessed are you, autumn,
You turn our faces toward the west.
Prayerfully reflecting on life’s transitory nature
We sense all things moving toward life-giving death.

Blessed are you autumn,
You draw us away from summer’s hot breath.
As your air becomes frosty and cool
You lead us to inner reflection.

Blessed are you autumn
Season of so much bounty
You invite us to imitate your generosity
In giving freely from the goodness of our lives
Holding nothing back.

Blessed are you, autumn,
Your harvesting time has come.
As we gather your riches into our barns,
Reveal to us our own inner riches
Waiting to be harvested.

Blessed are you, autumn,
Season of surrender,
You teach us the wisdom of letting go
As you draw us into new ways of living.

Blessed are you, autumn,
Season of unpredictability.
You inspire us to be flexible
To learn from our shifting moods,

Blessed are you, autumn,
Feast of thanksgiving.
You change our hearts into fountains of gratitude
As we receive your gracious gifts.

(Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr)


A candle was lit for deceased members and friends.

Minutes of AGM 2017 approved.

Apologies for AGM 2018 received will be recorded in the minutes.



Gerry outlined details of the ACP/Bishops meeting.

ACP (Brendan Hoban, Gerry O’Connor, Tim Hazelwood, Gerry O’Hanlon) met with Archbishops Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin and Tim Bartlett on January 15th 2018 in Drumcondra;

ACP Agenda:

WMOF 2018 – Role of ACP, Regional Meetings,

Would Bishops like ACP to be involved?

What are the stumbling blocks in Ireland to getting traction on Pope Francis’ vision for the Church?

Can ACP help with Pope Francis Reform Agenda?

What is the Bishop’s understanding of why the Irish Church cannot get momentum?

Where is Irish Church’s imagination?

The frustration of Priests; Strategic Vision for Church – Short Time-span;

How can there be meaningful discussion between ACP and Bishops into the future?

Safeguarding and Ratification of Standard 4;

What shall be communicated from the Meeting to our constituencies and interested parties;

Note of the meeting prepared by Gerry O’Connor; A presentation was made to ACP Advisory Group and a statement posted on the website.

This is the letter received from the Bishops on 10 April 2018:

Dear Father Hoban,

I write following the March 2018 plenary meeting of the Episcopal Conference at which Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin reported on their meeting with representatives of the Association of Catholic priests on January 15 last.

In the context of the discussion about the preparations for the IX World Meeting of Families (WMOF) 2018, the bishops noted the intention of the ACP to hold regional meetings and the importance of encouraging clergy and laity alike to understand the potential of the WMOF. The significance and the involvement of the Church at local level is obviously something that is of immense importance in this regard.

The two archbishops shared regarding the conversation with you on vocations to the priesthood. The bishops agreed on the need for vocations to the priesthood to be presented as a truly fulfilling and realistic option in today’s world, and on the need to strengthen families and worshipping communities to promote vocations.

The Episcopal Conference is open to continued constructive engagement with the ACP. It recommends that this be through the Council for Clergy and recommends that there be an annual meeting between the Council for Clergy and the ACP.

With all good wishes for the Easter season,

I remain,

Yours sincerely

Monsignor Gearóid Dullea,
Executive Secretary

A draft letter in reply to the bishops will be presented to the AGM later.



Gerry presented details of the ACP Regional meetings ahead of the Papal visit; The theme for these meetings was – What would you like to say to Pope Francis about the Irish church?

Mallow July 4th– 24   participants;
Tuam July 11th – 60+ participants;
Dublin July 18th– 110+ participants;
Cavan July 25th– 23 participants;

Total participants 217+

Cost €658                              Collections €560

Results of submissions from meetings and website survey:

1396 participants contributed 2288 submissions; 78% of respondents proposed a series of reforms;

Press Release issued on August 15th2018:

Reform Priorities in order of preference

  1. Equal role for women in the Church;
  2. Priesthood and vocations;
  3. Reforms in Church governance and worship;
  4. Dealing with abuse and its fall-out;
  5. LGBT issues
  6. Young People
  7. Bishops and Leadership



This took place on Tues Sept 11th2018 in the Clannree Hotel, Letterkenny.

21 priests in attendance.

Two key issues emerged: Church Reform and Care of Priests, especially Retirement Age and Financial Care in Retirement.

See website report Oct 3rd– Northern Regional Meeting.



Gerry read a proposed draft letter to the bishops.

Dear Bishops,

We write in the aftermath of the visit of Pope Francis.

It was a strange few days. On the one hand, the palpable delight of so many in the visit of Pope Francis and the lift it has given to the Irish Church. On the other, a sinking feeling that the visit and the expectations it generated were derailed by an unexpected, though not unpredicted, focus on the sexual abuse issue.

What surprised and upset so many (not just Catholics but priests and, no doubt, bishops too) was the virulence of the negative commentary and the lack of engagement of so many Catholics with the visit.

The conclusion, we believe, is that the papal visit was a stunning reminder that the Catholic Church in Ireland is now in a different place and the challenges deserve and demand our unremitting focus on the reforms proposed by Pope Francis.

We believe that the day is long gone – and the papal visit was yet another reminder – when we can indulge the luxury as a Church of pretending that it’s enough to just keep doing what we’re doing and that somehow we’ll turn some mythical corner when all will be well again.

We believe that unless we are prepared as a Church to face up to the compelling need to make difficult decisions, along the way of ‘synodality’ that Pope Francis keeps pointing us towards, then we will have missed the tide of the present moment and our church will become more and more peripheral in the lives of more and more Catholics and less and less credible in our society.

We believe that the present downward momentum (as suggested in the last paragraph) is obvious and requires an immediate focus of resources and personnel on fundamental issuers as well as a level of seriousness that demands more than a formal ‘ticking of a box’.

For that reason, while we welcome the invitation extended by Archbishops Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin at our last meeting, we believe that – in deference to the critical situation in which we find ourselves – more is needed in terms of a committed and realistic engagement with the Irish bishops than what has been delivered so far.

Lengthy time-spans between meetings, a lack of preparation beforehand, a series of individual, haphazard encounters and a feeling that we’re just going through the motions rather than seriously engaging with key critical issues, all suggest that the discussions are little more than a pretence to engagement.

Some of our members are extremely discouraged by the hands-off approach of the Episcopal Conference towards the ACP, the personal disparagement of the association by individual bishops and, not least, by the frustratingly ineffective engagement with the bishops over the last seven years.

Our growing conviction is that unless your proposed engagement with the ACP is genuine, serious and realistic then it may best serve our association and our Church to take a different road.

 The imperative of the Christian Gospel and our Church’s ability to engage with it deserve more formal and effective attention.

 Yours etc.

    The New View of Creation in Laudato Si

The AGM running order was changed slightly to allow our guest speaker, Prof John Feehan, to make his presentation at this point. Seán McDonagh MSC introduced him. Copies of ‘God in a Five-Pointed Star’by John Feehan and ‘Faith Communities – Actions to Help Pollinators’ by the National Biodiversity Data Centre were freely available to all in attendance. The full text of John Feehan’s presentation is available on the website – 12 Oct – The New View of Creation in Laudato Si’

An open forum followed during which John’s speech was lauded. This is a summary with condensed comments from John Feehan in italics.

  • The presentation was seen as ‘enormously challenging to our traditional faith,’ raising questions on faith and doctrine definitions; Revelation is not a book to be read at once, but as it unfolds we read it and our understanding grows, John Feehan responded, citing Robert Boyle and saying, ‘We’ll never get to the end of mystery!’
  • Our Tridentine model of church is dead and we need to acknowledge the ‘not knowing’ and sense of mystery and join the community of others who are searching. The advance of human understanding by science can never be a threat to faith, it grows on it.
  • Would recommend ‘An Astonishing Secret’ by Daniel O’Leary (inspired by Pope Francis and described as a ‘love letter from God.’)
  • Elaborate on how Eucharist uses elements of creation; Eucharist urges us to be more responsible for the gifts of the earth. Check out Hugh O’Donnell’s book “Eucharist and the Living Earth” published by Columba Press; Also re lawns, Google ‘God’s Thoughts on Lawns!’
  • Any opinion on Celtic spirituality based on a reading of creation? Referred to it peripherally – there was organised religion before the 5thcentury…a deep reverence in pre- and early-Christian Ireland, especially for forests. Virtually every Irish saint had a reference to his/her favourite tree. In the 6thcentury a move to the deserts (forests in Ireland) to find God but no theological writing emanated from this but rather nature books!…







Click on links below for the text of Tim’s presentation






Click on link below for the text of Mattie’s presentation





Gerry: It shows the ACP does a lot of quiet work, e.g., Tim with priests and Healing Circles; and Mattie on his research into the retirement question. We use the word ‘protocol’ to get priests’ rights recognised. During the Open Forum we’ll focus on the various presentations: Papal Meeting and Survey; Engagement with Bishops; Protocol for Priest Funerals; Protocol for Retirement of Priests. And thanks to Tim Hazelwood and Mattie Long for their work.

Open Forum summary: Contributors initials (if known) and reply in (italics.)

DOM: Example of a laicised priest’s funeral – no guidelines and no bishop. All went ahead. (Tim: we find there is never a discussion because people don’t know about it.)

MD: I’m 84 and attended three such priests’ funerals. They were all miserable at the request of the bishops. I was asked for a celebret last year…

CM: Thanks to ACP for all the work. On retirement, if people are not allowed to retire it is institutional abuse.

?: See “Mutual Relations” document from Rome. Suggest that ACP meets CORI (now AMRI) rather than bishops all the time.

POR: No right to retire in Canon Law. At 75 you submit your resignation. In Dublin they have followed the 75 year rule, but difficult to retire if younger than this. Reality is there is a lack of clarity on the issue. (With tongue placed firmly in cheek – Is there an ACP policy on exorcisms? Gerry: Atheist Ireland wanted to know if the ACP is joining the exorcism ‘crack squad’! NO POLICY!)

DD:Bishop removed some of retirement salary. We paid in 2.5% of salary. Threatened with penury. On funerals – if I died I’d be buried in a remote cemetery and my headstone would be facing the other way. Yet an archbishop died and received the full burial rites – two rules. I was the meat in the sandwich between the church and state – two allegations, both untrue – cost me my reputation.

KW: put all these protocols presentations on the ACP website.(Tim: We had limited info but please pass on info you have on funerals and retirement.)

PC: Has ACP a policy on worship in the community when there is no priest? (Gerry: It came up during a Regional meeting and was noted there were lay led liturgies on one side of the River Shannon but not on the other!) (Mattie: The service in my parish is led by two lay people and five TY students. This lay led liturgy is based on a publication by the Irish Bishops from the 1970s!)

SMD: Retirement – 5 students in Maynooth, something is wrong. People being brought in from Africa, India, etc., but are there structures of support for these priests? A major issue – ACP needs to look at this for next year. (Gerry: aware of one course available in Kimmage.)

PMC: Re Mt Merrion incident involving Josepha Madigan – she had a high profile in Repeal the 8th– the situation was politicised into an ‘ordination of women’ story.

SM: Re draft letter to bishops – concern over reference ‘going a different way’ – what is this way? We have to work with bishops. (Gerry: Will revert to this topic after the ‘business end’ of the meeting.)



Gerry: two meetings per annum; appealing for new members; current members arePat Donnellan, Bobby Gilmore, Séamus Ahearne, Seán McNulty, Bernard Cotter, Seán McDonagh, Dermot Lane, Denis Crosby, Kevin Hegarty, John Hassett, Brendan Hoban, Gerry O’Connor, Tim Hazelwood, Tony Flannery, Roy Donovan, John Collins, Martin Long, Gerry O’Hanlon.



          Full details presented to meeting, ratified.



Gerry: appeal to people to sign up by standing order and pass on a leaflet to someone who might be willing to support the ACP.

  • The ACP is a lean and modest organisation;
  • The ACP has a deep empathy for the wellbeing of priests;
  • The ACP is an advocate for the needs of priests;
  • The ACP is an advocate for the full potential of priests in Ireland;
  • The ACP is constructively trying to forge a future for the Irish Church;
  • Annual Subscription of €30;
  • Make a once-off donation in accordance with your means;
  • Complete the Standing Order Form and give regularly;
  • Become a Patron and offer a €1000 per year in support of ACP Mission;
  • Ask Potential Supporters to make a Once-Off Donation;
  • Ask Potential Patrons to donate a €1,000 per year;



                  Gerry: well done to Mattie Long, Pat Rogers and Bernard Cotter for their work.



                  Gerry: 5 issued this year

  1. 2 Feb 2018 – ACP – Stop Sending Mixed Messages (WMOF)
  2. 6 Mar 2018 – Who made the changes to the WMOF promotional material?
  3. 4 May 2018 – ACP Statement on 8th Amendment
  4. 27 June 2018 ACP Regional Papal Meetings
  5. 15 Aug 2018 ACP Papal Survey



Leadership: Gerry O’Connor, Tim Hazelwood, Brendan Hoban, Roy Donovan (with Liamy Mac Nally as Admin Secretary.)

Gerry: Brendan Hoban stepping down, John Collins (Advisory) will step in from January. The Leadership will remain participative and Brendan Hoban will continue to ‘befriend’ us and be helpful. He is not going away!

Leadership met on 6 Dec 17; 15 Jan 18; 7 Feb 18; 21 Mar 18; 4 x Papal Meetings; North Regional Meeting; 12 Sept 18; 10 Oct 18.



Regional Meetings? Towards a Synod?

Gerry: Many people felt flat after the Pope’s visit. Dealing with the bishops has not been rewarding. I feel dismissed; they’re playing a game. (When we met them) we prepared; they had no preparations made. It’s a challenge. We have been persistent – a recognition that it is important – that working relationships need to be meaningful and we need to express our exasperation. The draft letter to the bishops can be strengthened. If the Synod idea does not gain traction then the ACP can start a conversation through Regional Meetings. So there is an open forum on the draft letter to the bishops, Synod, Regional Meetings. Speak now or contact us afterwards. (Update – three submissions were received on the draft letter to the bishops in the days following the AGM. Suggestions and proposals will be incorporated into the letter.)


PG: Déjà vu! I was on the ex National Conference of Priests – a most frustrating and useless exercise. It was exactly as you now describe, so reject the bishops’ offer and look for true engagement. They strangled the Conference of Priests and then did their damnedest to keep it alive so the ACP would not thrive.

TOK: Work towards a diocesan synod ahead of a national synod?

?: An open letter – I feel you’re using it as a last resort. To whom will it be addressed? It would be great to have it so that we can respond. The wording will be very important – as a genuine cry from the heart to seek co-operation.

PMC: Impression I got is that the draft letter came across in a negative way – it should have positive proposals that would demand a response.

SMD: In April some of us worked (Leave No Trace) to bring Laudato Si into the WMOF. We can compare the Phoenix Park with Electric Picnic where so much was left behind. We have 12 years to change re climate. This is the way we (church) will have to go.

?: Einstein said: ‘No problem can be resolved by the same level of consciousness that created it.’ Meeting Bishops has its place but we need to initiate new conversations. Regret that since the Council we, as religious orders, are subservient.

Gerry: We’ll bring the meeting to a close and thanks to everyone for their participation.



Dear Past, Thank you for all the lessons.
Dear Future, I’m ready now
Do the Next Thing                               Elisabeth Elliot


The Most Difficult Thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity;

What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do                                                                                            Ralph Waldo Emerson

Go For It…
The Future is promised
To No one.

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  1. Mary Vallely says:

    I would really just like to offer a few words of encouragement to the leadership and members of the ACP. If I were a priest I would take great comfort in knowing that such a body as the ACP was there acting in my best interests. It has been a revelation and sadness to me that there is such anxiety around the issue of retirement pensions and it adds to my anger towards the episcopal fraternity that they seem not to care. Indifference is more dangerous than anger. It can make a stone of the heart.
    I know that Archbishop Eamon Martin has been very supportive of his own priests in my own diocese of Armagh and I would like to think that he would work very hard to review this situation re priests and retirement pensions and effect change ASAP.
    Re the ACP’s meeting with the reps from the bishops it seems to me that you were simply dismissed as before. The Council of Priests or whatever they call themselves is not a proper vehicle for you to take your concerns to the bishops. Why can’t the bishops acknowledge the ACP and treat you with respect? So a few words of encouragement, men. Don’t lose heart. Keep up the struggle for justice and fair play and thank you for all you do to keep raising awareness of how far we have yet to travel along the road to realising the Nazarene’s vision. Don’t forget the dangers of too much navel gazing however and support the work of sister organisations such as the ACI and WAC.
    Remember the words Bishop Untener wrote:-
    “We plant a seed that will one day grow.
    We water seeds already planted,
    knowing that they hold future promise.
    We lay foundations
    that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces effects
    far beyond our capabilities…
    We are prophets of a future not our own.”
    As someone from the lowest stratum of the Church ( a mere woman) I can truly empathise with the frustration that comes across from reading this report. To be dismissed and treated so casually by the bishops should stir justifiable anger, anger that must be used to continue the struggle. Keep fuelling that anger and never allow yourselves to give up or give in even though you are exhausted and may feel isolated in your parish.
    I love this prayer of Teresa of Avila and say it for you. 😀
    ‘Let nothing disturb you,
    Let nothing frighten you,
    All things pass:
    God does not change.
    Patience obtains all things.
    He who has God
    Lacks nothing;
    God alone suffices.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    I would like to agree with everything Mary has said. If I were a priest I certainly would take great comfort and strength from having a body like ACP. I feel certain that the ACP will continue to grow. I was really shocked to learn of the issues surrounding retirement and pensions for priests and well done to Mattie for his excellent research and presentation.

    I was really struck by this sentence from PG:

    “They strangled the Conference of Priests and then did their damnedest to keep it alive so the ACP would not thrive.”

    If that really does sum up the attitude of the bishops to the ACP then it is absolutely shameful.

    Finally, I have to say that I was really pleased that Tony continues to be part of the Advisory Group

  3. Seamus Ahearne says:

    The AGM Report is an excellent summary of the work of the ACP. It is extraordinary that so few could do so much on our behalf (as priests; as church) and our heartfelt thanks is due to all concerned. Our founders – Brendan, Tony and Sean launched a miracle. Tim, Roy, Gerry, Brendan have continued to be miracle workers. Liamy has been brilliant at holding everything together. Mattie, Pat, Bernard keep us alive with the website.

    I felt at the AGM that we had aged since last year by much more than a year! The ancients predominated. Gerry did an excellent job as chairperson. How he managed to juggle everything and ensure that the whole Agenda was covered, is beyond me. I do think that too much was left for him to do. The speakers clearly spoke on issues that meant so much to everyone – Mattie and Tim. The reports all around were very much to the point.

    I had a major problem with the keynote speaker. John spoke brilliantly. His artistic painting of God was probably better than the God many of us share or know. But I felt his talk was totally out of place. It is a deeply important topic but not suitable for our AGM. The Church in Ireland; the Church after the papal visit; the Church our priests are struggling to work in and to shape a future, needed a very different focus. The short time together couldn’t afford that luxury. I know there is a very compelling other view.

    My other problem was with the proposed letter to the bishops. (I have written comments on that to the leadership.) I understand the frustration with the meetings. I understand that no-one has the time or energy to waste on such meetings. However, we can do something differently or better. Otherwise we feed into the distorted version presented by Mark Patrick last year. We are in this together. We aren’t competing against anyone. We are the Church – all of us together.

    I am out of step with many. I felt Mark Patrick was the wrong speaker last year. I felt John was the wrong speaker this year (That view predated the AGM). I feel it is utterly ridiculous that Michael D Higgins should be going forward for President; my view is anyone-but- Michael D. (Like Anyone but United). He did a great job but not another 7 years.

    I end as I began – it is humbling to get a glimpse of the huge work done on our behalf. We are very blessed in our Leadership Team. Thank you.
    Seamus Ahearne osa

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The bishops agreed on the need for vocations to the priesthood to be presented as a truly fulfilling and realistic option in today’s world, and on the need to strengthen families and worshipping communities to promote vocations.”


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