Association of Catholic Priests : Report of Annual General Meeting, 01 October, 2014

The Annual General Meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests was held in the Hodson Bay, Hotel, Athlone on Wednesday, October 1 on the theme: The Vocations Crisis: will clustering work?
At the beginning of the meeting Sean McDonagh led the group in prayer calling on the Holy Spirit to guide our deliberations. He then welcomed the participants to the meeting. Sean handed over the chair to John Hughes, an Augustinian and parish priest in Galway.
The consensus was that ‘Clustering’, effectively amalgamating a number of parishes to be served by an ever-diminishing number of priests, is little more than a short-term managerial strategy to cope with (or to pretend we’re coping with) the decline in priest numbers.
The consensus of the meeting was that ‘Clustering’ is not a vocations strategy. It merely provides the perception that something is happening while it is clear to everyone that it’s a form of ‘moving the deckchairs’ to reassure the passengers in the short-term.
The consensus of the meeting was that Clustering is not working and will not work. The AGM rejected the Clustering ‘solution’, one delegate urging members to simply say ‘No’ to clustering at local level.
Four short presentations were made, reflecting on realistic options towards helping to moderate the vocations crisis.
• Denis Crosby, PP, Liscannor, argued for the ‘viri probati’ option, the ordination of married men steeped in the faith and of proven worth and character, whose formation could be fast-tracked. Hundreds are available in the parishes of Ireland. He compared present efforts to encourage vocations to a fisherman, equipped with all the appropriate gear and an immaculate casting style, who insisted on fishing in a pool with no fish, while salmon were jumping around upstream. Denis pointed out that this what Paul did in Corinth where he chose people for particular
ministries in order to build up the Body of Christ
• Liamy McNally, a married priest no longer in active ministry, instanced a neighbouring parish where six ‘former’ priests (now married) lived and where the only one allowed to minister was the local Anglican rector. The presence of hundreds of ‘former’ priests in Irish parishes was a ready-made part-solution to the present impasse. He pointed out how rural Ireland was being neglected by both the State and the Catholic Church. The state has removed Garda Barracks and Post Offices. Now the Church is abandoning rural Churches because of the lack of priests. He feels that married priests would bring particular gifts to the Christian community
• Brendan Hoban traced the history of celibacy and the Irish priesthood. While celibacy became mandatory for priesthood in the twelfth century, it was little more than an aspiration for centuries. He instanced the visit of papal commissary, David Wolfe, SJ, to the Irish Church in 1561, whose ministry was rejected by some Irish bishops because of his insistence that the bishops should part with their concubines, then an Irish solution to the celibacy problem.
• Gerry O’Hanlon provided a theological perspective. Celibacy was not of the essence of priesthood and the church-made regulation could and is being overturned. This was clear in the presence of married Catholic in the Uniate Churches of the East and more recently in the exception made for Church of England clergy joining the Catholic Church.
Gerry gave an example different ways of exercising ministry in the Church. Some weeks ago he attended Mass where the priest played the role of the conductor of the orchestra. Most of the liturgy was performed by lay people. There was even a shared homily. At another liturgy in another Church, the priest dominated all the roles. Gerry made the point that baptism is the primary sacrament which is shared by all believers – male and female.
From the point of view of governance of the Church, it is much better if clarity and new options are arrived at by discussion and dialogue, rather than having decisions forced on the Church unilaterally. This is what happened with the translation of the Roman liturgy. Another example was the document from Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, restricting ordination to males. Many people, especially women, find the arguments flimsy and unconvincing and the ban on even discussing the issue would seem to indicate that those who argued for a male only priesthood are not very convinced themselves. The example of the Killaloe women challenging the reintroduction of a male only diaconate was widely quoted and supported by the assembly.
The present model of priesthood is not working. Ultimately we need to re-imagine a new form of ministry which will build up the community of the faithful and involve many people in different ministries. The community of believers must be at the centre of this new theology of priesthood.
After the speakers had finished there was a lively discussion for about 45 minutes on various aspects of priesthood in Ireland today. Dermot Lane spoke about the need to discern where the Spirit is moving in the Church and World of our day.
There was a lot of dissatisfaction about how bishops had been chosen in recent times. A diocese could discern about what qualities were necessary for the office to find that Rome and Nuncio had decided to parachute someone from outside the diocese and appoint them bishop.
The AGM was remarkable for three things.
One, the level of agreement reached on a number of key issues: the pointlessness of ‘clustering’; the need not just to deal with the vocations issue but to re-imagine priesthood and ministry, and particularly to critique the clerical model; and the promise and effectiveness of the prophetic action of the Killaloe women in objecting to a male-only permanent diaconate’.
Two, the ever-increasing level of frustration: at the Irish bishops’ refusal to develop collaborative governance in the Irish Church, even though they continue to speak positively about it; at their refusal to listen to the needs of the people at parish level; at the self-inflicted wound on the Irish Church of the present policy of parachuting bishops from far-away dioceses; and, not least, at the present hands-off policy of church authorities towards the legitimately and conscientiously held views of the ACP.
Three, our need to continue to recommit ourselves to the platform we outlined five years ago: in continuing to campaign for what is now the vision of Pope Francis; in continuing to knock on doors even though there’s no welcome for us at present; in continuing to hold up to the light solutions that are either inadequate to present need or a camouflage for inactivity; and, not least, in our belief that God’s Spirit is with us at this critical moment in the history of the Irish Catholic Church.
Seamus Ahearne reported to the meeting on the year’s activities.
Gerry O’Connor reported on financial and business matters.
The meeting was chaired by John Hughes and Sean McDonagh.

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  1. Brendan Cafferty says:

    I think that in time the formation of the ACP will be seen to have been prophetic and brave.And this was done at a time when it was not popular to do so given the prevailing attitudes at the time,and the announcement of Visitation here -which instead of facing up to facts was in effect of little benefit apart from putting some sort of order on “dissident” priests.
    How things do change in the most unexpected way, we had the arrival of Pope Francis and all that flows from his pontificate. While the jury may still be out on that,all the signs are good.
    As regards clustering and band aid solutions, I have admiration for those priests who are for the most part getting older and having to work much harder than when they were young.The ACP has been to the fore in offering solutions which might work- like inviting back those priests who left to get married if they so want, ordaining married men, greater role for women and so on. It is a pity that our Nuncio and Bishops do not admit the ACP are on the right track and revise their attitude to it, that is the future and way forward.

  2. Hi,
    I find your comentaries very brave and interesting. The problem it is not only in Irish Church. I am spanish, and here it is the same difficulties.
    Are you a big group of people? Are you well represented into the Irish Catholic Church? In Spain similar groups are not very popular between the priests (even if they agree privately).
    Sorry for my bad English.
    God bless you.

  3. Association of Catholic Priests says:

    Letter from Brendan Madden
    I am a former and now current member of the ACP after the meeting in Athlone on Wednesday (1st October) I had left it as I felt that as an organisation, it was in danger of slipping into areas that while interesting and most of which I’d agree with, were not relevant to life in a parish. And so when I saw the topic of Clustering, I was delighted that at last here was a topic we could have a discussion over that would be relevant and might serve as a useful catalyst to get something done. As a priest of the Dublin diocese for 27 years, this Clustering is being imposed on us without dialogue (amazingly the Vicar for priests was a prime mover in this!)
    I had the 10 mass (on Wednesday 1st October) and a meeting with a bereaved family to arrange their mother’s funeral next day – they facilitated my going to Athlone by coming so early – as I had a PPC meeting that evening. I drove across to Athlone and got there about 2.10 to hear the end of humorous and whimsical talk from Liamy (I know him well from my Clonliffe and Maynooth days); the other talks were interesting and informative and managed perfectly with their timing, I was looking forward to the discussion.
    But the discussion wasn’t about Clustering – lovely and wise and holy men – many retired, many from Religious Orders for whom Clustering isn’t an issue (after all the only PP’s the Dublin AB has appointed has been religious order run parishes) and Clustering hasn’t been imposed on them. Only Bernard Cotter came up with a pithy sentence with which I wholeheartedly agreed with (Just say NO) – then the conversation was allowed to wander.
    Joel 2:28 came to mind – old men with dreams and no young men present to see a vision.
    I think myself and Martin Gilcrest were probably the youngest there at 52 I hope my poor eyesight was wrong!
    I was quite annoyed that I had re-arranged meetings and raced to Athlone under false pretences – and so declined the coffee and headed for home so I could get some lunch before an evening of meetings and funeral preparation.
    I did re-enlist with the ACP at the door – and I’m not looking for my money back! I appreciate what you are trying to do – but still feel that a concentration on the daily life and treatment of priests would be a better use of the group’s talents. As a former military chaplain I know the value of a representative organisation even in a hierarchical scenario – with RACO having huge clout among the general staff – mainly because they stick to what is within their remit and have almost universal membership because of that.
    Anyway on this lovely Sunday morning, after a walk with my two girls – I’m about to head over to celebrate Eucharist with the good people of Ballyroan – they know I’m on my own and have had to make some sacrifices over the years in their expectations as I scale down some of the Sacramental aspects of their parish life – but we are building a new parish with new parishioners coming in all the time and along with a pastoral worker(not a diocesan one) and a great team; we are managing – and things are good.
    I hope you don’t read this letter and think ‘crank’ or say to yourself “he’s very negative.” I write it simply to let you know my feelings re Wednesday’s meeting (AGM) and don’t mean malice or offence.
    Best wishes and Praise God !
    Brendan Madden (Ballyroan Parish, Dublin).

  4. Adrian Egan says:

    Bernard Madden’s(No 3)poor eyesight did let him down; there were a few present, including myself, younger than 52yrs! Not sure he heard what was said too good either 🙂

  5. Des Gilroy says:

    I note in this weeks The Phoenix an article headed “Diarmuid Martin’s Roman Holiday” which appears to be based on reliable episcopal sources.
    Inter alia the report states that “Eamonn Martin is also mandated to discuss with the turbulent Association of Catholic Priests the seemingly insoluble manpower problem of making a celibate male priesthood an attractive vocation for young men”.
    If this report is accurate and the Irish Episcopal Conference is now officially recognising and going to talk to the ACP, it is at last a step in the right direction and congratulations is due to the leadership which has shown such commitment and dedication to getting recognition.

  6. jim mc hugh says:

    From The Tablet blog
    Dear bishops, remember that family is messy
    10 October 2014 by Diana Russell
    “Home is a holy place,” I have been told. I used to imagine that God resided in a place of peace, beautiful music, respect, tidiness, flawlessness.
    To the bishops meeting in Rome to discuss the challenges facing the family, I’d say my vision of the “flawless” home was distant from my reality: when I open the front door after collecting one child from school, I trip over the rucksack dropped by another, am greeted by headache-inducing music from yet another and realise I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer and there is nothing for tea. The skies have opened, we are wet and cold and all the washing on the line has been soaked once again. But this is a fairly normal day, so we peel off the wet clothes, make a cup of tea and are grateful that there is a roof over our heads and food in the cupboard.
    Where is God in the untidiness, the noise, the general imperfection of family life? If home is a holy place, was God there when my teenager slammed out of the house saying it was the last place he wanted to be? When my tired husband returned home after 12 hours out at work to noisy children and a wife who was equally tired and barely civil? When my mother-in-law, in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, called out through the night and our patience snapped?
    I have realised that a “holy home” does not mean everything in its place, no dust, food always on the table at the right time, clothes ironed, order, tidiness. This is an illusion: God can be very absent from the super-respectable, the gleaming surfaces, the pristine clothes.
    I am reminded of God’s presence by the stains on the carpet made when we had dinner around the fire and the children dropped half of theirs. In the grime on the paintwork where small, dirty hands have touched in passing. In the line around the edge of the bath that means someone has enjoyed a long, hot soak at the end of a hard day. In the uncomfortable sofa that has held so many tired bodies. In the chipped plates that remind me of so many meals shared. Thinking of these things and so much more, I thank God for his presence in my family.
    God is in our reality, not in our dreams. He delights in the mess. He rejoices in the successes, but is still present in the failures. He is the one, constant factor.
    So, dear bishops and others, in your discussions, please deal with reality and not with an ideal. Give us the hope and affirmation we need as we struggle with the demands of everyday life. Remind us that marriage and the bringing up of a family is a vocation. Help us to believe that, as St John Paul II wrote, “The lay faithful’s duty to society primarily begins in marriage and in the family. This duty can only be fulfilled adequately with the conviction of the unique and irreplaceable value that the family has in the development of society and the Church itself.” (Christifideles Laici #40).
    Diana Russell is married and studied for degrees in theology while bringing up her four children, who are now adult

  7. Brian Eyre says:

    Thank you Diana for describing the joys and the struggles of everyday life in an ordinary family. I can understand what you have said about the “flawless home”, which in reality does not exist. I can empathize with what you had to say about bringing up children as I have been there too.
    I spent 18 years as a celibate priest, I have been married now for the past 31 years, we have a girl and a boy. The girl is 30, married, and the boy is 27.I would not want to change these last 31 years for anything as they have helped me to understand what real life is about and how we can find God in the ups and downs of family life.
    I do hope that our men in Rome, the Bishops, will listen during the Synod to people like you and your experience of married life and give us a message that really speaks to couples and families in the church in the modern world.

  8. Seamus Ahearne osa says:

    Brendan @3 has a point. It is so true. Clustering is the latest idea and sometimes it appears to be the only idea around to ‘manage decline.’ Many priests scream at the very mention of the word and are totally opposed to it. Very few come up with any alternative. The ACP has put it on the Agenda several times. It always gets sidestepped. Why? I don’t know.
    1. In an ‘ideal world’ Clustering is right. It simply asks that parishes work together; that priests work together; that parishioners and priests work together. It is all so obvious (and all so difficult for many). It calls us to live and work ‘in Communion.’ It believes in Team work. It believes in Community. It believes in Mission.
    2. But our world isn’t ideal. We haven’t the energy to ‘waste time’ on more meetings. We are committed to our own Local Community. We are more used to the ‘one man’ (yes! ) Show where the PP is infallible. If team-ministry worked on the ground in the parishes; then maybe we could begin to work out the model of clustering. If PPCs weren’t so caught up in being consultative; it is possible something could be worked out. If Bishops became more committed to working out a Collaborative version; then the Model may seep into the bones of the Diocese. Many bishops still operate out of a version where the Bishop is Boss (and the creeping infallibility takes over) and is the one who is anointed Leader. How many bishops actually talk and listen to the people who work out in the parishes?
    3. Other Dioceses do something different. Many amalgamate parishes. That is also very difficult and cumbersome but there is a sense of responsibility in it. It has to work. As I have said; this is a version born out of second best but it may be the only way.
    4. It is interesting these days how often we praise Pope Francis and we talk of Collegiality and the Synodal process of doing things. Sometimes (when things don’t quite go our way such as with the earlier paper of the Synod) we almost want Francis to be the decision maker (autocratically). We forget process and the need to pay attention (and listen) to the views of other people. Francis’ words in the lead up to the Synod and at the end were sharp and very provocative. We can’t praise Francis if we are unwilling to try out his challenge in our own communities.
    5. I was also thinking of the criteria for Bishops (I presume they remain the same. They are quite ridiculous). The ‘confidential’ document sent out to assess the suitability of candidates for bishops is shocking. I remember writing one time – that so-and-so fulfils all the criteria and therefore is totally unsuitable to be a bishop in these times. He is not what is now needed. And it will kill him and destroy the church around him. And yet somehow we are asking many of our bishops who came through that process to be the leaders of change in attitude and atmosphere. Many were ‘made’ for other times and different days. They are heroic. All such Leaders are consumed with the daily problems and are overwhelmed. We will need a new generation of bishops who come through a different process (if any are now available and would be trusted!!)
    We had one miracle with the election of Pope Francis; we can’t expect another miracle with the Synod. It will take time. We must be patient. Seamus Ahearne osa

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