Bishops meet with Association of Catholic Priests
The bishops present were Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly (Cashel & Emly), Bishop Ray Browne (Kerry), Bishop Philip Boyce (Raphoe) and Bishop Denis Nulty (Kildare & Leighlin).
The ACP was represented by Tim Hazelwood (Cloyne), Brendan Hoban (Killala), Dermot Lane (Dublin), Sean McDonagh (Columban) and Gerry O’Connor (Redemptorist).
The meeting began with a joint prayer by Archbishop O’Reilly and Sean McDonagh.
The meeting was jointly chaired by Bishop Ray Browne and Gerry O’Connor.
The future of the Catholic Church in Ireland
Dermot Lane, on behalf of the ACP, made a submission about the critical situation facing the Catholic Church in Ireland.
He listed the many problems we faced; decline in practice, decline in vocations, etc. and suggested that people were asking “what’s the plan to deal with the crisis?”
The Church was at a cross-roads, he said, and we could get stuck at the cross-roads unless we decided to respond proactively. He suggested that as a Church we needed to initiate a process in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and in the spirit of Pope Francis who was a beacon of hope and possibility.
Whatever we decide to do, he argued, should include three strategies:
(i) to realistically ascertain what the present situation is by gathering precise data on the present situation, the resources available to us and what needed to be prioritised;
(ii) to train lay men and women for ministry;
(iii) to underline the importance of bishops, priests and people working together.
The proposal of the ACP is that a National Synod be organised that would move from discussion and consultation at parish level to diocesan level to national level. The ACP is ready and willing to further this proposal through ongoing engagement with the Bishops’ Councils for the Clergy, for Faith Renewal and Faith Development, and for Liturgy.
This proposal would put flesh on Pope Francis’s encouragement of a synodal Church, pursuing a synodal process. In other words the Church would become a listening Church, an inclusive Church, that through active participation and involvement could generate new energy, enthusiasm and hope.
The important point, Dermot Lane concluded, is that the process of engagement is central as it presents a model of Church where everyone works together.
A lively discussion followed on the present situation of the Irish Church, the forces militating against it and the possibilities for the future.
The ACP delegates asked that this proposal for a synod be presented to the Irish Bishops.
Well-being of priests
Brendan Hoban told the meeting that the ACP was becoming more and more aware of a growing problem around the well-being of priests.
Many priests were struggling as a result of huge mental and physical pressure from a variety of sources: age resulting in a decline of energy and enthusiasm; isolation; ever-increasing work-load; ever-increasing demands of ministry; low morale; despair as vocations decline so massively; little free time; ill-health; and a lack of confidence in dealing with difficult emerging social issues in parish work.
At present many diocesan priests, unlike in the past, lived unhappily alone without the support-systems they needed in their declining years.
Younger priests were distressed by the reality they faced: increasing work-loads; few vocations; wondering whether or why they would stay with priesthood; the difficulty of saying Mass when so few of their peers attend; and the difficulty some experienced of even attending meetings with older priests with whom they had little in common.
A discussion followed on how difficult a challenge the ‘care of priests’ is, how difficult bishops find it, and what might be done.
There was a general perception that many were struggling, that some were at risk and that often appearances can be deceptive as priests who were unhappy often kept themselves under the radar.
The discussion turned towards the stress engendered by a fear of false allegations of sexual abuse. It was clear that many cases were badly handled, that many priests had lost faith in the goodwill of their bishops, that supports demanded by canon law were not always made available to priests, that some priests were very badly treated and had suffered much. Several instances were quoted. One case, which left much to be desired, was described in detail.
It was pointed out that many priests believe that their bishops would not be supportive of them if an allegation was brought against them. The ACP made the point that effective protocols were one thing but how they were implemented was another and that sometimes, even in neighbouring dioceses, there was a huge variety of practice.
The bishops pointed out that many of the problems were associated with the early years when bishops had very little advice available to them but that new protocols were expected which should improve the overall situation.
Seán McDonagh suggested that the case of Ireland’s ‘silenced’ priests needed to be dealt with.
Pope Francis had recently said that every problem didn’t need the magisterium of the Church to deal with it. The present process, where an ethos of secrecy dictated that an accused individual wasn’t dealt with directly, didn’t know who his accusers were and didn’t even know when a process was initiated, made him feel ashamed of his Church. He instanced one case that appeared recently on the ACP web-site.
On behalf of the ACP he asked the bishops to take up a position on the priests who had been silenced and to develop a more just and respectful process for dealing with such cases as they arose. The men involved had given life-times of service to the Church, were deeply respected and their continued treatment was regarded as a source of great scandal by many Catholics in Ireland.
Seán McDonagh said the encyclical Laudato Si was a great gift for the Church and that the promise and possibilities emanating from such an impressive and historic document needed to be taken seriously.
Young people were fascinated with it and it could be an effective evangelical influence in raising questions of faith for them. The wisdom of the document needed to percolate down to parish level. We needed, as Pope Francis said, ’to be attentive to the reality of creation’.
There was a long discussion on how to translate Pope Francis’ concern for the poor to direct action at parish level, the role of the St Vincent de Paul and the need to focus attention on this gospel reality.
On a completely different topic, the Catholic Herald says the Pope is coming to see you in 2018….which should raise your spirits!
I am glad that this meeting took place; the ACP team was strong, and the issues they raised are real and urgent.
I suspect that, privately, many of the bishops would agree with them. But in terms of action, the best they could get from the bishops’ delegation was that they would bring the issues back to the Bishops Conference. And this is where the real problem for the Irish Church lies. It is not particularly the fault of any individual bishop. The structure/system under which they work is dysfunctional. The Conference only meets twice a year, which makes it impossible for them to respond quickly to the type of emerging situations that arise in the modern world.
The ACP delegation emphasised the depth of the crisis facing the Church, and the need for a widespread structure of discussion and dialogue to be put in place urgently. But it could well be six months, or more, before the Bishops Conference even discuss the results of yesterday’s meeting. And they seem to find it very difficult to make decisions, and probably impossible to agree to the type of radical decisions that are needed now.
It could well be up to a year before the ACP gets any response, and that sort of procrastination is a luxury the Church in Ireland cannot afford. I fear that when the response comes it will be a bland letter, thanking the ACP for their views, and assuring them that these matter will be kept under consideration.
I hope and pray that, in the spirit of Pope Francis, there will be a surprise.
I would like to thank the ACP team for an excellent presentation of a growing crisis situation- the emerging and growing burden on our priests is unfair and unjust- the priests need to speak their truth openly and honestly and the bishops need to prioritise full care for their priests. The lay people who are free of the clerical prison need to speak their truth and suggestions to the Roman control group as soon as possible- we need the Good News of Jesus Christ to be available to our sons and daughters in language,concepts and structures that make sense today. Tony Flannery at 2- you have it spot on. !!!Peace sisters and brothers.!!!
According to the Calendar on the Irish Bishops Conference website their next general meeting is on 6,7,8 June 2016.
“the need for a widespread structure of discussion and dialogue to be put in place urgently.” And it would bring much joy and confdence to the Irish church.
The event was surely of The Spirit.
Points raised were significant and must be heard. We can act together as this is a chance if we read the writing.
It is little wonder that the Irish institutional church is in a state of stagnation. The Bishops’ Conference has to be regarded as the board whose function it is to give leadership. No organisation can operate efficiently if its board only meets every six months. It is noted that when they meet every six months, the meetings are held over three days. This would appear to be a fallback to the days when a bishop had to travel by horse and trap to Maynooth, taking days to do so.
It seems to me the Bishops Conference needs urgently to change this approach and in the future meet on a monthly basis for one day or even a half day only. This would be much more appropriate in today’s world and with the crisis situation in which the Irish church finds itself.
Many thanks for the note of the meeting and for raising such relevant topics. The ACP is well served by its leadership and representatives. There was very little mention of a response by the Bishops. As has been mentioned by other contributors, given the frequency of the meetings of the Episcopal Conference, one doesn’t expect any urgent response, if indeed the Bishops do respond.
May I suggest that the leadership of the ACP and the ACI commence meeting on a regular basis with a view to sharing perspectives and developing joint proposals. (Perhaps this happens but, if so, I was not aware).
#7 Re.the Conference of Irish Bishops:
“No organisation can operate efficiently if its board only meets every six months.”
Spring General Meeting: Mar 7-9; 2016
Summer GM : June 6-9; 2016
Autumn GM : Oct 4,5; 2016
Winter GM : Dec 6,7; 2016
If these meetings were not so secretive, dull, pro forma, unpicketed and lacking in mixed martial arts we might be more aware of their quarterly occurrence.
We need a ‘freedom of information’ right also, enshrined in Canon Law – to know the truly riveting decisions that are never minuted!
Sean@9, I think “mixed marital arts” might be more their thing.
More seriously, one of their own number with at least 20 years experience in post, Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore, promised his diocese before the Summer 2015 General Meeting to bring his people’s expressed views on (a) the ordination of ‘viri probati’ and (b) the appointment of Women Deacons to the agenda of the Bishops’ Conference. June 6-9 2016 will be the 5th Quarterly Meeting of the Conference since Leo made that public promise. I haven’t the slightest doubt that Leo did his sincere best to fulfil that promise to bring his people’s very modest proposals to the Conference. Check out the agenda items and Closing Statements of the past four quarterly meetings – all on the Conference website. Re viri probati, mulieres probatae, women deacons, or even just women – zilch; nada; nihil; niente; faic; feck all!
A delegation of Kilmore Catholics should nail a(n) FOI demand to the front door of Maynooth’s Columba Centre on the morning of Monday 6 June. Then give them 4 months to prepare an answer. If none, a picket of Kilmore men and women should advance on the Columba Centre on Tuesday 4 October. If answer comes there none even then, time to call on all other dioceses to send reinforcements on December 6-7 to take over the Centre and lock them out of all College Refectories and Comfort Stations.
My guess is that the Bishops’ Conference has a backlog of unanswered petitions and modest proposals stretching back to 1829, or even 1795. We do not seem to be so explosive or rebellious a people as we are sometimes reputed to be. It may be that not only will 76-year old Bishop Boyce be retired to Downings, but young Bishop Nulty may have returned from Carlow to the Hill of Slane in 2039 before the ACP delegation has its response. I’ll be 96 then, so please don’t call me too early with the news.
Actually Eddie, that is an excellent point and it appears to be a sound strategy. They only get away with what is allowed, I guess – just like everything else in the world. Is everyone where they should be philosophically at this stage? There is no doubt. If there is anywhere I could imagine that acuity meets action, it’s Ireland. Francis couldn’t have set the stage any better. People are starting to come around to the idea that bishops serve the baptised public and the sooner they are put in that position, the better for everyone involved – especially those assembled in groups calling for change and looking for answers to important questions.
If the other associations could act in a like-wise fashion and immediately let it be known, that would be of benefit. Pope Francis wants dialogue and it is natural to demand answers and expect accountability. Put the pressure on.
Oh, @ 10 and to take the pressure off the associations, this should be labelled as a lay initiative that the associations are paying forward. That way it doesn’t create an impediment that doesn’t need to be there. You need to start seeing the Associations as active servants of this process also.
Eddie Finnegan@10. More soberly in the clear light of day, and in fairness to Bishop Leo’s commitment and the workings of the ICBC, I should have quoted from Kilmore’s Diocesan Pastoral Plan’s ‘Diocesan Structures in Light of Declining Priest Numbers’ #5:
“The Bishop of Kilmore will liaise with the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference to explore the establishment of a commission akin to the one in Brazil under the leadership of Bishop Erwin Krautler and Cardinal Claudio Hummes to study the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood as well as appointing women deacons. This is a direct response to Pope Francis’s words to Bishop Krautler that ‘ the bishops, the regional bishops’ conferences, should make brave, courageous suggestions ‘.”
Or in the Plan’s Section Summary: “At national level, the bishop will work with the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference to explore ways of bravely and courageously tackling the issue of declining priest numbers.”
I’m all for nouns like “commission”, verbs like “establish”, “study” or “explore” and adverbs like “bravely” and “courageously”. But like Francis’s response to the leaders of women’s religious orders in Rome the other week, the ‘sub specie aeternitatis’ approach to crisis management can be translated as “kick it into the long grass and we’ll pray for vocations.”
It would have been nice to hear that the Kilmore initiative had been at least chatted about in the cloisters or on the way to or from lunch, at even one of the four quarterly meetings in the past year. Coraggio, Leo! It’s what your name implies.
Women deacons : And men deacons also I would think!