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Church faces ‘huge wake up call’

Farming Poll 2016: Church faces ‘huge wake up call’
 By Noel Baker
Senior Reporter
58% want women ordained and favour married priests
There is widespread backing for Catholic priests to be allowed to marry and for allowing women to be ordained as priests, even among older people, according to an Irish Examiner opinion poll.
Asked whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, 82% of respondents agreed, including 63% who strongly agreed. There was a similar level of support for women priests — 58% strongly agreed.
Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests said the findings should act as a “huge wake-up call” to the Church hierarchy in Ireland.
Of the respondents, 69% said they attended Mass every week, while 53% said religious services had been cut in their area. Just 7% of respondents said they did not believe priests should be allowed to marry, and the results of the poll shows that support for the change is stronger among older people.
The poll was conducted at seven agricultural shows around the country and high levels of support for priests being allowed to marry were registered everywhere bar Bantry, an outlier with just 44% support. Respondents in the town were also most likely to report that religious services had been cut in the area, with 80% of respondents there stating that was the case.
The number of people in the poll who said they attended mass each week rose 7% compared with the corresponding figure in last year’s poll, which also reflected the ageing profile of Mass-goers.
While 45% of those aged 34 and under said they went to Mass each week, more than 80% of those aged over 55 went each week.
Fr. McDonagh said that research conducted on behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests four years ago had also indicated strong support for women priests and priests being allowed to marry, and that this latest poll was “a huge wake-up call” for the Church hierarchy here.
“The most interesting thing is here are lay people and people of faith seeing that the present rules are not functioning and want to see a change to allow it to function better,” he said.
“The vast majority of priests are over 64 years of age. How do we minister to teenage boys and girls?”
He said that, in past decades the younger age profile of priests meant they were more directly engaged in parish activities — a situation which had now changed.
“The ministerial demographics reflected the demographics of society — that has completely gone,” said Fr McDonagh.
Recent bishop appointments had not promoted real dialogue on issues such as priests being allowed to marry or women priests, highlighting the difference in views on those issues between the public and hierarchy, he said, adding: “There is a fundamental breakdown between leadership people and their values and where the people are at the moment. This [poll] reflects that.”
He said recent Church initiatives such as the clustering of parishes was not working given the age profile of priests, many of whom were now “overburdened” with duties and responsibilities.
“The clock has been ticking on it for the last 10 years,” said Fr McDonagh. “Unless you set up the institution before it collapses, it will not survive.”
However, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, has said letting serving priests marry or allowing women priests would not be following the Catholic tradition.
Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, he said he did not see how that could be the next step for the Catholic Church.
“The Catholic Church, however, has always had a special role of tradition in terms of the way in which we believe, as Catholics, the Holy Spirit guides the Church,” he said.
“That [women priests] is something that is completely not present in our tradition, in our past, is very difficult to justify.”
Papal Nuncio: Women priests ‘not in Catholic tradition’
The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, has said
An Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll shows the majority of farming families are in favour of women priests and priests being allowed to marry.
The Association of Catholic Priests has also backed both ideas.
Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, Archbishop Brown said he did not see how that could be the next step for the Catholic Church.
He paid tribute to serving ministers in other Christian faiths, who he said were doing “a very, very good job with tremendous dedication and tremendous expertise”.
“The Catholic Church, however, has always had a special role of tradition in terms of the way in which we believe, as Catholics, the Holy Spirit guides the Church,” he said.
“That [women priests] is something that is completely not present in our tradition, in our past, is very difficult to justify, and for us to understand how the Holy Spirit could ask the Church to do something that is completely opposite of what it was in the past.
“There is always a very strong tradition in the Catholic Church of consistency so I, myself, don’t see, myself personally, how the Catholic Church could arrive at a place where the Catholic Church were ordaining women into the priesthood and the episcopal.
“It’s the tradition: We believe that God speaks to us through scripture, through the Bible but also through the way that Catholics have always lived. Personally I don’t see how that could be the next step for the Catholic Church.”
Regarding married priests, Archbishop Brown said there were many priests who were married, having been married before being ordained. “It is always a possibility. It’s a little unusual in Ireland today that there aren’t any married Catholic priests,” he said.
As for serving priests being allowed to marry, he said given the traditional, unbroken, and constant teaching of the Church, it would not be in favour of that solution.
“A celibate priest, unlike a married priest, can give himself to the Church, to the people of God, to his priestly vocation in a way that a married priest cannot.”
Archbishop Brown said there was something “beautiful, valuable, and fruitful” about a priest who lives with celibacy “in a true, sacrificial way”.
He said: “In the Catholic Church it has always been the case that while married men are sometimes ordained into the priesthood, priests are never allowed to marry, so even the married Catholic priests that we have today — God forbid if their wife went to heaven or goes to God — if his wife dies, he is not allowed to marry again.”
ANALYSIS: Widespread support to allow priests to get married
There is widespread support for allowing women become priests and for priests to have the option to marry, according to the results of the Irish Examiner / ICMSA opinion poll.
One notable aspect was the higher level of support among older people, while younger people appeared to take a more conservative view.
While 74% of those aged 34 and under backed the idea of priests being allowed to marry, that was still the age category with the lowest level of support.
Older farm families have no issue with priests marrying, with 80% of those aged over 65 and 85% of those aged 55 to 64 in favour.
The age group with the highest level of support for the idea are those aged between 35 and 44, at 86%.
Men were slightly more in favour of allowing priests to marry than women — 83% support versus 81%.
More than 90% of tillage farmers supported priests being allowed to marry, higher than in any other agricultural sector.
As for the Catholic Church allowing women to minister, it was a similar pattern: 70% of those aged 34 and under supported such a move, but a higher percentage of older farmers backed the idea of women priests, from 75% of those aged over 65, to 87% of those aged 55 to 64. While 82% of men supported the idea of women priests, 76% of women were in favour.
Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests, which has been a vocal supporter of both allowing priests to marry and of women priests, said the results showed that the public was ready for changes within the Catholic Church.
The ACP’s views on these and other issues have come under intense scrutiny from Church authorities and Fr McDonagh confirmed that sanctions handed down to founder Fr Tony Flannery by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome were still in place.
ANALYSIS: Opinion poll shows half attend Mass every week
Half of all respondents in the Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll attend Mass every week.
The poll results show a higher percentage of people claim to regularly attend religious services compared with a year ago.
However, the ageing profile of many of those attending Mass is evident in figures, which show those over 55 years of age are almost twice as likely to regularly attend Mass as those aged under 35.
While 45% of under 35s and 48% of those aged 35 to 44 say they go to Mass each week, 84% of those aged 55 to 64 say they attend Mass regularly, and 82% of those aged 65 say that they go every week.
There is little difference between the percentage of men and women who claim to attend Mass each week, while those families without an off-farm income are marginally more likely to say they attend Mass each week compared with those who have an off-farm job.
However, half of all those questioned said there had been cuts to the number of religious services in their area, with older people again more likely to state this was the case.
The poll shows 53% of respondents said that services had been cut in their area, versus 31% who said this was not the case in their locality. Men were more likely than women to report that services had been reduced.
As for the age profile, those over the age of 45 were more likely to state that services had been cut in their area than those under 45.
The ‘clustering’ of parishes to address the falling number of priests in service has already been criticised by some, who argue that it deprives some parishes of a resident clergy and can mean a reduced programme of weekly masses.
The Association of Catholic Priests has said clustering also places too much of a workload on priests to cover duties across broader geographical areas.

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  1. Tony Flannery says:

    The answers to the two questions on religion in the poll conducted among Irish farmers, and published in the Irish Examiner, are really interesting. 82% are in favour of priests being allowed to marry, and, even more surprisingly, 58% are in favour of women being ordained as priests, with 52% strongly in favour.
    And to put this in context, of those polled 69% are regular Mass attenders, meaning that they attend Mass every weekend. This must to close to three times the national average. So, what we are dealing with here are the traditional believers and supporters of the Church. The fact that their views are so dramatically at variance with those of Church authorities should be a matter of great concern for our bishops.
    I think of Bishop Crean of Cloyne, who this time last year banned me from speaking in the parish of Killeagh in his diocese, in case I would lead the people astray. Killeagh is quintessentially a rural, farming community. This poll has news for you, Bishop Crean. It would appear that the horse has already bolted; your people are thinking ‘heretical’ thoughts. And while you can silence me in your diocese, what can you now do to these people? Will you put on your mitre and go down to them and tell them not to be thinking those thoughts, but to believe and submit to what you tell them. I’m afraid in order to achieve that you would need to have got that mitre a couple of generations earlier. What you must do now is what Pope Francis keeps telling all bishops to do, listen to your people; and then take back to the Vatican what they are saying to you, and the changes they are calling for in our Church.
    I am sitting here in my family home, four years after I was forbidden to minister as a priest for saying and writing the things that the large majority of Irish people, even of Church going people, now believe. I was censured by the Vatican, but with the unanimous support, through their silence, of the Irish bishops. But you cannot silence the people. And unless you listen to them the gap between you and the people you are supposed to be serving, which is already wide as we can see from this and other polls, will grow even wider, and our churches will get emptier and emptier.
    Bishops, do you care at all for the future of our Church? Are you listening to Pope Francis? Why are you not bringing to Rome the views of the Irish Catholic people, as the pope suggested you should do? Do you not recognise that time is short if the faith is to survive in this country? Or are you just submitting in silence to the Papal Nuncio, whose response to this poll amounted to ‘these things were never done before, so we cannot do them now’? As if the Church has not changed in endless ways down through the centuries.
    Wake up, all of you. Sit down with the people, and listen, don’t preach. Then act on what you are hearing. Lead you people into the promised land, a land where the Church will once again be a vibrant witness of Gospel values, and a home for all, where all are welcome.
    Tony Flannery

  2. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Perhaps there is a fear among some, when the question of married priests is raised, that it would mean the end of celibacy.
    I see it rather that it would be an enrichment for us to have both married and celibate priests. For this, we would need much clearer thinking on the prophetic and symmbolic meaning of celibacy as well as of marriage.
    There is also the very practical matter that to have married priests would involve significant changes in diocesan organisation and finance, where the spouse and family of the priest are in the equation. Perhaps those who answered the questions in the survey may not have taken this aspect into consideration.

  3. Mary Vallely says:

    It’s as if the people are finally realising that they are no longer children and can think for themselves but, my goodness, it has taken a long, long time. AB Charles Brown’s response, ‘It is tradition, ‘ is ridiculously weak and isn’t even an argument. It reminds me of childhood in the ’50s when parents would tell a child that they were forbidden to do something “because I said so.” A weak and ineffective reason and we knew it but obeyed because we would have been beaten for disobeying. Thank God parents have grown up since then!
    I agree that celibacy is a gift but it is a gift not given to all and should not be mandatory. For those who can keep it and who intend to honour it from ordination onwards then it is indeed a gift which benefits the whole church. We know however that many men cannot and do not honour it so why can’t those in authority be honest enough to own up and admit it and do something about it? It is hypocrisy and lying and dishonesty that people abhor and which destroys trust. Tangled webs of deceit are difficult to escape from once caught in their trap.
    We are crying out for dialogue, for a forum both at diocesan and national level. There is nothing to lose but much to gain, at the very least restoring the trust and the goodwill of the people who want to share in the tasks to which all of us as baptised persons are entitled. It is impossible to make progress without dialogue and we will continue to lose good women and good men and cause further stress to an already overburdened and ageing clergy. Bishops will continue to be ignored and voices like Tony’s will continue to cry out in the wilderness if there is no genuine attempt to have a meeting of hearts and minds. The sad thing too is that most of the bishops are good and decent men who want to honour God and serve the people so I echo Tony’s plea to, for God’s it sake, listen to the people. We are ALL church. Treat us like adults and not children.
    By the way, what is the logic in not allowing a permanent deacon or married priest who has come from the Anglican Church and whose wife dies, from marrying again? I do not understand this rule. Can anyone explain it??

  4. Mary Vallely says:

    Couldn’t edit the above comment @ 3 as cyberspace swallowed it up before giving me a chance to see what I’d written. Of course any Anglican priest, having converted to Roman Catholicism and who is then widowed would have to abide by the rules of his new Church so is not permitted to marry again. Wouldn’t be fair on other priests, would it? I still don’t get it though. Why do Permanent Deacons HAVE to be married and if they are widowed why are they not allowed to marry again? Deep down it all points to that strong mysognistic streak in Roman Catholicism. Most priests, let’s face it, would long for a life partner but it mightn’t be a woman and most of us wouldn’t have any problem with that scenario. One woman or one man per person for life seems fair doesn’t it?

  5. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Is there any doubt why Tony would be banned from speaking? The poll that you gentlemen collected as a “sample” early on is your right. It is also the right of every Catholic to make his/her opinion known and this is protected in the Canons. Why you ever stopped doing this, I’m still unsure to this day.

  6. Phil Greene says:

    These reports always saddened me as I can feel the tangible heartache and at times despair behind the words I read. I recall Olivia O’Leary talking to Ryan on the Late Late Show saying how she loved the Mass but could no longer expect her daughter to understand how her mother could be part of a group that treat women so unequally, or words to that effect, Olivia did of course state it far more eloquently. How can we expect the younger generation( men and women) to engage when this inequality seems completely senseless and totally at odds with everything else they are taught about self-esteem and self worth.
    I no longer can understand why we need Rome, I do not understand why the male clergy dress up like peacocks in the 21st century. I do not understand why Priests do not say “enough” and strike, because after all in the long-term there will be no priests to administer The Eucharist so why not strike for a few months in the short term, I have no doubt that parishoners will not let their priests starve and will fully understand why this stance might be the only way to draw attention to not just their plight but the plight of each parish.
    I am just a lay person who wants to be allowed to use my gifts fully, that’s all, in a christian community that respects me for who I am without prejudice, and where I can be proud to say “Yes I am a practising Catholic”.
    God bless you all.

  7. How sad that the Nuncio narrowly associates the priesthood with a ‘tradition’ that begins with the Second Council of the Lateran in 1139.
    When will we ever learn to sit down and listen to each other? Or would that involve the risk that something might be learnt in the process to the benefit of all?

  8. This is the same Nuncio AB Charles Brown who has refused to even meet with the leadership of the ACP! He has obviously not heard of women deacons & priests who were ordained for some 1000 years nor of the over 1000 years of married priests including the 12 male apostles! How does AB Charles Brown reconcile his attitude to the ACP with Pope Francis’ numerous calls to dialogue, dialogue, dialogue? Obviously some prefer to build walls rather than bridges.
    Our church needs to move to a new structure and Pope Francis has clearly stated he wants an “Inverted Pyramid” structure with the pope at the bottom and the people of god at the top. A first step in this direction would be the election of our bishops by all the adult members of each diocese as was the tradition for many centuries. Our bishops should find the courage to follow Pope Francis and call a synod of the Church in Ireland to discuss how to move in the direction Pope Francis is advocating.
    As Mary Vallely @3 says many of our bishops are good and decent men who want to honour God and serve the people. They need to find the courage to follow the lead of Pope Francis.

  9. I usually limited my criticisms to systems rather than individuals, but I have to say on this occasion that I found Nuncio AB Charles Brown’s comments on celibacy and the ordination of women pitiful and his slavery to tradition thoroughly depressing (and yes, childish, Mary@4). He sounds more like the chief curator of a museum rather than a high profile representative of what should be a dynamic and life affirming movement of God’s creative energy in the world today. Does his opinion and line of argument represent the view of the hierarchy of the Church? If so we are in trouble.
    It seems incredible that it has to be pointed out that even tradition has to begin somewhere (as Chris@7 and Colm@8 remind us). So if we introduce these changes now in 10, 100 or 1000 years from now they will be the tradition. And as Tony@1 says, its not as if the Church has not changed in endless ways down through the centuries.” It has.
    With such lack of freedom and imagination at this level of leadership in the Church it is hard not to despair, particularly as we have no way of influencing who are leaders should be, as the system is a self-appointing closed shop. However we are free to decide who we allow to influence our thinking and our lives. That, thank God, no one can take from us.
    What is encouraging is the good sense of the vast majority of Catholics in Ireland today who are in favour of both an end to mandatory celibacy and the opening of ordination to women. If the Nuncio is so keen to listen for the lead of of the Holy Spirit as it would seem from this article he is, he could do worse than take seriously what that Spirit is saying through the Body of Christ in Ireland and across the world today. Sadly however the saying holds true, “there’s none so deaf as those who will not hear”.

  10. Phil Greene says:

    “Our church needs to move to a new structure and Pope Francis has clearly stated he wants an “Inverted Pyramid” structure with the pope at the bottom and the people of god at the top. A first step in this direction would be the election of our bishops by all the adult members of each diocese as was the tradition for many centuries”.”They need to find the courage to follow the lead of Pope Francis.”
    Perhaps in tandem with the bishops finding such courage our priests can find the courage to engage more procatively with the Laity. A first step might be to invite the congregation to a Q&A session for about 10 minutes after each Mass every Sunday (or the final Mass on Sunday). It may start slow but has the potential to grow.. over 1000 priests engaging and enabling all the laity attending Mass would truly give life to the aspiration of an Inverted Pyramid structure.

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