Clogher priests have reservations about clustering parishes
Eleven members of Clogher ACP attended their meeting in Clones at the end of May. After prayer we spent some time reflecting and supporting each other during these difficult days for our Diocese and for a brother Priest (who stood down last weekend). A card was signed by all and prayerful and practical support sent with it.
A short discussion was spent on our recent meeting with the leadership of the ACP. It was emphasised that a support structure is in place within the Diocese for any Priest who has to take time out.
With regards the offer of Pastoral Reflection/Support Groups, it was decided to invite back in the Autumn Fr. Conall O’ Cuinn SJ, our recent Retreat Director to move this idea a little further. He had certainly given us a more meaningful experience of Pastoral Reflection. With regards the setting up of Directory of Spiritual Directors, Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Supervisors; this is a work in progress.
The remainder of our meeting centred on‘ Looking towards 2023 as Priests in Clogher’; we used Bishop Liam’s recent document as the basis for our discussion, a document on grouping Parishes with a view to the future.
There was widespread positive acknowledgement that Bishop Liam is thinking seriously about our future as a Diocese, and this proposed plan is visible evidence of that. The plan was a most welcome one particularly for men who are working on their own within a Parish.
A number of questions and reservations expressed. Amongst these was the need for the role of leader/co-ordinator to be clearly defined, this was crucial to the development of the plan, and most especially if the role was going to be held by a lay person. The level of acceptance of this person and their role on the part of Parish Priests could also be a flaw in its progress.
If the plan is to succeed, significant leadership and investment will be required, otherwise it will not work. It will also require a change in our mind-set as Priest, because there will be resistance, this will be very real and possibly on occasion for good reasons.
The greatest obstacle to its success will be the Priests themselves, and in particular where there is a clash of personality or an unwillingness to embrace change. Can we as a body of men change our mentality in such a short time span? Can there be a meeting of minds where needed, a breakthrough?
With regards the lay faithful, is it not important that they are involved now in the setting up of this plan? They need to know now about it, and encouraged to see it as the Diocese striving to meet the needs of the people. In this context the question was asked, does meeting the needs of priests guarantee meeting the needs of parishes/people?
Another essential grouping that needs to be brought on board are the ‘curates’. It was felt that curates do not get a mention in any Diocesan communications, they don’t seem to feature a lot, or have any influence now or into the future. The election of the last Council of Priests is only one example of that.
There was also the question of what criteria was used in projecting the figures for personnel in 2023, was the retirement age pitched at 75? And if so, some of the younger men at the meeting stated that for them 65 was a more realistic retirement age to work towards.
It was felt that revised arrangements for the level of services provided in parishes as priest numbers and energies decline need to be based on what those priests can actually do in realistic terms. They should not be projected on what might be manageable by priests fully stretched, as time off, holidays, illness etc will still have to be factored in.
With regards appointment to these new groupings, is it now time to appoint because of talents and gifts rather than the old model of seniority?
How much will be left to the priests in a given group to meet together and work it out for themselves?
Our next gathering of Clogher ACP takes place on Wednesday 31st July in Clones.
There are a number of positives in the report of the Clogher priests’ meeting, not least of which is the obvious support they give each other but also their honesty in admitting to the difficulties in changing mindsets.
“The greatest obstacle to its success will be the Priests themselves, and in particular where there is a clash of personality or an unwillingness to embrace change. Can we as a body of men change our mentality in such a short time span?”
I hope and pray that this ‘body of men’ can change and can embrace lay involvement, female and male, in working as a body of faithful for the good of all.
I like their honesty and courage in posting this report. I do believe that there is a willingness to work together.
Armagh parish, I am pleased to report, will have public meetings in the autumn out of which a new Parish Pastoral Council will be elected by the parishoners.Thank God for these small but significant changes.
The little insights into the lives and mindsets of priests working in dioceses here are very helpful to those of us trying to understand. I pray for the day when ‘body of men’ will be an anacronism. Thank you, Clogher priests,for sharing. Keep the hearts up.
You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
By paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us, and your love supporting us,through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”