Does fear of clericalism keep priests like Pádraig Standún off the ACP site?

My suggestion in yesterday’s article that parish priests of mature years and judgement across 26 dioceses and 32 counties do not post regularly on this website because they’re afraid to risk sticking their collective head above some episcopally or Cabra-constructed parapet, is (probably) just the type of hallucination that only a geographically and temporally detached ex-Maynooth layman could entertain. Maybe parish mpriests have other ways of putting in their day, offline.
Pádraig Standún, now PP of Cárna in SW Conamara, managed to remain a curate for his first 39 years of priesting in Tuam’s Gaeltacht areas. In June 2010, about to leave his last curacy in Mayo’s Tourmakeady near Lough Mask, he described the beauty of the place in the early summer as he went about his favourite task of First Thursday and First Friday visits to the sick and housebound. He’d been there for 15 years, following on 24 years in Inis Oírr, An Ceathrú Rua agus Inis Meáin. His conclusion: “the real beauty has been the people.” Yet, reading the signs of our parish-clustering times, he added that in Tuar Mhic Éadaigh both he and the retiring Canon Grogan would be replaced by one priest – whether that meant he was useless or irreplaceable he wasn’t quite sure.
Less than three years later he has recently stressed the sheer difficulty for a priest in a one-man rural parish of getting away for even a few hours, say, to the funeral of a friend or former archbishop, or someone like the late Joe Cassidy who might well be both. There’s just nobody for miles around who could cover for a baptism and three Masses in separate places on Saturday afternoon-evening. As he puts it, if something serious isn’t done about it, there’ll be resignations or burn-out or death. Possibly, logging on to an ACP website wouldn’t be top priority for a 66-year old parish priest, even a priest-novelist, in Cárna. Pádraig confided it instead to his weekly column, Standún’s Station, in the Connaught Telegraph. Just as Brendan Hoban’s Just a Thought has been a long-running feature of the Western People, so Pádraig’s column has supplied a need further south. Contrasting in tone but complementary. That same weekend, Mattie Long shared with us on the ACP website his experience of 21 years “looking in from the edge” of Tuam and Ireland [‘Irish dioceses should imitate the courage of Pope Benedict.’]
Time, maybe, for Yeats to return and update his 1893 ‘Ballad of Father Gilligan’, no doubt inspired by a folk-memory of a Sligo, Mayo or Galway priest:
“The old priest Peter Gilligan
Was weary night and day,
For half his flock were in their beds,
Or under green sods lay.”
A poem from our primary school repertoire that even the most battle-weary or sophisticated or unclerical of priests should read or recite about once a week, while not really expecting the Man Above to send “one of his great angels down / To help me in my need.” Solutions are certainly nearer to hand, if only Pope Francis or the Irish bishops could see them. Strange, though, that the young 28-year old mystically inclined, theosophy dabbling, Anglican-descended Yeats should image God as an omnipotent yet kindly post-Cullen Roman Irish archbishop!
“He who is wrapped in purple robes,
With planets in his care,
Had pity on the least of things
Asleep upon a chair.”
Pádraig Standún is the most unclerical of priests. I know because he told me so. “I think it necessary for priests to live outside the clerical box, think outside the clerical box, and have interests outside their main occupation and preoccupations.” So far, so ordinary. Probably most priests would agree with that. Probably even Cardinal Sodano would agree, if the price and perks are right. As Kevin Hegarty remarked in a Furrow review of one of Brendan’s books a few years ago: “The study of local history was a leisure-time pursuit for priests before they discovered golf.”
So unclerical is Pádraig, however, that even joining the ACP may be a proximate danger of the sin of clericalism, best avoided: “I was not one of the 300 priests present in Portlaoise recently,” he writes [1st October 2010, just ten weeks after moving to Cárna] “ . . . no reflection on those present or the new association. I admire their gumption and their energy, and am pleased to see west of Irelan
d clergy featuring prominently. If there is membership to be had or a fee to be paid, I will gladly support their aims, but personally I have gone past meetings and groupings.”

As for that phrase, “a voice for Irish priests at a time when that voice is largely silent,” Standún the writer and parish priest says: “Not me. I never felt that my voice was heard or that I belonged in any way. I have found that the best way to have a voice heard is to write it down, and let people agree or disagree with it.” Which might seem the perfect reason for contributing to discussion on this website, as complement to his weekly Standún’s Station and his creative writing in Irish and English, even while pursuing an abstentionist policy. “My dread in this regard is of clericalism, of being sucked too deeply into the clerical caste, culture and mindset . . . . A slight fear I would have for the new association is that it would become an elitist clericalism, despite the best efforts of those involved. The list of names published in The Furrow after their initial meeting suggests all the usual suspects, the brightest and the best, the movers and shakers in various orders and dioceses. Great theologians, thinkers and workers, but hardly representative. I say that as someone who only represents myself.”
One of the alternatives Brendan Hoban suggested, if only to dismiss, at that Portlaoise launch was: “We could focus on our own work in parish or in school or wherever and effectively disengage from the wider Irish Church and the wider world.” I don’t think that’s what Pádraig Standún is doing, though he avoids clerical meetings and groupings like the plague. He may in fact be in closer touch with Church and world than many of the most inveterate groupies. I think if he were to take time to go through the past 30 months of this website, its dominant concerns and our dependence on the instant comment as our drug of choice, Cárna’s sagart pharóiste might conclude that his slight fear of a new elitist clericalism is justified, despite the apparent online absence of 98% of Ireland’s clerics. Bergoglio is right; our clericalised little world is a cold house para los pobrecitos del país, del mundo.
15 Questions arising

  1. Is Fr Pádraig Standún’s first reaction to the infant ACP what’s oft been thought in parishes over the ensuing 30 months, though ne’er so well expressed?
  2. Or is it just one man’s take on yet another group in which he wouldn’t feel comfortable after four decades of proving that “I’m not a clerical insider”?
  3. Does the suggestion from the recent Clogher-ACP meeting have more than a grain of truth: the question of ethos as to “whether there are issues with regards Religious and Diocesan Priests attempting to find a common vision of where we might go as ACP”?
  4. Whatever about attendance at some set-piece Association gatherings, or clicking on a petition, are there not whole swathes of Irish dioceses – e.g. down the South-East from Ferns across Ossory, Waterford & Lismore, Cashel & Emly, Limerick into Kerry – whose priests seem relatively, or even absolutely, unexcited by the ACP’s existence?
  5. Was Fr Joe McGuane of Cloyne’s Ballycotton right when, in his sole appearance on the website (1st Nov 2011), he suggested that two-thirds of ACP members may be paper members only who, when push comes to shove, will evaporate like the dewfall?
  6. What proportion of the 1,000+ are ‘in it for the insurance’ or legal safeguard rather than for Reform?
  7. Even in an era of pastoral councils and shared pastoral areas, does the isolated nature of parish ministry make for loners and freelancers rather than joiners or teambuilders?
  8. As regards the current Petition, do most priests only respond at or after a Leadership-initiated meeting (Athlone, Killaloe), or when someone exerts a little pressure (Killala, Armagh)?
  9. Why launch an important Petition – “We would like to see this happen as a matter of urgency” – then leave it as nobody’s business in particular, rather than shepherd it towards the success that real numbers might ensure?
  10. As 56.2% of the first 1,200 Petition signatures are women’s, would priests sign online petitions more readily if they were (a) married? (b) women?
  11. If Fathers D’Arcy, Fagan, Flannery, Moloney, O’Sullivan et al were all diocesan/secular priests, would the current online Petition be much more successful?
  12. Of priests who do post ‘content’ on the website, why do only a handful contribute to the Response or Comment section – i.e. why don’t more priests muck in to the discussion alongside us plebeians?
  13. In posting meaty articles, original or externally sourced, for our enlightenment, do even ACP Leadership members feel more at home in the ‘broadcast’ or homiletic mode? [For the Greeks, of course, the ‘homilia’ was always a comm-unio, a get-together, an as-sociation, a con-versation, a spot of inter-course, a teacht-le-cheile, a céilí in the old country neighbourly sense.]
  14. By relying on the Leadership to be sole spokesmen and protagonists vis-a-vis media, Vatican Visitors, Bishops’ Conference, professional liturgists, individual bishops, diocesan priests’ councils etc, aren’t ACP members, by their silent invisibility, just fomenting a neo-clericalism and hierarchy-mark2 ?
  15. By staying with this website, even in its current clergy-lite form, do we ‘lay spouters’ become even more clericalised than Jorge Mario Bergoglio (aka Francisco) ever dreamt possible?

(Continued on 27 March)

Eddie Finnegan finnegan811@btinternet.com

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  1. You truly are a gifted writer, Eddie. I don’t know if that is what you do as your profession, but if you haven’t written a novel, you ought to! Having said that, I’m in agreement with Father Joe O’Leary when he says, that this website is: “falling into excessive self-analysis”. Unless,you, Eddie, and anyone else “pushing” for more priests to respond, believe, that there is something, that we need to identify and learn from the fact that the vast majority of priests CHOOSE not to contribute and participate on this website. To my way of understanding this situation, if there is nothing, that needs to be “unearthed” for study and reflection, about why the priests are not visible on this website, then what is the reason for pursuing this? I have to admit, I’m curious, as to why, the issue, of the priests not writing in, is belaboured? I do not believe, it has anything to do with fear of clericalism either. Perhaps, the reason, is related to one of the previous topics that being, “weariness”.

  2. Like ‘talking shop’ coming here when he has some free time ?
    Other than the names of the priests on the admin here – I haven’t got a clue who may or might not be a priest. If a priest did want to say something, but not wish to identify himself, that it’s OK to do that.
    MJT was talking about a priest he knew in the past and the experience of Eucharist/Mass with this priest after Vat II. Sounded interesting to say the least.
    Was wondering if that kind of experience might be possible somewhere. Some people like the Latin Mass and I think that’s fair enough if it helps someone spiritually and is available. I went to one some months back. I am not for my way is better than yours or the only way. Rather at times some real spontaneity.
    That the experience is, can be more than ‘attending’ a ‘ritual/service’ but something that feeds into the Christian life of the individual/s for the time/s in between and maintains that sense, reality of community.
    I don’t mean to suggest that about Mass – Latin, or otherwise – as a ‘ritual’. I don’t experience that way myself. Not suggesting or thinking it should all be left to the priest either. But I have heard some lay people I know say that all the efforts they made, even courses attended, never led to anything real or lasting. They too became highly disillusioned and would not put themselves forward again.
    I do vaguely remember the Charismatic experience ages ago. I went to two of those. I sat laughing during one of them, while a friend who tried to stare me down with burning hate in his eyes and told me to get out. Felt like the anti christ. lol
    It was funny though and I reminded him that ‘joy’ was a gift of the Holy Spirit. The other time I had some kind of experience was quite profound – though it might have been granny’s snuff. A cold Tue night in November in 1982. It was always packed.
    I have wondered again about that kind of experience – invoking the Holy Spirit in life, in community too. The ‘margins’ get lonely some times.
    Never gave much of any of it a chance I suppose, but there did seem to be something good too in all of that, and it might be something to look to again.
    “Real Presence”. Being present and being real. Has something going for it maybe. And that’s not meant to denigrate in any way the ‘Real Presence’ or the experience and value of ‘Eucharistic Adoration’.
    I know can’t be all things to all people but I do believe we can have an encounter with God in every kind of experience – worship.
    Sorry I don’t have the technical lingo for this.
    Just thinking out loud.
    PS To the good man – PP – who is having difficulty with the Captcha code. Fore you post, click the ‘button’ on the right each time to refresh it. Saves getting the error message.

  3. Vinolentus says:

    If I understand this article correctly, it is asking why priests who have a minimalist view of their priestly office do not want to get involved with an organization called the Association of Catholic Priests. This is the paradox of liberal Catholicism that the more traditional-minded of us have often noticed. If the Mass is no longer a sacrifice, but a jolly communal meal; if the Church’s job is no longer the salvation of souls; if anyone can take the sacred vessels out of the tabernacle and distribute Holy Communion; if Holy Communion itself is no longer a big deal, so that proper preparation for it is unnecessary and it can be received in the hand; if the sacrament of confession is more and more neglected; if women ought to be priests as well as men; if priests are inclined to wear civilian clothing and insist on being addressed by their first names; if the language of the liturgy should be as everyday and “inclusive” as possible; if, in short, there is nothing special about the priesthood, then why have priests at all? And why should priests particularly want to belong to an association of priests?
    If I was a priest who believed all of the above points, I think I would simply not care about my ordained state and I would see no essential difference between myself and a layman. I would not bother getting involved with an association for priests, preferring to regard a few pints in the pub as being more in the spirit of Vatican II. A church for the people, and all that.

  4. The leaders of the ACP Tony Flannery, Brendan Hoban et al also priests like Sean Fagan, Brian D’Arcy, are brave and to be admired and I appreciate their efforts in highlighting the many problematic issues in the Church. However, (and I may be ordered off the website for saying this) I feel they are acting like victims. They are taking their punishments (silencing etc) lying down. People like their leaders to be leaders not victims. Jesus went the whole hog! Many of us lay people left the Church quietly, with no fanfare, no shepherd came looking for to find us. I just wish Tony Flannery et al could stand in a woman’s shoes for a time to see what its like to be permanently silenced, to be excluded permanently from the inner circle. The 98% know things are not going to change so why should they put their heads above the parapet?

  5. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Darlene, the ACP is an association of Catholic Priests.
    This website is their chief organ of communication, allied with email for more private sharing, advice, enquiry etc.
    The ACP is not just a comfort zone or waystation for the weary.
    It has a purpose – several purposes – with agreed objectives.
    Not all Irish priests join the ACP, but 25% or 1,000+ CHOSE to join.
    Some of my best and oldest friends are Irish priests.
    Few of them have joined the ACP and none have appeared on this site.
    I’m curious as to why.
    When I meet them, usually once a year, I ask why.
    I haven’t had a satisfactory answer in two years.
    As the ACP are hospitable enough to have me on this site, I ask here too.
    I have my own peculiar, and somewhat longwinded, way of asking – which I certainly don’t see as “pushing” or “belabouring” or “unearthing” or exhuming or as “excessive analysis”.
    We do live in the 21st century, not the 19th. Myself, I’d prefer the old illuminated manuscript tradition with my own flock of geese for quills – but it’s not so practical any longer, and geese can be both wicked and messy.
    The computer and a simple website are not beyond the acquired cunning of septuagenarians or octogenarians – there are quite a few on this site.
    Most ACP members are not 70 yet – a lot aren’t even on Free Travel.
    They deal successfully every day with situations and devices much more devilishly complex than CAPTCHA codes.
    What I do find curious, Darlene, is that someone who has colonised every discussion here for the past three months should think that I am pushing or belabouring when I’m just asking where all my friends are and why they haven’t taken up their “voice for priests”. And no, I’m not into fiction or fairytales.

  6. Teresa Mee says:

    Eddie, before you come to conclude this challenging piece tomorrow, I have a few key questions to add to your list.
    3rd sentence par.3 above: There’s just ‘nobody for miles around who could cover for a Baptism…….If something isn’t done about it, there’ll be resignations…..’
    Clearly some creative thinking and initial action is called for, to replace parish clustering and shortage of priests which seems to be raising burnout problems. But who is to do the creative thinking and take initial action? The bishops? How about action by priests and people at the base, with dialogue. For example,if Padraig were to allow the old clericalist priest Peter Gilligan owner of flock and parish to rest in peace, he,Padraig could with a little preparation start working with a trained and educated baptism team of parishioners who could administer the sacrament. Likewise how about the people taking responsibility for, say, every 4th Sunday celebration in their parishes? This also would demand education and training (by e.g. a mobile team of parish pastoral workers)and would contribute to enriching the people’s understanding of, and participation in the Mass. And how about sharing with the people, through team ministry, the mission to the sick, including anointing?
    One could interpret ‘If something isn’t done about it’ as either a call to action or alternatively, a passing of the buck.
    Teresa Mee

  7. I have found in my life, that the more that you, come at someone who is retreating, the farther they retreat! Thank you Eddie, for clarifying your position.

  8. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    You shouldn’t be asking them why they don’t join. You should be asking them whether or not they would push forth the questions that the baptised would like answered. It’s not enough to join an association. What does that even mean? That’s the issue. You have an army already. Now all that remains is a proper strategy. But is there no will? What do you do next as an association? Stop worrying about numbers and start trying to push the agenda. First stop is asking the Vatican how exactly the baptized can make their collective voice heard per Canon 212 §3. We’d like to tell them something concerning both their organizational structure and certain traditions that have become “Church Law” but are no means divine and natural. We’d like to inform them and also make our opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful. How do they plan on making this happen? That’s a good start. The reason you don’t see priest participation is because they know that actions speak more loudly than words. When it comes time to act, I’m sure they will be there for us. But then again, I’m just a young, naive Canadian who possesses neither the prestige, knowledge or competence to be making such claims, per that very Canon. Imagine, eh?

  9. Mary O Vallely says:

    Teresa @6 has years of experience working with base communities in S. America so those suggestions she makes she has actually seen put into practice.
    This is of course the busiest week in the Church’s year so we can excuse, for the time being only, the paucity of replies from priests. (Thank you, Ned Quinn, for your honesty. )
    May I wish everyone, the contributors, those who read and do not contribute but offer their prayers for all, those who are too busy to read, those who have given up but are hanging on to a thread of hope, a very blessed and love-filled Easter.
    Eddie’s words can be printed out and left in sacristies for reflection and discussion. (Eddie, míle buíochas/thank you so much.)
    This is Karl Rahner:-
    Only in love can I find You, my God. In love the gates of my soul spring open, allowing me to breath a new air of freedom and forget my own petty self. In love my whole being streams forth out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion, which make me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness. In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward You, wanting never more to return, but to lose themselves completely in You, since by Your love You are the inmost center of my heart, closer to me than I am to myself.
    (from ‘Encounters with Silence’)

  10. Fr SCorkery says:

    Eddie clearly has put a lot of thought and work into his views in recent days. Pope Francis is being lauded by many. I fear for him the first time he makes a decision people don’t agree with – people who have now built him up into a sort of “nothing like what went before” type figure, will likely dismiss him as quick. As he says himself, power is service – he has no magic wand to roll back 2000 years of magisterial tradition. The Church is alive, young and dynamic. Its life is bigger than Francis – he is the first to say it and has done so(as has Benedict XVI). Here is my shot at analysis. I pop in and out of the ACP website as I do many others. I cannot abide the consistent form of revolutionary undertones that pepper so many of the contributions. “Everything ‘before’ is bad, everything the ACP wants is ‘good,’ so out with the ‘before’ and in with the ‘objectives according to the ACP’.” This form of dialogue drains me of energy. People need Christ in their life, they long for Christians who live joyfully, at least sometimes. The contributions on the ACP website are so very often subtle but definite attacks on the Church. The cynical tone of alot of this stuff turns me off but I believe in listening to other points of view. Hence I tune in from time to time in the hope of a contributor whose only agenda is joy in the Lord Jesus Christ who washed Peter’s feet (to take but one example from the week that’s in it). People have enough misery in their lives without spending time reading the woes of Catholics with their Church. In short, negativity is so often self-referent and does not go anywhere. I strongly recommend people look up Cardinal Bergoglio’s contribution to the recent general congregations in Rome. Do not look inwards, or for self-aggrandisement but serve the Lord every day. Then we join the world in its thirst for life (I paraphrase but please look up the link): http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/havana-prelate-shares-notes-from-cardinal-bergoglio-s-pre-conclave-speech
    This is the stuff that is life-giving and attracts the heart that is searching. Critique of institutions has its place and rightly so but ad nauseam navel-gazing is a turn off for a lot of people. Before I am decapitated for offering an alternative view(another reason why one isn’t attracted to commenting on this webpage very often – it is very militant against those aspiring to non-ACP objectives), I would like to say that I respectfully make these comments and trust you will respect my motives.

  11. I think this website is proof that there are members of the ACP who are prepared to live outside the “clerical box” and try new ways to connect with those of us who have drifted away from church but still respect the good men of it. This is the first insight I’ve had in to prevailing clerical thought on issues since my good friend Fr Fergal Cunanne was transferred from Castlebar. @ Nuala, I couldn’t agree more.

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