Invitation to all priests in the Dublin region
At a meeting of January 18, 2017, a decision was made by the leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) to hold regional meetings of priests to explore in practical detail the worries and the fears that surfaced about the wellbeing of Irish priests at our recent AGM.
Accordingly, a meeting has been arranged in the Regency Hotel, Swords Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 9 on Tuesday 25th April, 2.00-500pm.
As an Association of Priests, we’re very aware of how difficult life is for priests in Ireland now, how stressed many of us feel, how isolated we can be, and how our increased work-load and further unrealistic expectations are making retirement and old age more and more problematic.
As the average age of priests in Ireland edges towards 70, it’s clear that the experts on how priests feel and what priests need are priests themselves. This is why our meeting will focus on listening to what priests have to say and pondering down-to-earth and practical responses to our felt needs in considering our difficult future.
Among the issues to be addressed will be:
- the canonical and civil rights of priests;
- what legal advice and support is available for priests in difficulty;
- where ‘clustering’ is leading;
- how increased work and added responsibility are impinging on our health;
- retirement, accommodation and pensions;
- support in dealing with bishops;
- and any other issues priests may wish to raise.
It is hoped that this meeting will be part of a wider consultation of priests ACP members and others who may wish to participate which may lead to agreed protocols of support to enhance the wellbeing of priests in Ireland.
Your voice is needed. Please come along.
With every good wish,
Brendan Hoban; Tim Hazelwood; Gerry O’Connor; Roy Donovan;
Séamus Ahearne (Dublin); John Collins (Dublin).
Some Dublin statistics:
According to the 2015 Towers Watson report on Dublin diocese (page 16), as things stand, in 2030 there will be 144 full-time priests (max 154, min 134). Of those, 108 will be 60 or over (page 18). By 2045 those 108 will be over 75, leaving 36 under 75. If there is an average of one new ordination per year, this will bring us to about 50. If religious orders withdraw there will be 43. There are (at present) 199 parishes in the diocese.
In this scenario, many parishes, and local communities within parishes which have their own identity and place of worship, will not have a full celebration of Mass every Sunday.
Every Christian community has the right to have a full celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday. If our church fails to make provision for this we are failing in our responsibility and ministry. This is fundamental. Bernard Haring put it at the time of Vatican II: “The people of God have a God-given right to the Eucharist. On the basis of human law, to deprive the People of God of the Eucharist is, objectively, gravely sinful.” (Wilfrid Harrington OP)
By the way it is coping with the increasing shortage of priests, the Church is signalling that the faithful can manage without either sacraments or priests.
Whatever needs to be done to make adequate provision for this must be done, including a serious review of what it is in our present structures which obstruct this. Any such obstructions must yield to the primary mandate. As the martyrs of Abitinae said, and as was quoted by Benedict XVI: “”Sine dominico non possumus.”
The present system of selection and training of priests, and of exercising that ordained priesthood is not working. We must urgently consider alternative arrangements. This is not just a matter of the ordination of married men, or ordination of women, but of asking what is necessary for each community to be able to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. We must consider how we can come to the appointment of local leaders/elders for this, distinct from priests as we know them at present, not inferior “yellow-pack” or “auxiliary” or “part-time”, or any such term which would be harmful, but with a distinct ministry; perhaps they could be have the well-attested title of “elder.”
This suggestion was proposed by retired Bishop Fritz Lobinger of South Africa, formerly of the Lumko Missiological Institute which produced much excellent material for training in lay ministries. Already 40 years ago on a visit to missions in Transvaal, I met an Irish Sacred Heart Missionary priest who had 34 Mass stations to serve.
We need policy which will bring about similar results, whether we adopt Lobinger’s suggestions or not.
Joining of parishes may be advisable administratively, but closing church buildings and insisting that existing communities travel to a neighbouring location for Sunday Mass will destroy communities. I served in Rathdrum and Avoca parishes. There are distinct and alive communities in Greenane and Clara Vale and Ballycoog and Barranisky in those parishes, where local people are actively involved. If there is no Sunday Mass in these communities people will feel compelled to travel to Rathdrum or Avoca or Templerainey, and their own communities will suffer seriously. Participation in their local community will be discouraged or eliminated.
This must be addressed without delay. 2045 is only 18 years away – a short time when we consider the immense task we face. It has not taken us by surprise – we have known for many years that this is coming. If we are to be faithful to our mission, we cannot fail in this.
The disastrous inertia in addressing this particular question of ensuring that full celebration of the Eucharist must be overcome. Other forms of prayer service are of course valuable, with or without distribution of Communion, but the full celebration of Eucharist must not be denied to all our communities. I realise that it goes beyond this diocese and this country; but, as Pope Francis said to a Brazilian bishop: Come to me with a concrete proposal.
Will the Irish bishops do that? Can Dublin lead the way? We must not fail.
Veni, Sancte Spiritus.
Wilfrid Harrington on Bernard Haring:
Bishop Fritz Lobinger:
Great assessment @Padraig. We need to radically review how we select and train our seminarians and priests. Is the former institutional model of secluded seminary formation the best possible approach that we can use? Or is it more of ‘it served us well in the past so lets keep it going in the future?’
Maybe the meeting will generate a lot of spirit-filled conversation. Maybe the challenge will be adapting the suggestions raised at the meeting into concrete recommendations that can be put into practice?
Another line of consideration is that of the lay “Local Preachers” in the Methodist church, trained to lead services and to preach. This would expand on the range of ministries. The Catholic church tends to be very proprietorial on who may preach in the liturgy.
There are training courses for Baptism teams, Funeral teams, Pastoral workers, Ministers of Word and Eucharist, members of Parish Pastoral Councils, etc. Have we any training courses in Ireland for lay people for leading services?
There’s a report on this in the Irish Times (main section) today on page 20 in the Methodist Notes. (Not on line as I write.)
More information: http://www.irishmethodist.org/local-preachers
Being a man, an observer for some decades, the following original thoughts might be of assistance.
1. Having served the people, why now not seek their support via ‘open meetings’?
Such might increase the ‘base’, involve more ideas, creating an inclusive momentum and (both appear and) be less insular. The primary issue, seems to be dwindling numbers (drawn from the people), so perhaps such can address that historical ‘failing’ (such not being a criticism, but merely an observable fact stated).
2. Might not (at least) part of the ‘damage’ done to the reputation of the clergy now be addressed by more transparency, sharing and openness, bridging that (apparent) divide and latent secrecy?
3. Was not this Island known as the Island of Saints and Scholars? Surely, the sufferance of the symptoms of what has occurred, is opposite to the pride that should be worn proudly for the positive contributions of so many and for so long.
Put simply, the choice for priests on our Island, is to either choose a ‘victim consciousness’, or to build on the positives that abound around us (as the former will lead to demise, the latter will renew and invigorate).
Or, alternatively, as someone once said ‘take up thine own bed and walk’!