Meeting in Athlone; January 19th, 2011

 Report of a meeting of Association of Catholic Priests:

Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone, 19/1/11

The leadership team convened this meeting, and invited priests who had particular expertise or interest in issues raised since our inception, and any other priest who wished to attend. The open invitation was on our web site. The purpose of the meeting was to review matters undertaken since our formation in September 2010, and to plot an agenda of action for the year ahead. All present were invited to raise issues they felt needed attention and to offer their views or criticism of developments and our manner of dealing with issues since September. A tentative agenda was circulated and accepted as a basis for a structured meeting. Fr Brendan Hoban chaired the proceedings.
Fr Tony Flannery opened with a brief review of what had happened since September.  He mentioned the series of regional meetings that had taken place; the beginning of diocesan meetings;  a new addition to the leadership team; a meeting of the leadership team with some senior legal people to discuss the position of priests when allegations are made against them; the development of the website; and the meetings that had taken place with the different Apostolic Visitiors.
The following items were then considered, some in great detail, in a meeting lasting two and a half hours:

  • Issues around priests’ rights when accused of child sexual abuse, legal rights to due process and retention of one’s good name, and one’s right to presumption of innocence, without impinging on the rights of the person or family bringing an allegation;
  • The proposed new liturgical texts, apparently set to be introduced this Advent, and the likely response to them given that many are unsettled by the return to stilted language, and the whole issue of the inappropriate nature of the language proposed. There was a clear consensus in the meeting that we should take a public position on this.
  •  The growing desire among clergy and faithful for a Synod or Assembly at national level to air views on what we need to do to renew the Church in Ireland. This idea also got great support. But, since there are other initiatives in this area which the meeting were informed about, we decided that we would make a public statement in favour of the idea, but await developments before we would consider the possibility of organising something ourselves.
  • Sean McDonagh made a presentation on the development of the website. A forum will soon be in place, and people are being canvassed to animate different topics. We hope to have a forum on the new liturgical texts, on the Ryan/Murphy reports, on Social Justice, on new pastoral initiatives, and some others.  We would hope to have a great number of people, both lay and clerical, contributing to these fora, so that our website will become a place of worthwhile discussion of the issues in the Church today.
  • It was decided to attempt to organise meetings of the Association in as many dioceses as possible over the next few months.
  • An annual membership fee of €20 was agreed, and it will be collected over the next month or so.  (Details of how to contribute will be circulated shortly)

 A number of other issues were briefly mentioned, including the Cathetical Directory, the ordination of Anglican bishops as priests in the Catholic Church, how we might give support to priests who are guilty of serious crimes, but who are still our brothers.
We are going to circulate all Church websites, asking them to put a link to the website of the association, and inviting them to get involved in the various discussions in the forum.
In a wide ranging, lively, and very positive exchange of views, the large attendance, a solid blend of diocesan and religious priests agreed we were off to a good start, needed to maintain the momentum, and must respond to issues coming up in the media. Many said that the tone of the meeting was uplifting and renewing!
It was agreed that we should write to the bishops’ conference, in response to the invitation contained in Bishop Freeman’s article in the Irish Times on December 28th, looking for a meeting to discuss some of the issues that were reported in that article, and that are similar to our own objectives.
We would also hope to initiate a dialogue with the bishops on the proposed new liturgical texts.
The group, before concluding with prayer, decided to meet again around June and to have a plenary meeting of the Association in September.

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