New Era – Last chance: Catholic Priests Associations and Reform Groups unite in International Conference in Limerick, Ireland

Limerick, 16.04.2015.
“With the resignation of Pope Benedict we are at the end of an era, and this is our best chance to renew the church for a long time“, Father Tony Flannery of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said during an international conference in Limerick that brought together over 30 Catholic priests and church citizens from Ireland, Austria, Australia, Germany, India, Italy, Slovakia, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.
The four-day meeting was hosted by the ACP.
“The election of Pope Francis has begun a new era in Catholicism”, Father Flannery added. The meeting called on the Bishops of their respective countries courageously and publicly to support the vision and the programme of Francis for the Church.
A key issue will be to devolve authority away from the Vatican to local churches. Connected to this is the need to enhance the authority of the local church, especially parishes.
Participants focused on several topics affecting the life of the Church. Central to the discussion was the role and full equality of women in church life. During a very open and honest discussion, it became clear that there is much pain concerning the exclusion of women from governance, leadership and ordained ministry – and how that causes division and affects the entire life of our Church.
Another important issue canvassed was church governance. Participants called for more accountability from the hierarchy and respect for the rights of all Catholics to participate fully in the life of the Church.
Regarding the forthcoming Synod on the Family the meeting called for full participation of Catholics who are LGBT, divorced and re-married, members of inter-faith families and other marginalized people in the life of the Church. It also called for the Church to pay particular attention to women who are living in situations of poverty, oppression and violence.
The Church lives in the context of the real world of today and the participants supported a clear recognition of social justice and ecological issues, especially global warming and biodiversity. They particularly set their hopes in the development of a Christian ecological theology and ethic in the light of Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on ecology and social justice.
Participants in this unique gathering committed themselves to further work together towards the realisation of the issues discussed which are central for the future of the Church.

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  1. it became clear that there is much pain concerning the exclusion of women from governance, leadership and ordained ministry – and how that causes division and affects the entire life of our Church.
    I regard the above statement as being of absolute importance, at least, from my perspective!
    I wonder if it was a case of heavenly coincidence that the Conference ended on the Feast Day of St. Bernadette!

  2. Soline Humbert says:

    @1 Darlene, Tony Flannery wrote this in his blog during the conference
    Personally I experienced the whole conference as a truly Eucharistic time,being gathered by the Spirit, blessed, broken,shared and sent forth to bear witness to the Risen Christ and bear fruit,for the life of the world(“Ite missa est”!)
    For that I am truly grateful:to God,to the hard working organisers and helpers,to the skilled facilitators and to all the dedicated participants from near and afar. Alleluia!

  3. Soline Humbert says:

    Another participant’s experience of the Limerick Conference
    I was reminded of a
    piece entitled “ALIVE WITH PROPHETIC PAIN” by the well known American spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser OMI. He addresses the pain many women experience over their exclusion from ordination., especially during the celebration of the Eucharist.
    “Their pain is prophetic. It indicates that something is amiss,but amiss with the whole body,not with one individual…..And these[women] ,the ones who fill with pain,need to be specially embraced and listened to.Those who feel oppressed,excluded and who die (in whatever way) in the sanctuary are most often the prophetic voices even if they themselves are inarticulate. Their pain is not………… Like God’s Spirit it gives expression to what is too deep for words.Pain, accepted without final bitterness and persevered in,is prophecy.It is God’s voice in a calloused church and world. It comes from conscience and speaks to conscience.That is why it is so important that those who feel like these women ,those who fill with pain and tears at the Eucharist,remain in the church and remain at the Eucharist.Without prophetic tears,we grow ever more deaf. ….And prophets die somewhere between altar and sanctuary. But their groan is a word,a voice,that cannot be killed. “(in “Forgotten Among The Lilies”).
    Between altar and sanctuary, in a Limerick hotel room…. Let those who have ears, hear. With the ear of their hearts.

  4. Thank you for submitting that piece again Soline!…Just want to say that Father Ron Rolheiser is born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada and taught for many years at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta.

  5. Soline Humbert says:

    Thank you Darlene.
    Yes,Ronald Rolheiser wrote “ALIVE WITH PROPHETIC PAIN ” in August 1986,nearly 30 years ago.As far as I know he has never mentioned again the issue of women’s exclusion from ordination since…… Are women alive with prophetic pain too disturbing? the answer is YES, as we saw in Limerick last week!

  6. Interesting Soline…that is..when Father Rolheiser wrote that piece. That is when I met him…1986-87 and again, interestingly, that was the first school session…86-87…that Newman Theological College had a laywoman give the weekday homily…and I am honoured to say that it was yours truly. Yes, well…Limerick was a very teachable moment…however, and I won’t be liked for saying this..but, there were many things to consider…before accepting a woman priest concelebrating at the conference. I mean the ACP have been working long and hard to have the Irish Bishops listen to them and they are still trying…but, I think if Kate and I’m sorry, I do not have her last name in front of me, …if Kate had co- presided, I think, this could have spelled the end of the ACP…and not to mention…many notable people…..As well, and again, I will be not liked for saying this…but, as much as I know and believe…that the Lord did, does, and will call women, to the ministries He needs, and I’m sure those will be ministries, hereto, the exclusive domain of married and celibate men, I really am convinced that so much of the clerical system needs re-examining and so women, by assuming ordination are more than likely contributing to the perpetuation and affirmation of clericalism. I realize that is a broad brush stroke…but, nonetheless, I am quite sure…that we, as a Church, will need to find an alternative, eventually, to the clerical system.

  7. Nora Bolcon says:

    I make this comment as one of those women who as a teenager felt utterly crushed, by the rejection of my church regarding my calling to priesthood. Countless ways was this rejection made: by fellow catholics and priests poo pooing me; or explaining nicely, I think you mean you are being called to be a nun dear because God does not call women to be priests. I would say no that isn’t what God told me, and what I hunger for is to preside over the sacraments and lead a flock – nuns don’t do this. Then people and priests would get more harsh and some very nasty, and would start saying things like well it isn’t ever gonna happen, especially with this pope (JP II). Then they would say maybe you should just find another church, like Episcopalians, they have started ordaining women.
    I took their advice.
    Demoralized, and now doubting God, doubting myself, to some degree even doubting God made me less – maybe they were right?, feeling hated by my own pope, and people. I left Catholicism for an undenominational group who allowed single women to lead.
    I gave up going to college because I couldn’t see learning about everything else but what I cared about – Divinity, and I could not face the pain of taking Divinity.
    I spent much of my early 20s working on the undenominational prayer group’s ideas of Charismatic Strength and renewal which gave me joy but eventually the group dissolved when so many of its participants had to move for various reasons.
    At this point I just wandered spiritually. I loved God but put him on the back burner along with the deep pain I could not deal with, was not equipped to deal with. I began to find various bad habits to escape into. Dating, smoking, eating, spending. God began pressing himself on me to let him back to the forefront of who I am but I could not stop wrestling. I could not go and ask God directly: Did you make me less? – I need to know! I could not face the possible answer.
    Over time I let God in more and more and he found a way to show me – Look Daughter, when or where in any Gospel do I say that a woman should be treated differently than a man? Where did I ever lead anyone to believe that it would not be a breaking of my commandments to treat anyone differently than anyone else based on how they are born? I could find none. I began to heal a little at a time.
    I am Charismatic and started receiving visions in prayer leading me to see that catholicism is where I belong. Its people are where my work in Christ will be most. With many tears, I started to go back to Catholic churches to worship. I figured maybe I can concentrate on CCD or Charismatic Renewal. Still, just being there, at times, it was a constant battle to push down the pain of this church’s rejection of me which still exist.
    I met a man and fell in love and then wondered should I marry? If I do and they change the rules I won’t be able to become a priest. God showed me daughter marry this man, I have sent him to you and it does not diminish in any way your calling to lead as a priest. God said “Just trust me.” So I did and we have been happily married for 19 years with 2 beautiful children.
    Still this pain has never left, and these last 20 years even until now God has pressed on me in prayer and visions – Pray, Love and Work to change the heart of this people of mine to act with Justice and ordain all of those people I send to them as priests. There can be no partiality based on flesh, and there can be no judging and condemning one another based on flesh. If this people is to grow and be blessed it must first choose to become just.
    An unjust church is a weak church, and will grow weaker over time, because God is a Just God. God will not change so we must. We must follow the Great Commandment Love God with all our being and treat all the same and with love.
    This is my mission and even if it gets me excommunicated by the hierarchy, God has told me, “Do not fear, no church which is validly his can validly excommunicate any person for standing up for his Great Commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. You place in heaven daughter is secured.”
    It is time enough we all stood up for Justice in our Church for the sake of our Church. God is counting on us to be courageous. Just as God has counted Christians in every age to be courageous for his cause.
    I hope this comment helps people realize the harm this terrible discrimination causes, and the extremely important work that must be done quickly by all of us, if we do not want to see our church collapse with nothing but its foundation left to rebuild upon.

  8. Thank you for sharing your struggle with us Nora. God’s blessing on you.

  9. “The wine and bread placed on the altar was not shared, a symbol of the painful reality of women’s place in the Church and the divisions that tear at the heart of our communities. And all thirty-eight of us took a candle and placed it on the altar, a sign of our solidarity with women in the Church and our hope for a healed, whole and just Church where women can participate fully as co-equals.”
    Thank you Soline for the link to the FutureChurch report from the conference. These words from the article and the photograph of the untouched bread and wine on the Eucharistic table brought a lump to my throat, and I’m not the emotional kind. I felt it! I just want to say well done to the 38 for the integrity and wisdom of your joint decision based on hours of honest deliberation. This was truly a prophetic moment.

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “What happened in Limerick should not stay in Limerick.” I think many of us who were not there would heartily agree with that. However central, and I would agree that it is and will continue to be central, the discussion of the role and full equality of women in Church life, I would want to ask how that affects or even overshadows everything else that the 38 participants from ten countries and three continents brought to that four-day conference, in their own names and (implicitly) on behalf of their thousands, millions perhaps, of more-or-less-committed-to-reform camp-followers. As the conference facilitators asked: “Why did you REALLY accept the invitation?”
    True,the Press Statement above sets the context and touches on those other themes and concerns – so, in passing, do the accounts from Kate McElwee and Deborah Rose-Milavec. An outsider, however, may be left with the impression that “what happened in Limerick” all happened on the Wednesday.
    Emotion, and even a dash of emotionalism, have their place in a movement for reform. (Am I laying myself open to a charge of sexist stereotyping there?) Or am I alone in feeling that what happened in Limerick on the Wednesday could be seen as an attempted “weaponisation of the Eucharist”. Are there not, maybe, many sincere women in the various strands of the reform movement who would also feel just as uneasy as I do that the move for a cosy concelebration (however politely and courteously couched) was a hop and a jump without consideration of some essential prior steps.
    On the path to women’s full equality in the life of the Church, there will no doubt be roles for both Suffragists and Suffragettes.The latter will always tend to be more opportunist than the former. Some of us may want to ‘beware all ideologues’, as someone said in Limerick.
    Darlene@6 has a different but valid pair of reservations, which might be roughly paraphrased as: (a) think of your hosts (Tony & ACP); and (b) how do you smash clericalism by joining it? I agree.
    Just on her first reservation: if reform groups cannot take at least some bishops with them, by hook or by crook, they might as well throw in their pilgrim staffs now. Which (and because of the Limerick location) is why I tried to ask the other day whether common ‘caminos’ can be explored between the concerns of the “Limerick 38” and those now preparing for the Limerick Synod of 2016. Guerrilla tactics, however tearfully executed, may not help.

  11. We can only hope that the Vatican does not continue to turn a deaf ear….and we may have to follow Luther…and nail reform resolutions on a door somewhere…Keep in mind….Christ must be the author of all reform!

  12. Eddie (11) said, “Are there not, maybe, many sincere women in the various strands of the reform movement who would also feel just as uneasy as I do that the move for a cosy concelebration (however politely and courteously couched) was a hop and a jump without consideration of some essential prior steps.”
    I would just add one observation, and that is – a cosy concelebration would have cost some of the participants nothing and for others it would have cost them everything. And speaking as someone who is 100% for a reform of the priesthood and the inclusion of women in a reformed priesthood in whatever form that would take, I feel a cosy concelebration (and then a hop home on the plane) would not have produced anything near the power of the stark prophetic witness that the unshared bread and wine did on this occasion.

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