Reflection on the AGM, and the way forward. Joe McGuane (Cloyne)

Some thoughts on the AGM of the ACP 2011.
The Proces by which bishops are appointed.
I do not remember any discussion on this despite, I think, four dioceses being vacant and at least two more imminent. Yet it is a major key.
There have been proposals that all bishops appointed prior to Diarmuid Martin should resign. This would be quite useless while the present system of appointments is in place. Clones of themselves would merely replace them. They in return would appoint similar clones to all positions of responsibility in the diocese and their characteristic would be, like their bishop, blind knee-jerk unconditional obedience, no matter how stupid the instructor or instruction, and a total absence of initiative and leadership. If you do nothing you cannot make a mistake and so you are perceived as a safe pair of hands, and so you are seen as a suitable candidate for promotion.
Right now our diocese of Cloyne is vacant. I would be pretty sure in saying that the Nuncio, past or future, knows as much about our diocese as a cow knows about a holiday. To my knowledge, he has never visited or if he has he came in and left under the radar. And yet it is likely he or his flunkey will be sending the infamous terna to Rome, a list of three names in order of recommendation.
A priest friend on mine whose diocese is about to become vacant tells me that he was consulted recently about a succeeding bishop. The principal concern was that the name he was given was staunchly against women priests. All other details were peripheral. When he mentioned another name he was immediately hushed up. The choice was already made. They were merely searching for skeletons in the cupboard of choice.
This terna racket would be insulting to 17th. century illiterate peasants. And with four reds and two yellows in recent years out of a panel of about 30 bishops, it is time that the Phoenix Park man himself got a red and was pulled ashore.
We have far too many dioceses. In Austria there are just nine while Germany has 27 for 25 million Catholics. I have seen figures giving the population of two western dioceses as 30,000 and 38, 000. How do their bishops pass the day? Are there not Dublin parishes that are more populous?
There are certain criteria that are sine qua non for would be bishops…Married men and women single and married for the priesthood are, as Maggie Thatcher famously said on one occasion, out,out, out …The Pope is infallible…contraceptives are intrinsically evil even for married couples… blind unconditional obedience, and, I suppose, gays have to be seen as intrinsically disordered or should that be dysfunctional?. To be at the starting gate, you must at least give the impression you are sound on all those items.
Rare are those who would give 100% assent to those teachings if they had even a modicum of pastoral practice. You are then fishing from a very shallow pool. And so the net has to be cast far and wide. Pastoral considerations, leadership, initiative, and communication skills are far down the list of desirable qualities. Our last bishop had a background in Africa and Rome. The most recently appointed bishop of Killaloe had a somewhat similar background and yet there was not a peep of protest from the clerics. Have they thrown in the towel?
Neither can considerations be left just to clerics. The Catholic bishops own office, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC), set up and maintained by them, was of the opinion that our last bishop had practices that in some respects were “dangerous”. The Irish Examiner polled the clerics of the diocese about three weeks later. Despite the damning report, only 3% of the 65 contacted (about half our compliment) thought our bishop should resign.
Does this not show that given a choice between the light regulation of clerics and concern for the well being of clerical sexually abused children, the clerics of our diocese will put their own comfortable lifestyle first. This despite we seeing the huge damage light regulation has done in the financial sphere. We in Cloyne must be the most backward diocese in Europe, hardly a handful of Parish/Pastoral Councils among our 46 paishhes 50 years after Vatican 11. And no desire for them either among the clerics. Does this not conclusively show that there has to be extensive lay involvement in the choice of bishops?
Nonetheless, the choice will be made in Rome by people who have little or no knowledge of our diocese or its needs. Their last choice was disastrous and their criteria are not properly prioritised.
Is it any wonder we are in the mess we are in? Seventeen years after the late Brendan Smyth was convicted of child sexual abuse, not alone are we still at square one but we have actually gone backwards. This is because of our dearth of leadership. Our prelates are by and large incapable of initiative and innovation. They are almost entirely bereft of ideas. They have no idea what to do. Each time they open their mouth they generally put their foot in it. Unswerving loyalty to the Vatican is at the head of desirable qualities, even if this involves disregarding the law of the land. That is the price that is demanded. After that it is potluck what other qualities they might have. The entire system reeks of insider trading and jobs for the boys. We deserve a better system that this. There is no prospect of it. Clerics are so brainwashed into abject obedience that if a cat were sent as the next incumbent in Cloyne he would be acclaimed. Plum appointments and vacuous ridiculous titles depend on projecting this mindset. Clerics get what they deserve but the unfortunate laypeople deserve better. Because they see no prospect of this they are leaving in droves. Can we blame them?
The Eucharistic Congress.
On a scale of one to a hundred, the enthusiasm for this is about minus three. It is designed as a distraction with a view of taking our minds off the many problems that beset us.
Priests will have to drag themselves along to I suppose the Phoenix Park or Croke Park for a ridiculous jamboree and dragoon as many parishioners as possible along with them. Horse up enthusiasm is right. I couldn’t bear all the excitement. Include me out. Would not a national senate be much more in our line?
The Crisis in Ministry, ite impact on priests, in favour of married priests.
In 1960 there are 80 ordinandi on the class piece in Maynooth’s L-shaped corridor. The year I was ordained, 1970, there were 38. The last time I looked, 2007, there were 4 ordinandi.
Plainly the alarm bells were ringing by 1970, over 40 years ago. They were ignored. There will be a catastrophic situation in 30-40 years time, and for more reasons than one.
For one thing, voluntary “dues” will be, broadly speaking, a thing of the past. In this neck of the woods, hardly anyone under 40 is contributing anything on a regular basis. Clerics could find themselves filling super-market shelves at night or on the dole if they have bad backs. Should those now being ordained not have an alternative way of generating an income?
There seems to be a rash of repairing churches that will plainly not be needed. This activity is a way of deflecting attention from the teeming leavers. It facilitates living in fantasy land, the abode of choice foe an increasing number of clerics who find reality too painful. In the above mentioned time span, there will just be a few elderly women coming to Mass. Yet some small parishes have a debt of over a million Euro hung on them. Will they be in NAMA or will they be superb arenas for discos?
We now have the same number of churches even though less than half are coming to Mass. In our diocese there are in some rural parishes four churches catering for a total population of less than 3,000 people. This can’t go in, yet there is no resolution to address it. Every cleric in a position of responsibility does short term; it is the way up the clerical ladder. Apres moi le deluge. It is a cowardly and lazy way out and will lay insuperable burdens on the few clerics in time to come. There is an unwillingness to grasp the nettle.
We are told there is an unwillingness to ordain women as Jesus had all male apostles. He did have some married apostles but marriage is ruled out by completely different criteria. Moving the goalposts while the ball is on the way.
We are the only profession who exclude women; the only one who insists it is for life. Unless we have married women we will soon have tiny numbers. But then they will only be catering for a few so I suppose there is no need to panic. Further more there will be income only for a few.
Because of a rule made by old celibates, we will soon be bereft. Male celibacy was not insisted on by Jesus Christ. That is the way it is going to be. The Eucharist will go rather than the man-made rule. Ask them in Brazil. Too few clerics in Ireland will protest. A cleric can rape children and not be excommunicated. Try asking for women priests and you will be terminated. An upside down value system?
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church, how allegations against priests are handled.
In Ireland we habitually lurch from one extreme to another. From a cover-up of clerics our prelates now shaft them on flimsy evidence All the talking in the world will not solve this. Some action will have to be taken. There must be a search for a priest brave enough to say that he will not be put out of his home. A test case in the civil courts seems the only hope.
This could take a few forms. To insist on continuing to administer the sacraments would be going too far, perhaps. If the priest refuses to budge from his home, the ball is then in the court of the prelate. The prelate may then have to resort to civil law.
If the civil law backs him, it looks like we are flummoxed. However, I imagine there would have to be substantial prima facie evidence before it would do so. It seems to me that prelates are suspending for less than this. The priest would also perhaps have to threaten to sue for defamation or libel.
A second possibility is to leave the house and then appeal to the civil courts.
A third possibility is to sue the bishop having been reinstated and found innocent.
A test case seems to be the only way out. The only compromise I can think of is to lay the matter before the civil authorities and prelate and priest agree to be bound by their findings.
False allegations are a fact of life but we must beware. There are a fairly considerable number of clerics who are in at least partial denial. They will try and go from the particular to the general and cast doubt on a whole variety of situations. A multitude of allegations have been genuine. In the interest of balance we must always mention that. We too could go from one extreme to another and lay little emphasis on the great harm that has been done.
In the interest of balance, I have previously suggested that we ask all the bishops for a guarantee that they will publish any and all NBSCCC reports on their diocese. Those who will not do so should have their residences and office picketed.
I think something on these lines is necessary as I am a little worried all our time was spent on false reports about clerics. We must not become too introspective and inward looking.
The Top Table of Four.
At present, membership seems to be around maybe 12% of total. This is quite small, small enough to be called a rump or even a disaffected rump. Like our baptisms, at least two thirds I fear are just paper members. If push ever comes to shove, I believe two thirds would melt away. The attendees at our morning meeting made up maybe 2% or 3%. Over the next year I hope a determined effort will be made to increase membership.
To do that, I think a few little sacrifices will have to be made. The best is sometimes the enemy of the good. Sometimes it is best to settle for 80% or so rather than aim for 100% and perhaps end with nothing. We need to get at least a third of the priests on board to be substantial and to merit notice. Life is not perfect and we need to broaden a little and even dilute a tiny bit in order to get three quarters of a loaf. As it is the majority view among priests sees the ACP as radical and extreme, the word “soreheads” was mentioned at our meeting. It was also mentioned that there was just one priest member from one populous diocese, if I heard correctly.
If some settle for nothing less that 100% their way, we are in danger of adopting a 1950 archbishop mentality. We have all seen clerics change as they ascend the ladder and put their feet at the top table. It is an occupational hazard for rising clerics in any situation. This mentality is closet conservatism, and is a stranger to liberalism. My way 100% and no other way is bordering on censorship
Would we consider a brochure and an individual invitation to all priests in Ireland?
We should have the expertise to produce an attractive and well-worded brochure. It should be broad in nature and not too many specifics. Particular hobbyhorses are best excluded. We must not become a one trick pony. Something along the general lines of bringing Vatican 11 on stream. A lot of thought would be needed for good wording.
This brochure along with membership form might be given individually to all priests saying that we miss them and are anxious to hear what they have to say. It might be either handed to them at diocesan gatherings or failing that posted. If we become totally opposed to contrary views and refuse to listen we will wither. First get them in and then apply gentle persuasion. As it is, the bishops can ignore us, we are too small.
Our membership is top heavy with 50 to 70 year olds, too many of us inching on to 70. We badly need younger members. Like it or nor they are the only future. Get them in and then try to influence them if we don’t like their colours.
One person mentioned having someone on the “executive” who would have the ear and confidence of the bishops. I would be very opposed to that. There is a danger that this person would stymie us. When the bishops offer us three or four places at their Maynooth meetings, particularly when they discuss pastoral items ( they have little or no expertise on these matters) then we can perhaps reconsider.
Next Year.
It also struck me that we are top heavy with Dublin membership? What about having the next AGM in say Athlone, the Hodson Bay hotel or some such?
I would suggest that our theme next year would be all our lapsed Catholics. Failing that we might also theme the great virtue of justice, calling at the same time for a ten-year moratorium on the twin cuckoos of sexuality and authority/control. These two have forked almost everything else out of the nest.
The first two parishes I worked in were in London, in the immediate aftermath of 1968 Humanae Vitae. In those years great energy was brought to bear, searching for wriggle room in the wording. While this exploration went on, hordes were leaving. With the concentration on the pill, this exodus did not get near enough attention.
In Ireland we have a similar distraction in clerical child abuse. This is not to say it is not a massive issue. It is. Right now it is the biggest issue. It is taking all our energy and little is given to the disillusioned that are streaming out. We are where England was in the late 60s and early 70s. That is the reason I propose it as our main theme next year. It is something that is of concern to priests of all views and if it was well propagated it might boost membership and attendance at the AGM.
At the moment all priests remotely in touch with reality will know we are failing dismally. Look down any Sunday morning. The 17-35s are almost entirely missing. The under 50s are scarce. And yet we persist with the same practices that are proven failures. Fresh thinking is needed.
I would propose that we ask some young people who have left to address us. Pay them if necessary. We should ask them to tell us exactly what sticks in their craw, what turns the off, what it is they cannot stand.
I am convinced that if a Gospel were handed to a random 100 young people, 95% of them would agree with 95% of the contents. The addenda of elderly celibates down through the centuries are what turn people off. We should shuffle off teachings that are not solidly bases on the Gospels, or better still say that we don’t know or are not sure, things we have forgotten to say, that’s if we were ever familiar with uncertainties.
It is the Mass that principally defines us. Sacraments are increasingly given to those who never come to Mass, they are now an exponential majority. This it seems to me is a bridge too far in an attempt to accommodate them. The end result is that the Mass will go the way of Benediction or the Stations of the Cross, a very seldom event.
One priest, I think he said he was from Cherry Orchard, told how they had an attendance at weekends of 1%. If we continue to shrug off the importance of Mass, this is where practically every parish will be in 30 years time. We will merely be supplying ceremonial and ritual and setting. Several of the reformed churches are already in this constituency. There is little point in we joining them. To sacrifice the Mass in this manner is a bridge too far. It seems to me that Mass should be a gateway sacrament, just as baptism is. Otherwise we will be completely redefining ourselves, we will de-Eucharist the Catholic church.
I would be willing to write and read a paper along these lines next year if you so wish. I know numbers would not agree with me but I believe it would certainly get a discussion going on the neglected subject of lapsed Catholics. Excluding from debate those who see things differently is very narrow minded and conservative.
When the clerically sexually assaulted appealed to senior clerics for justice, to their consternation and bewilderment they met a brick wall. The senior clerics by and large went MEGO, my eyes glaze over. The victims were appealing to something that just was not there, or there in a most skewed fashion.
As mentioned above, there is such emphasis on sexuality and authority/control that there is room for little else. The great virtue of justice is smothered and neglected The rash of white collar crime is all around us. The justice tract in Maynooth in the 60s was quite irrelevant. It was hardly a million miles from farmer A’s hen laying an egg in farmer B’s field and which of them owns the egg. It was stifled in theory.
I am convinced that the only way of renewing communication with the dear departed, especially the young, is by trumpeting justice. Say what you like about the young bur they are big into justice and will protest and march in its name. And as I say above, give a rest to sexuality and authority for about 10 years. We are all worn out from them.
And so if you do not accept my first suggestion as next year’s theme, you might consider justice. Our society and all societies are riddles with injustices. There is much to discuss and many issues. Maybe speakers from Justice and Peace Commission, Amnesty International and especially Transparency International. Would not Alan Shatter be an interesting choice, or Gerry Adams?
A third theme we might take up is leadership. Clerical land has none. Promotion comes not for any initiative (it disqualifies) but through doing nothing. By doing nothing you cannot make a mistake. It is only fair to say that one or two do slip through the net.
The evidence for this? Our so-called leadership sailed us into a perfect storm a long while back on the clerical child abuse issue. They do not have the faintest idea how to sail us out.
The dearth of leadership is apparent in other fields as well. There is a much-mentioned vacuum in mother Ireland. Bankers, politicians, even the Gardai have had their off moments. The media has taken what the professional cleric sees as our place. They are the arbiters of good taste and acceptable behaviour. Nature does abhor a vacuum. Senior clerics created the vacuum.
Clerics are promoted and given vacuous ludicrous titles not because of any initiative or leadership qualities, but because they at least give the impression that they will do knee jerk blind unquestioning obedience. Items such as pastoral initiative and administrative gifts are on the back boiler, and, as we have learned to our cost, it shows. By and large, only those who do short term are promoted. Very few visionaries in the higher ranks. These closed minds then put other closed minds in positions of responsibility. The result is that the whole works are gummed up.
Leadership might be a theme to consider.
You may if you wish put any or all this on the website.
Joe McGuane (Cloyne).

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  1. Ned Quinn says:

    Proposal: Joe McGuane for the leadership team of the ACP.

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Fr McGuane (not for the first time) makes several trenchant but relevant points here – and not a bit of harm that he reprises them in this forum.
    The best can indeed be the enemy of the good. A too purist cleaving to the ‘foundational objectives’ may not allow the ACP to grow a little. The non-appearance of (m)any ‘ordinary parish priests’ on this site (even those who have turned up to ACP diocesan or regional or AGM gatherings) suggests that too many are indeed ‘paper members’ or are reluctant to put their heads above the parapet.
    A greater sprinkling of youth, or the relatively young, would be a sine qua non for any organization that hopes to have a future. As with the Church, so with the ACP.
    And I welcome Joe’s return to the great wide question of the laity & the lapsed – this time, I think, with more pastoral positivity than in The Furrow a year ago.
    Yes, and I too wonder how chaps who once seemed bright and individual and showing sparks of leadership become dull, awkward and herd-like when the mist of episcopacy envelops them.

  3. Yet another chastening report from the battlefront. If the 95% dismiss this as the view of a “disaffected rump” what do they say instead? What is their alternative view of how things stand?

  4. Kevin Walters says:

    If I were a Sheppard what would I do
    In trust a bowl and towel I would bring to you
    A Bondsman to the one above
    To All, this must be truly understood
    In poverty we only serve love
    Water with grace to clean your heart feet and face
    As I wash your feet the Masters heart I will seek
    Your heart to mine will surly speak
    No one can divide if in the light of the Spirit we reside
    Our opinion’s are no longer truly our own
    The Word of GOD (Will) is all we own
    To Bishop on his throne we will take our towel and bowl
    As we wash his feet his heart we will seek
    No one hides from where Christ truly resides
    with tongue and flame give us unity again.
    In Christ

  5. Wilfrid Harrington, O.P. says:

    Joe, I do thank you. Older than you, I assume, and hope-filled by Vatican II, I am aghast at the betrayal.
    I paraphrase Cicero: Delenda est Curia Romana.
    The Holy Spirit will have the last laugh. Sadly, I won’t hear it.

  6. Well said, Joe. Let us keep hearing the prophetic voices. They help us to hang in there and affirm our commitment to Vatican II. The ACP website is a wonderful pastoral resource.

  7. Ciaran Mac Aodha says:

    So very well said…
    As a young person, I can say
    1) We have no reason to trust or have any confidence in the leaders of the church in Rome. They act more like scoundrels and rascals than credible men of God
    2)Celibacy for clerics – We know where that has got us !
    3)The church is crying out for strong leaders, women and men.
    4) We need a new Catholic Church of Ireland and the UK with complete break off from the fuddy duddy church of Rome. Its incredible that we put up with the nonsense from the Catholic hirearchy in Rome.
    Make these significant changes and watch the churches fill up once again.

  8. Ciaran Mac Aodha says:

    So very well said…
    As a young person, I can say
    1) We have no reason to trust or have any confidence in the leaders of the church in Rome. They have failed us time and time again.
    Young Irish Catholics have voted with their feet.
    2)Celibacy for Priests – We need to attract new and talented leaders to the church. Young people believe that priests should be allowed to marry. Let it happen
    3) Young people believe in equal opportunity in the church for both men and women – Let it happen
    More than anything else, we need to hope and pray that more members of the church will speak out courageously about what is wrong in the church and what is needed to fix it. Its pointless for priests to continue to toe the line in a dysfunctional and deteriorating situation that we find ourselves in.
    I would be delighted to see a complete break away from my perception of a hopeless and destructive Roman lead church and have it replaced with a new and modern faced catholic church of Ireland and UK which is a meaningful force in all of our lives. Then I think you would see the churches fill up once again.

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