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Rejoice in difference, Struggle against Division

Pope Francis has been busy putting a vision before us of how church can be, how it can preach the good news and be true to that message and yet be relevant to, and be able communicate with, the societies and cultures of the modern world. Some welcome his vision as a ray of hope, others worry that it involves change from past models and practices and yet others, even a few who are directly answerable to the Pope, seem bent on opposing Pope Francis’ vision, to opposing even minor changes. Did it not take over a year for the relevant congregation to announce the change in the rules about the Holy Thursday washing of feet.
There is concern that many bishops world wide do not share the vision of Francis, the vision of the last ecumenical council of the church, Vatican II. Here in Ireland many wonder what type of church, what vision of church, is being promoted by our own Irish Bishops’ Conference and by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland.
This was one of the reasons the Association of Catholic Priests sought meetings with the bishops and with the Papal Nuncio. An earlier report on this site outlines what happened with the request from the ACP to meet with the bishops’ conference.
To date the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, has declined to meet with the ACP. Seamus Ahearne had written to Charles Brown on behalf of the leadership of ACP asking for a meeting to discuss concerns about the Irish Church. Charles Brown replied and said that we could write to him about those concerns rather than meet in person.
Seamus Ahearne then wrote a personal letter expressing his own disappointment at the refusal to meet. That letter evoked a response which didn’t add anything to the discussion and Seamus then wrote a second personal letter to the Nuncio.
Those two personal letters written by Seamus are now being published on the ACP website by Seamus. While these two letters were personal letters from Seamus it still needs to be said that the leadership and members of the ACP are disappointed that the Nuncio has so far refused to meet with us.
We are very concerned at the direction of the Irish church and do wonder whether the model and vision of Church as expressed by Francis is being shown in the Nuncio’s unwillingness to meet the ACP.
Letter 1
Charles J Brown
The Nunciature.
Dear Charles
Thanks for your letter of 21st December. I copied it to my colleagues on the leadership of ACP. They weren’t impressed. We will discuss it at our next meeting of the ACP at the end of January.
I will respond on my own behalf. I wasn’t surprised at your letter but I was disappointed. I suppose I find it difficult to cope with anyone in Church life who is unwilling to chat, to share, to even disagree. I find it hard to understand how we can ever celebrate Eucharist if we don’t have Communion together. Every single day at Church (here in Rivermount), we discuss, disagree, learn and share. The Bread of Life is broken. Experiences of God are shared. It is basic and essential. Communion has to mean Communication and Community.
I do need to state the obvious which is our usual cliché (on the ACP) – that there are c 1000 priests signed up to the ACP. How could anyone ignore such a cohort of people? We are the rank and file of the Church in Ireland. That is very simple. The rather amusing thing about this is as follows: At the foundation of the ACP, we issued our terms of reference or our Mission Statement. All of this hung on the vision of Vatican 2. In many ways the approach of Francis (Pope) coincides with what we were saying and are saying. His pastoral outlook is what we would consider to be at the heart of the Gospel. We often smile as we say ‘that he has stolen our clothes.’ We found that both Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict strangled the Church of Vatican 2. We couldn’t accept the rigidities, the deference or the fears and control elements in that Church. It was so distant from the Christ of the Gospels or the Christ we meet daily.
We had hoped for better now. The Church in Ireland isn’t about the bishops or about the Nuncio but is about the collective of local Churches and parishes. We live there. We work there. We know that Church. We also know how priests feel. We know how many priests are finding it so hard to cope with the demands of a very changed Ireland and their own age and lack of energy. You will meet the formal church in your work. People will dress up. All the Liturgies will be done beautifully. You will be invited to a celebrating Church. I would suggest that the church you need to meet is the one on the ground; the informal one; the broken one; the hurting one; the one where most people have walked away; the one where lives are messed up totally. (I meet that every day of my life and am happy and edified in it).
I would have thought that a Nuncio or a Bishop needs to move out to the margins; out to where there is no deference; out to where there is no formality; out to where the God of the New Missal doesn’t exist. If you met with us – we would share that world of faith that we know and struggle to live. We wouldn’t be meeting to argue or to fight with you or to blame you. We are passionate in fighting for the future of the Irish church but we want to be very real in what we present. We want to help point to leaders for the reality of that life (and who wouldn’t break in the demands of that world). We don’t need those who present an image of a Church that simply doesn’t exist anymore and shouldn’t.
This is a personal letter and hasn’t been discussed with anyone else. I am involved in the ACP because I am so utterly committed to incarnating Christ in the world of today; because I believe so strongly in the church outside the formal building; because I have been so blessed in my ministry and am so excited daily in it; because I want to support above all Diocesan priests who have been largely abandoned and who feel isolated. I know that I have the Order around me. I know that I will always have support. I know that even in old age and sickness, I will have a community around me. The Diocesan men haven’t. We really must address the needs of our Diocesan men on whom greater burdens are now being placed. We have to face the present state of the Irish church. We can’t live off the fat of yesterday; it is artificial and wrong.
You end your letter by mentioning the gift of Mercy. This is a very rich concept and a dangerous one. I would suggest that Mercy above all means – that the Door is Open; the Door of the heart/mind/imagination is Open. It has to mean that there is the image of God happening in us – the shepherd going after the lost one; the prodigal father; the Christ who met the outsiders (poor, broken, Samaritans, prostitutes, tax-collectors); the image of Hosea with the husband going after the prostituting wife. Yes, the Year of Mercy is better celebrated if we reach out very humbly and learn from others. This is very expansive and very catholic. The Feast of the Epiphany shouts at us to be catholic!
We were overwhelmed with funerals for the past month in the parish. The vast majority of those who come to the Church on these occasions are entering a foreign place. We do huge work in preparation and hospitality. It is very holy ground. We try so hard to present an image of God which is welcoming and respectful and open. We honour the dead and honour the living.
We had among others – the funerals of two severely handicapped people (in the past week). One girl was 35; the man was 44. Neither ever spoke or walked. If God is love – God was deeply present in the life of those parents and in the life of the carers. Neither family ever went near Church. We drove down to St Vincent’s (Navan Rd) with Berno after leaving the Church. The hearse stopped. There was a guard- of- honour by the residents in their wheelchairs. The parents got out. They went to every patient and touched them. It was an incredible moment. That reaching out was inspirational. Was that holy? Was that Mercy? Was that Godly? I think so. We can learn from them.
Charles, we have to reach out to each other and talk. The Irish Church demands it. We are all handicapped by our past. Help us to set the Church free.
Seamus Ahearne osa
60 Glenties Park, Finglas South, D11 V5W8
0876782746; 018343722
8th January 2016.
Letter 2
The Nunciature.
Dear Charles
Thanks for your response to my letter. I recall from the distant past Stephen Hawking (physicist) . He had said in a BBC interview that the science of the future would be mysticism and the scientists would be mystics. He was then asked why he wasn’t religious. This was his answer: “Your God is too small.”
That was how I felt when I read your words. It is not the God that I meet or the Church that I believe in. Your comments were petty. Surely we aren’t youngsters at school, throwing insults at each other: ‘You did this.’ ‘No you did that.’ None of this matters. I invited you a number of times to drop in to us for the Eucharist or call in for a cup of tea/coffee. We didn’t need notice. There would be no formality. You did come back to me and invited me for coffee. I never made it. This isn’t about the two of us. Both of us are culpable in not coordinating our diaries. You are still welcome here. I will happily join you for a chat. But the time and date has to be fixed. This is more important than the two of us.
What we are speaking of really is the ACP and that band of priests who are represented in such a body. It is a matter of urgency that we share our concerns and our hopes. It is totally beyond my comprehension that a man in your role in this country could feel it right to refuse such a meeting. I just wonder how you understand your ministry in Ireland and who you are listening to. I am concerned at how ‘big’ the ‘God’ you are representing is, or what kind of ‘Church’ emerges from such a mind-set. Your job is much too important for you to opt out of hearing the views of a very serious and passionate group – the ACP. How can you shape the Church in Ireland if you are dismissive of the experience of those who know the scene best?
I cringed when I read in your letter the use of the word ‘Mercy.’ Be careful of that word. It is too sacred to be misused. It carries a long history. It needs to be lived. Let’s allow God to be big and our Church to be open-hearted and open-minded. Maybe I am foolish to expect so much.
There is no need to respond to this letter. I will speak now to the ACP leadership and share with the Advisory Group (on 3rd February) . They may have something to say.
Thank you.
Seamus Ahearne osa
60 Glenties Park, Finglas South, Dublin D11 V5W8
0876782746; 018343722;
1st February 2016.

Title of article: Rejoice in difference,  Struggle against Division
Homily of Archbishop Charles J Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, for Ecumenical Service in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,
Saint Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Belfast; Jan 2014
“This is the grace we pray for this evening, the courage always to go in search of our brothers and sisters, and to receive them in love when they come in search of us.
This going out to find the other in fraternal love does not imply any underestimation of the differences which exist among the followers of Christ. Differences are one thing; divisions are another. Christians need to rejoice in difference, and struggle against division. “


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  1. Willie Herlihy says:

    Thank you, Seamus for sharing your letters;
    Charles Brown can never be part of the solution, to the problems in our Church,because he is part of the problem.
    During the controversy over Tony Flannery being silenced by the C.D.F.,he gave a number of interviews to the Press in Ireland.
    On the matter of Priests being censored, he consistently stated, that this was a matter for the Priests and their Superiors.
    In Tony Flannery’s case, he implied it was a matter between himself and the Superior of the Redemptorists. As a former member of the C.D.F.,he was well aware that this was not the case,he knew better than anybody else how the C.D.F. works.
    Charles Brown, is among a cohort of Prelates, who speak out of both sides of their mouths,they all have one thing in common, they would love to see the back of Pope Francis.

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    We can be more grateful than ever, and doubly grateful, to Seamus Ahearne for writing these two letters to Charles Brown and for sharing them, speaking for the ACP, on this site. Seamus has written before about his confidence in his Order around him. Probably the only time he mentions his Order in his many welcome contributions here. He is very conscious of the support he enjoys, but equally conscious of how exposed most Diocesan priests of the ACP persuasion must feel: “We really must address the needs of our Diocesan men on whom greater burdens are now being placed.” But Seamus doesn’t live in some secluded Austin Friary tower or hermitage with just the odd visit to the peripheries. He’s doing the same parish hard labour in Rivermount as the “largely abandoned and isolated” Diocesan men he brings to the Nuncio’s attention – except that he’s probably doing that hard graft with greater dedication and improvisation and fewer parochial props than many of those isolated colleagues in more traditional parishes throughout the dioceses.
    Still and all, the evidence of this virtual parish over the past five years is that the Diocesan ACP men, with a very small handful of exceptions, leave it to the likes of Brendan, Seamus and Tony to state the obvious, in season and out of season, to Pope’s man and popesmen alike – the popes in question being retired, dead and/or canonised. Francis may indeed have stolen the ACP’s clothes, but there’s no danger of Nuncio or Irish bishops borrowing them when they “dress up” for their liturgies or “to be Church”. I’d guess that Francis will occupy a vanishingly short paragraph in Charles Brown’s CV. Besides, Francis is 79, Charles 56, Eamon Martin 54. Do the math.
    Yet, when it comes to a sneaking feeling of abandonment or being ignored, maybe it isn’t just time for Nuncio Brown to wake up and smell that coffee. Seamus asks Charles in Letter2: “How can you shape the Church in Ireland if you are dismissive of the experience of those who know the scene best?” There are a few “lay members” of this virtual parish, “clinging on by their fingernails” as the cliché has it, who may wonder why even those ACP Leadership men who contribute or share posts on here, do so as from the pulpit, rarely venturing into the pews or aisles of comment, discussion, riposte, agreement or disagreement. Not quite what it says on the tin above: “an association . . . and a voice to reflect, discuss and comment on issues affecting the Irish Church and society today.”

  3. Sandra Mc Sheaffrey says:

    Thanks to Seamus for once more putting his head above the parapet. I am sure he will recognise the lessons in this extract from the
    VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams
    (this starts at the point when the Skin Horse and the Rabbit are talking)
    The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
    “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
    “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
    “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
    “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
    “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
    “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

  4. Thank you Father Ahearne for letting us see your two “Dear Charles” letters. They highlight some important questions.
    In the past,there was often reference to ‘The Church Militant’, I would like to develop that further. In military parlance the 1000 priests of the ACP are the infantry. Everybody knows that the infantry consists of the frontline troops without whom no army could function or succeed. Alas, the infantry also suffers most and has many many casualties. An effective infantry consists of young fit enthusiastic soldiers. Obviously the church needs to recruit new soldiers for the faith in support to those good veterans who are now serving to the best of their ability.
    Where stands Charles in all this?
    The Lateran Treaties of 1929 gave the then Pope his own tiny sovereign state, the Vatican City. Thus, the Pope is now an absolute monarch of a non-democratic State and Charles Brown is its Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. He is also an Archbishop but has no diocese. Indeed, he is also the link man between the Church in Rome be it Pope and/or Curia with the irish Church. He thus has two jobs/functions. Could that be part of the problem or is the problem even bigger? The Church can be seen as a Church and as a State and the Pope is head of both.
    Vatican II throws some light on this situation as it shows the Church to be the gathering of “The People of God”.
    The current institutional Church is in crises and may well collapse. However, the Church of the People of God will continue and will continue to be supported by the Holy Spirit. We can have Hope in the future even though we do not yet know the form that it will take. So, there is real Hope for the future and a great need for prayer.

  5. Richard O'Donnell says:

    Thanks Seamus.
    What a pity poor Charles’ God is so small. What is even sadder is that his God is shared by so many others who also mix up God and power.

  6. Abuse survivor attacks curia’s failure to help” is a headline on the front page of today’s Irish Times.
    Marie Collins, a member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that she has found out that even the Pope himself can have decisions rendered as nought by splendid inaction on the part of the curia. The full report on page two of the paper raises serious questions.
    Having read Fr.Ahearne’s two letters to the nuncio, this comes as no surprise.

  7. Des Gilroy says:

    This Sunday’s gospel gives us that wonderful parable of the Prodigal Son. He abandoned the father, and wasted his legacy, but when he came home he was welcomed with open arms by his loving, forgiving father. Jesus told this parable to illustrate the importance of mercy and forgiveness when, as Luke tells us, the Pharisees and the scribes complained that “he welcomes sinners and eats with them”.
    We know that Charles Brown regards the ACP as a group of priests who have gone astray, who are pursuing a false agenda, perhaps even in heresy.
    Should not Charles learn from the parable, rush out to welcome the “prodigal sons” who would wish, like the tax collectors and sinners of the gospel, to hear what he had to say”.
    Perhaps it’s time now for Charles to ask himself the question “What would Jesus do?”.
    How are we in the pews expected to follow the message of the parable when it is not practiced at the highest levels?

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