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.
Charles J Brown
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
8th January 2016.
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.
Seamus Ahearne osa
60 Glenties Park, Finglas South, Dublin D11 V5W8
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. “