Large number of clergy attend ACP meeting in Athlone

More than 250 priests attended a meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests in Athlone on Wednesday February 20th 2013. The meeting opened with a prayer asking God for guidance, wisdom and support so those who were taking part in the meeting would engage in meaningful discussions which would help them in their ministry to build up the body of Christ. We prayed for Pope Benedict XVI, that God will grant him good health and peace in mind and body. We prayed for those who are tasked with electing the next Pope, that the wellbeing of the Catholic Church be foremost in their minds as the cast their vote.
After the prayer, Brendan Hoban outlined the work of the ACP during the past few months. We expressed our unhappiness with the present procedures for stepping down priests against whom allegations of sex abuse have been made. We argued that in their present form, the current procedures compromise the basic constitutional rights of the priest.
When the Bishops refused to meet with the leadership of the ACP, they suggested that we meet with the Priests Councils in various dioceses. We have begun that process with a meeting with the Priests Council in Dublin which was also attended by Archbishop Martin. The focus of the ACP’s discussions at these meetings is the dire situation which is now facing ministry in every diocese in the country. None of the solutions put forward to date – revival of the deaconate, the clustering of parishs,- adequately face the current and future crisis. Brendan drew attention to the fact that Church authorities say that one reason why they initially handled the sex-abuse crisis badly was that they were unaware of what was happening at the time. Brendan said that we cannot use this excuse in context of addressing the current collapse of priestly ministry in Ireland. The issue is staring everyone in the face. Unfortunately, he said that often there is a disconnect between the priests and the bishop and, obviously, there is a disconnect between the Irish bishop and Rome.
Brendan also drew attention to the secretive and unjust ways in which priests that are held in the highest esteem in Ireland have been discipline by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
At this point the meeting was open to the floor. The discussion that followed lasted for almost two hours. There was an extraordinary level of participation, and a great openness in the group. One speaker summed it up well by beginning his contribution with the words like this: “I hadn’t intended to speak, but I can see that this gathering is a safe and accepting place….” Maybe the fact that this type of atmosphere is now present at ACP meeting is one of the greatest achievements of the association. It would be impossible to do justice to all that was said in this short report, so we have just picked out some points. Apologies to those who are not properly reported.
Jimmy McPhillips spoke about the post on the ACP website from some priests in Clogher who were critical of the fact that the leadership of the ACP did not seem to be aware and sympathetic to the difficult situation in which priests find themselves today- with low morale and multiple problems among the faithful, from financial problems to dealing the suicide epidemic. In many situations he said, “priests are at breaking point.” He did acknowledge that the priest who were criticising the way the website was being used/abused did not take part in discussions on the website.
Des O’Donnell pointed out that an excellent document drawn up by the Irish Bishops on forming Parish Councils had not been approved by Rome. This raises questions about the proper relationship between local Churches and the Holy See. When someone asked why the Bishops had sent the document, Des interjected that the Bishops had not sent the document to Rome, rather the Papal Nuncio was the person who had sent it.
In reflecting on the silencing of Irish priests and the complete lack of due process and dialogue, Pat Rogers, said that it was ironic that the Pope’s Intention for June 2013 was “the promotion of dialogue among the nations.” We could do with a lot more dialogue in the Church, particularly when people’s rights and good names were at stake.
Gerry O’Hanlon followed on and said that, in the Catholic Church, we need to move from a culture of deference to one of dialogue.
In relation to the way priest have been silenced and removed from ministry through actions taken by the CDF, Tom Jordan pointed out that, in the Dominicans, since 1974 when questions are raised about the orthodoxy of a member, the issue is first dealt within the Order before it ever gets to the CDF.
Tom Bardon from Ardagh was critical of how the new missal was forced on the Irish Church, and felt that the ACP had caved in too easily on the matter. He was also critical of the way Tony Flannery had been dealt with since many share Tony’s positions on a host of issues and pastoral questions and the future of ministry. John Collins from Dublin made the same point and said that there was huge support for Tony at this time. Kevin Reynolds asked whether those in authority in the Catholic Church had forgotten the lessons of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Quite a number of people said that priests, the ACP and the bishops need to engage more forcefully with many of the current economic, political and ecological issues that dominate peoples lives. Padraig McCarthy from Dublin pointed out that there was more engagement with these issues during the recession in the 1980s.
John Hassett who had resigned his position as Dean of the Maynooth district in the Archdiocese of Dublin because of how Tony Flannery had been treated said that he had received huge support locally and from across the diocese and country for the course of action which he had taken in support of Tony.
Many commented that there should be other FORA on the website where people might share concerns on Youth Work, Social Justice, Liturgy, Catholic Education etc. The consensus was that we need to broaden out our perspectives on these issues.
Enda McDonagh from Maynooth agreed with this and wondered whether small groups of people with common interests might have something to contribute to the ACP and the website on these issues. Questions about how women are currently treated in the Catholic Church is a major cause of upset to many committed Catholics.
All of us priests are grateful to Pat Rogers for his contribution to the website, especially in the area of biblical reflections and daily and Sunday homilies. Pat asked that others would contribute on this front also, by sending their homilies to him on the website. Here again we encourage those with talents in this vital area of priestly life to share their thoughts with others.
Before the meeting ended Sean McDonagh proposed a motion to ask the Irish bishops to intervene in the present context where, without any due process, priests are being removed from ministry through actions taken by the CDF. There is a preamble quoting the Synod of Bishops, 1971, and this is the resolution:
In the light of the above teaching from the Synod of Bishop in 1971, especially, no 40 We the undersigned ask the Irish Bishops’ Conference to meet, as soon as possible, with those Irish priests who have been censured by the Vatican in recent year. The purpose of the meeting would be to request the Bishops’ Conference to enter into discussions with the CDF to :
1. To (explore) how best to resolve the matters that have led to the censuring of the priests and;
2. To set up local mediation structures to address any such issues in the future.
We would like to see this happen as a matter of urgency.

This motion was passed unanimously, and will be on the website in a few days, with a facility for people who wish to add their names to it.
Finally, Tony Flannery spoke about his situation, and where he found himself now. His talk was greeted with a standing ovation.
The meeting ended with a prayer.

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  1. “One speaker summed it up well by beginning his contribution with the words like this: “I hadn’t intended to speak, but I can see that this gathering is a safe and accepting place….” Maybe the fact that this type of atmosphere is now present at ACP meeting is one of the greatest achievements of the association.
    I’d have to agree with this. Whoever feels unsafe, threatened perhaps, unsupported should never, never ever feel that way in the Church itself.
    Trust is a sure foundation on which to build. You have made the beginnings of great inroads on this perhaps – and might not realise the full import of that at this time. Good for you, and good for this man that he felt safe enough to honestly share what was in his mind and heart, without threat or fear.
    You know the adage – ‘safety in numbers’. When you are able to trust, work with and support each other as priests – you will help the wider ‘Church’ community more effectively with same, I believe. Good to hear it went so well.

  2. Mary O Vallely says:

    Delighted to hear of such a good attendance, of a lively two-hour discussion afterwards and assurance that speakers felt they were in “a safe and accepting place”. Good to hear affirmation of the leadership of the ACP and heartwarming to hear of the support for Tony Flannery; relief also to hear that Enda McDonagh is alive and active (could have been a papabile, I think!); agree with Pat Rogers that it is indeed very ironic the fact that Pope-soon-to-be-Cardinal Ratzinger is promoting dialogue among the nations. There is a HUGE need to get one’s own house in order. Real dialogue is impossible without self-examination, as dogmatism and self-righteousness make it impossible to hear the other.
    I think it was “Anne” several hundred threads back who wondered about prayer not being mentioned much on the site. We are all praying and have been praying and will continue, a la Mickey Harte, in “kicking down Heaven’s Door”. This interim period is a perfect time for self-reflection and thinking about the needs in our own country. Peter McVerry was saying recently that homelessness in Dublin is worse now than it was 30 years ago. There is great poverty, north and south, east and west. Those are the issues with which we need to be concerned,economic as well as spiritual poverty.
    Thank you for this report. It’s more positive than the men of Clogher’s recent meeting but then again – at least they meet. C’mon the rest of ye and keep the hearts up! You are not alone, NEVER alone.

  3. Cyril North says:

    Looks like the ACP is proceeding both responsibly and pro-actively in face of the current crisis in the church. The participants at the meeting were not confrontational. It remains for the hierarchy as a body, as well as the Vatican, to respond to this initiative in a positive way.

  4. Stephen Edward says:

    You boys are in for an awful shock when the next Pope comes along – then it will be decision time. How best to avoid one of us being censured (for heresy) indeed! How best to avoid more priests becoming heretics is the Vatican’s problem.

  5. Brendan Cafferty says:

    Priests are getting older and have to work harder. They are at breaking point and I read that Fr Padraig Staunton could not get a day off to attend an uncle’s funeral,or that of Bishop Cassidy as he had a baptism at 2pm that Saturday, mass in a nursing home at 4pm, two other masses at 7 and 8 pm in two separate churches. Maybe the election of a new Pope might give us some indication of where the Vatican stands on all this. Sort of last chance saloon?

  6. Steven Edward @4: your sarcasm comes through loud and clear. No doubt you have coughed up your €20 membership fee for the ACP, and in keeping with the general interests of all who contribute to this site, you might replace your insults with some solid ideas as how to make our church more relevant in our people’s lives. Maybe you could start by giving your opinion as to how to solve the problem as outlined by Brendan Cafferty at @5 above. A serious problem, which appears to be getting worse as time goes by.

  7. I am delighted that the recent meeting of priests was well attended and that many members contributed to the discussions. I note with sadness that the morale amongst your members is very low. How to improve this is being helped by your Association bringing many of these men together, if only for a couple of hours.
    On a personal note, I almost died five weeks ago in Cork’s Mercy hospital from large blood clots in both lungs. I was in a very distresed state for a few days, and had the strange experience of receiving the last Rites: something I myself had done many times in my years in the parish of SS Peter and Paul’s, Amwell Street, London. Late One night, my telephone rang as I was preparing to go to bed. A staff nurse at the Royal Free hospital, Gray’s Inn rd., told me that a dying Protestant patient was asking for the ‘Football Priest’ and the nursing staff had decided that I must be that man. The lovely story is one of the many interesting tales in my autobiograaphy’ No Love Here’. God bless you all.

  8. I thought there was a link on this page to the petition mentioned above. Eddie Finnegan asked (under the report of the Meath meeting) where it had gone to and that prompted me to return to this page (Athlone) where I had already signed earlier this week. Why is it so difficult, or impossible, to access it now???

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