Report on a meeting between the Association of Catholic Priests and representatives of the Irish Episcopal Conference in the Columba Centre in Maynooth on Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

Those present included, Bishop Philip Boyce (Raphoe), Bishop Martin Drennan, (Galway) and Bishop Donal McKeown (Derry).

The ACP was represented by Brendan Hoban (Killala), Dermot Lane (Dublin), Gerry Alwill (Kilmore) and Sean McDonagh (Columban).
The meeting began by praying together the Our Father and asking the Holy Spirit to guide our discussions.Brendan Hoban placed this particular meeting in the context of the ongoing relationship between the ACP and the Bishops over the past two years. Early in 2013, the leadership of the ACP wrote to the bishops requesting a meeting with them in order to discuss how to deal with the serious challenges faced by Irish Catholicism today. The request was turned down, but the bishops suggested that the ACP might meet the Priests’ Council in each diocese. The ACP consented to this suggestion and about 16 of the dioceses invited representative from the ACP to attend these gatherings. Some of the meetings were very fruitful. Other meetings were less helpful. But generally the ACP felt the meetings were worthwhile.
Having completed this process of engagement with the Priests’ Councils theACP asked the bishops for a meeting to consider a range of issues which arose during the discussions with the Priests’ Council.
1. Clustering
The first issue, which is causing real concern among priests, is clustering.
Many priests see it as an attempt to load more work on their shoulders at a time when they are getting older and are less able to cope with an extra load. Dermot Lane made two points. First of all he asked: Were the people who were designing the cluster aware that the extra pressure which was being imposed on priests was having a negative impact on their health?
Secondly, from the point of view of sacramental theology, in a ‘clustering situation’,
the priest leading the liturgy would have no real contact with the community where he was celebrating the Eucharist. In this context it is hard to see how this pastoral practice can build up
the body of Christ in that community. Some pointed to the different experiences of clustering in cities and rural areas. Others said that, at its best, clustering is only a short-term solution for a more serious problem evidenced by the fall in number of vocations to the priesthood.
2. Vocations
It was accepted that ‘clustering’, while helping to manage the optimum pastoral care as priest numbers declined, was not a long-term solution to the vocations’ crisis. Statistics from the Irish Bishops’ website, were produced which showed the nature of the vocation situation today and how the crisis will escalate dramatically within a decade.
While it was accepted that the situation would become critical within a decade or two, opinions varied as to what might be done.
Bishop Boyce felt that there should be more prayers for vocations and that priests should be ready to recommend the priesthood to young boys. While everyone agreed that prayer was needed there was a question as to whether an increase in (male, celibate) vocations would address the extent of the crisis.
The statistics, it was agreed, were very stark. Brendan Hoban pointed out that there has been a priest in his present parish since the 8th century. But given the present statistics he believes he will be that last priest in that parish. At the moment there was a priest in every parish in Killala diocese. Within 20 years there will be 7 priests serving 22 parishes spread out over a wide area. The situation is much the same in other dioceses.
Dermot Lane said that, when he shares these concerns with his pastoral council, people ask: is there a plan or strategy to address and solve this issue of having the Eucharist regularly available to people? While there are
no easy answers he talked about the very positive impact which the 30 Parish Pastoral Workers are having in parishes the Archdiocese of Dublin. They have a 3 year training programme in Mater Dei. They have brought a new dynamism to many parishes in Dublin. Unfortunately, the programme is in trouble because of lack of funds.
3. ACP proposals
Three ACP proposals were put before the meeting and the bishops were asked and agreed to bring then to the Bishops’ Conference with a view to forwarding them to Rome.
It is the conviction of the ACP that the three proposals need to be considered in order to guarantee regular access to the Eucharist to the Irish faithful. As Vatican II says “The Eucharist is the centre and source of the Christian life.
The three proposals are:
(i) Ordaining suitable married men (Viri Probati);
(ii) Inviting priests who left the active ministry to get married to return
to ministry at some level. It was pointed out that in a
west of Ireland parish there were 7 former priests, some of whom would be
willing to help.
(iii) The ordination of women to the Diaconate.
The ACP members stressed that the solutions to the current ministry cannot be accomplished on a male only basis. Pope Francis has made it clear that he wants to see women in positions of authority in the Church. Talk will not get us there unless structures are changed to facilitate women assuming their rightful place in the ministry of the Church. Many spoke about how women of faith are more and more distancing themselves from the Catholic Church because it seems unable to integrate their gifts into the wider service of the Church.
While the ACP members conceded that their proposals would cause disquiet and
difficulty, nonetheless they were clear that in the narrow window of opportunity available to the Irish Church – at most a decade or two – to come to terms with the vocations crisis, such proposals needed to be addressed as a matter of great urgency. The point was made that the Church was edging towards change in this area.
Reference was made to a meeting between Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in Brazil and Pope Francis where the discussion turned to the shortage of priests and the possibility of ordaining married men. Pope Francis told the bishop to discuss the matter with the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference and to come back to him with suggestions on how best to solve pressing pastoral
The ACP representatives again requested that the bishops bring the three proposals to the Irish bishops as a body, that they would respond to the proposals and that the concerns underpinning them be brought to the attention of Rome. The three bishops agreed to do this.
4. The translation of the New Missal
Fr. Gerry Alwill presented the findings of a Survey of Clergy’s views on the New Missal. The survey was conducted between March 31st and April 11th 2014. (A full report on the survey will be carried on the ACP web-site.)
Three questions were asked:
1. Whey saying Mass in public do you
(a) Use all texts from the New Missal
(b) Use texts from both the 1973 Missal and the New Missal
(c) Us all texts from the 1973 Missal
(d) None of the above
77 % used texts from the New Missal. 17% used texts from both New and 1973
Missal, 5% used texts from 1973 Missal.
2. Which best describes your attitude to the New Missal? Are you
(a) Very Satisfied with it?
(b) Satisfied
(c) Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
(d) Dissatisfied.
(e) Very Dissatisfied.
4% were very satisfied with it. 19% were satisfied. 14% were neither
satisfied or 33% were dissatisfied and 27% were every dissatisfied.
3. If given a choice, which of the following three options would you
(a) Continue to use the New Missal, with any further changes being made.
(b) Continue to use the New Missal on the understanding that a revised
New Missal will be available within a few years.
(c) Scrap the New Missal and return to the 1973 Missal, pending
publication of a revised New Missal.
17% continue to use the New Missal without any further changes. 44.5% Continue
to use the New Missal on the understanding that a revised Missal will be available with a few years. 35.1 % Scrap the New Missal and return to the 1973 Missal pending the publication of a revised New Missal.
In conclusion “None of those who are “Very Satisfied” with the New Missal would like to see a change to the Missal. Of those who are ‘Satisfied’ with the New Missal, over half would like to see a revised Missal become available with a few years. While 61% are either ‘Dissatisfied’ or ‘Very
Dissatisfied’ with the New Missal, a large number 80% want to see it replaced, including a large majority 81 % of those who said that they were Neither Satisfied or Dissatisfied.
After the data was presented by Gerry Alwill there was a lively discussion on the New Missal. All the ACP representative were dissatisfied with the Collects, many of the Prefaces and Canon 1. Others mention obscure language, such as oblation instead of gift. The sexist Language in the
Creed – “for us men” was heavily criticised. The ACP representative recommended that the Bishops Conference should encourage Pastoral Councils in every parish to discuss their experience of the New Missal and that this should be gathered and made available to Rome.
4. AOB.
(i) Censured priests
The ACP is very unhappy with the way a number of priests in Ireland have
been treated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The
processes used are unjust, offensive and lacking in Gospel values and are a
cause of scandal to ordinary people. When difficulties arise in the areas of doctrine or morals they should be dealt with at local church level, as Pope Francis has suggested from very early in his papacy.
(ii) There is growing disquiet among Irish priests with the current preference for appointing bishops from outside a particular diocese, sometimes from the far end of the country. It makes a mockery of the process of consultation and flies in the face of doctrine of collegiality as articulated at the Second Vatican Council.
(iii) Synod
It is the hope of the ACP hope that the Irish Bishops attending the forthcoming Synod will embrace the response of Irish Catholics to the Vatican questionnaire – people want to see important pastoral issues discussed and acted upon. One of the most pressing at a pastoral level is the need to invite the faithful who are in second relationships to participate fully in the Eucharist.
Before the meeting broke up at 12.50, the Bishops promised to bring our concerns to the full conference of the bishops and to report back to us so that the circle of consultation is completed.
In the ACP meeting last year in Athlone when we discussed the New Missal and its impact, delegates from around the country requested that when we met the bishops we should put it to them that priests should be allowed to choose between using the New Missal and the older (1973) Missal, while awaiting a revision.
This is just to say that we made that point to the bishops and we await a response to it.
Gerry Alwill
Brendan Hoban
Dermot Lane
Sean McDonagh
Brendan Hoban 086 6065055
Sean McDonagh 087 2367612
Gerry Alwill 087 2305557

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  1. Bernard Kennedy says:

    The 3 proposals are valid and hopeful, and if adapted could positively bring about necessary change and de-clericalize Catholicism. It would too validate the concept of ‘sensus fidelium’ and, working together as ministerial priesthood, and priesthood of laity. In the ‘shortage’of priests it could be, too, that the Holy Spirit is leading us to an answer which to some is obvious. We need to adjust our Christology, which underpins ecclesiology, from high descending to low ascending.The ‘clustering’ points are well made regarding health of clergy and concept of ecclesiology.
    On appointing bishops there is a need to understand the needs of the diocese and the talents of the candidates and the atmosphere of the area and then the ability of the candidates along with transparency of selection. I congratulate the Associations delegates.

  2. Gabriel Dolan says:

    Thanks for your courage, clarity and progressive presentation. However I did not get the impression that the Bishops listened too much or promised too much but at least they will get back to you. Take heart and you do us proud. Aluta Continua
    Gabriel Dolan SPS, Mombasa, Kenya

  3. Martin Harran says:

    The most significant thing about this meeting is that it actually took place – a significant Rubicon crossed!
    I suspect that on an individual basis, most of the bishops would agree with the points as presented by the ACP representatives. The bigger Rubicon, however will be if they present those recommendations to the Synod of Bishops and endorse them.
    P.S. A bit of housekeeping – the figures in the survey as given above need to be corrected – 4+38+27+52 = 121%; I assume they were reported correctly to the bishops 🙂

  4. Nessan Vaughan says:

    Congratulations to the ACP and to the representatives who attended this meeting. It is encouraging that at least there was a forum where the views articulated could be expressed. The ACP reps concerned, as expected given their personal gifts and learning, made the points very well and highlighted several areas of concern which are also shared by so many of the lay baptised.

  5. Maire O'Donohoe says:

    Thank you for your leadership and your concern for Gospel and justice. You give me hope, and challenge me.

  6. It is wonderful to read that at last we as members and leaders of the church here in Ireland are talking to one another. Surely giving witness in what we do is every bit as important as in what we preach.
    Blessings to all concerned.

  7. Colm Holmes says:

    Congratulations to the 3 bishops and the 4 ACP representatives for sitting down together and discussing these important issues. I hope that there will be a meaningful response from the Bishop’s conference leading to further discussions about the way forward for the church in Ireland. The laity & religious (both women & men) must also be involved in this process as new governance structures are developed. It wont be easy; it will take time and prayers; but it’s the only way forward.
    Many thanks to all involved.

  8. Des Gilroy says:

    That bishop representatives of the Irish Bishops Conference have at last met with the ACP is to be welcomed and hopefully this is the beginning of a positive and fruitful dialogue. All the points put forward by the ACP delegation were very positive and it was also very opportune that they reminded the bishops that it was the expressed wish of Pope Francis that local episcopal conferences should review the celibacy issue in the light of pastoral difficulties in their own terrritories and come back to him with suggestions on how best to solve it.
    How interesting that Dermot Lane made the following comment in the light of impending priestless parishes : he said that, when he shares these concerns with his pastoral council, people ask: is there a plan or strategy to address and solve this issue of having the Eucharist regularly available to people?
    Today, I heard of a parish in Dublin where for the summer months mass will only be celebrated in the local church every second day and a prayer service, conducted by a lay person, will be held on “mass-less” days. When those who are currently daily communicants requested that the Eucharist be available for those attending the prayer service, they were told this would not happen as there would be no priest present.
    Could someone riddle me this one? Why is it possible for a Minister of the Eucharist to bring along communion to a sick person in their home or in hospital but they are not allowed to distribute communion in their local church during a prayer service? Could one of thr Bishops answer me that one?

  9. Thank you for representing reform minded Catholics so well in this meeting. If the bishops were sincere then it may prove to be a significant event. You ticked all my boxes – although it would have been good if along with the opening of the diaconate to women, a request had been included for a lifting of the childish ban on the discussion of the ordination of women to the priesthood. Elderly, celibate men may have something to say on life, faith, God and everything, but we will always be a lop-sided dysfunctional church as long as we hold the position that women cannot be trusted with leadership or even with a Sunday sermon. It shouldn’t be a big deal. But one revolution at a time I guess.
    The level of dissatisfaction with the New Missal is stark. Surely the situation is untenable and we can no longer simply ‘make do’ with what was foisted upon us. Its not just about personal preference. The credibility of our weekly worship and the image of God it presents to the world is at stake.

  10. Orla Davin Carroll says:

    I applaud the ACP delegates for bringing to the representatives of the Bishops’ Conference proposals which seem to many of us to be essential first steps, if solutions to the problems facing the future Irish Church are to be found. The unfair burden being placed increasingly on ageing clergy is unsustainable . Mandatory celibacy should not be a barrier to priesthood. Congregations should not have to fear that the Eucharist may become increasingly unavailable to them. Women’s equal involvement in the life of the church, by virtue of their baptism, should be recognised and the question of their acceptance in official roles should not be mooted, insultingly,(and still not officially!) only as a last resort, to shore up a collapsing church structure.
    I hope the Bishops’ Conference will hear the ‘sensus fidelium’ which prompts the ACP delegation’s proposals. If they do, the Church may find a path to the future.

  11. Jackie Minnock says:

    Great to read the report from this important meeting. Here’s hoping the Spirit will move and inspire the Bishops to take these concerns and possible solutions to Rome. I agree there needs to be prayers for vocations – yet I believe the prayers must be that all peoples will recognise their vocation to further the Gospel message – be that single person/married person/religious sister or priest. All have a vocation and all have gifts to be shared. We have to start somewhere and prayer is a good place – and the suggestions offered by the APC deserve careful consideration. With the course at Mater Dei having problems perhaps those who have already completed theology courses, within parishes, could be
    encouraged to get involved.

  12. Mary McKeown says:

    It seems that the bishops listened, and that is a very good thing. There is little reporting of any comments they may have made during the course of the meeting. Is there a plan for a further meeting after the various points have been ‘brought to the attention of Rome’ to let us know the outcome? I am particularly interested in addressing how to fill roles pertaining to pastoral care, and priestly duties. Ordaining women to the diaconate is a first step for full participation of women in the church. There are other ways that more lay people can be involved in decision making structures, just by appointing them! I will continue to pray. I know that the Spirit is moving; the continued energy Pope Francis is displaying for us all, and the fact that this meeting has taken place are two real examples of positive change. Thank God.

  13. Thank you to the four representatives from the ACP for all the work you are doing and for your patience and courage in finally getting this meeting with the bishops’ representatives. It gives us a faint glimmer of hope. Now may God give us patience to stay the course while things out of our control continue to move at a snail’s pace!

  14. If I may turn the hymnsheet for a moment, I ask first how much was this meeting of the ACP and the Bishops about addressing a pastoral problem and how much about pushing their feminist agenda? Before we rush to proscribe solutions we need to take careful stock. Why is there an assumption that opening the RC priesthood to women will solve the vocations’ crisis? Look at other Christian denominations that have taken that route. It has not strengthened those institutions – to put it mildly. Rather the contrary. What has been the net benefit to the Church here from opening the ministries of the Word and the Eucharist to both men and women? What the net effect of allowing girls/women as well as boys/men to serve at Mass? I see all of these ministries dominated by women wherever I look ! Perhaps the Spirit is telling up something here? Perhaps the God who created humankind ‘male and female’ intends a different witness and role for each of the sexes ? I do not propose barring women from any of the fore-mentioned. However I see priesthood fundamentally and theologically linked to the ‘male’. As Pope Francis said in his exhortation , the fact that only males can be priests does not imply that all leadership in the church is confined to them ! We make a mistake when we identify all leadership functions with priestly ministry.

  15. Michael A Kavanagh says:

    The suggestions made by the ACP delegation, regarding the shortage of priests, have great merit, but I wonder if there is also a necessity to address the disinterest by young people in the priesthood.
    Perhaps young people know little of the daily pastoral challenges and rewards faced by priests and see only a life of devotional ritual.
    As a married man, I admit I know little so I would urge priests, both young and old, to meet young people, wherever they congregate, dare I say even in pubs, and inform them of priesthood, if this is not already done
    Young people are today well educated, socially aware and highly motivated to personal achievement and worth. But they also have a strong sense of community. Given personal invitation and personal challenge, it is possible that, with support and affirmation, many would be willing to forsake secular life for a nobler calling.

  16. I have been very heartened to read of the recent meeting between the representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and of the Association of Catholic Priests and wish to congratulate the members of the ACPI for their courage. It seems such an ordinary thing to happen in the 21st Century, that christians committed to the same gospel message would sit down and talk to each other about how they can use their diverse leadership gifts, whether of bishops, clergy, religous or laity to address the serious issues of furthering the development of the church in an increasingly complex society. And yet I gather that it is a first of its kind, or at least a rare happening.
    Since I returned from ministry in Brazil, where I spent 17 years in the semi-desert region of Bahia, I have been following the activities of the ACP and the ACI with great interest, but also with a sense of amazement at some of the things which seem to be major issues. I refer for example, to the very basic need of people to be listened to and heard if they are to participate in the life of their church as active members gifted by God’s Spirit in a multiplicity of ways. The process of dialogue between laity, clergy and bishops seems to be a major challenge and there seems to be a lot of fear involved.
    I recall many experiences of lay participation in our diocese in Bahia, North East Brazil during the episcopate of Dom Jaira Matias da Silva, when the church of the people of God was built ‘from the bottom up’. The Annual Diocesan Assembly lasted 3 – 4 days residential, and had 3 – 4 representatives from all the parishes of the Diocese along with the parish clergy and religious. The Bishop was always present throughout the entire Assembly. The Assembly was run by a working group of clergy and laity who prepared the process beforehand, with the Bishop.
    To start each Assembly, a speaker reflected with us on the national socio-economic situation of the country and how it related to the situation of our Church at the time. This was an important starting point as it provided clarity on the context in which the people lived out their daily lives. Our challenge then was to see how the gospel related to this reality. Every three years, through a discernment process at the Assembly, we identified 3 major priorities which all of us committed ourselves to, as concrete means of expressing the gospel. The priorities usually included a mixture of issues – social issues such as the right to water, the right to land, the lack of basic health care provisions, the situation of youth etc and also issues such as preparation for the sacraments, the role of lay catechists and lay ministers, team work, parish councils, planned giving etc. Suggestions came from the local parishes, through their parish representatives.
    In the intervening 2 years between these Assemblies, the Annual Assembly received reports from all the parishes on what happened in each of the three priority areas at local level during the year. The Assemblies were very dynamic, with group work and open forums which gave the participants, often numbering over 100 people, ample time and space to express their ideas and the situations of their communities. Decision-making was through voting, with colored cards. The liturgies were truly prayerful and participative, with great creativity and always related to the lived reality of the Diocese.
    All of us went home refreshed, rejuvenated and missioned once again to continue our call to spread the gospel in our own areas. The presence of the Spirit of God working among us was very tangible.The experience was beautiful and simple, one where people related to each other as common stewards of the gospel message. Both young people and adults spoke freely and were valued for their unique contributions, getting to know the Bishop and the clergy as pastors and mentors. I’m not saying that there were not differences, divergent views etc. But there was respectful space where these could be aired. I’m not saying either that all of my experience in Brazil was such, but I did experience what I truly regard as a very life-giving Church for a period of 8 years until the death of Dom Jairo.
    I wonder whether in Ireland today we can trust enough that while the mission of speading the Kingdom of God in the complexities of today’s world is greater than any of us, it is in the last analysis God’s work and we are all merely servants.

  17. Michael A Kavanagh says:

    Brid thank you for this. What words stay with me?
    “Need of people to be listened to”: Respect.
    “The process of dialogue between laity, clergy and bishops seems to be a major challenge and there seems to be a lot of fear involved.”: Lack of Faith.
    “I wonder whether in Ireland today we can trust enough.” Christ promised that He will be with us always.
    Excellent, thought provoking and informative. I hope this will be read by all

  18. This is all very encouraging and giving me greater hope for the future.

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