Report on ACP meetings with Priests Councils
We met with Dublin, Waterford, Kerry, Killaloe, Clonfert, Tuam, Elphin, Achonry, Killala, Clogher, Kilmore, Armagh and Ossory.
In Raphoe Bishop Boyce arranged a meeting and invited any priest who wished to come. The bishop and seven priests attended.
Arranging meetings with Ferns, Galway, Ardagh & Clonmacnoise.
Any diocese that didn’t have a bishop had no council. (Kildare & Leighlin, Cloyne, Limerick, Derry, Dromore.)
We got no reply from Meath, Cashel, Down & Connor.
Cork was only willing to meet with local members of the ACP, and we did not accept that.
These meetings came about when the Conference of Bishops refused to meet us, but instead suggested that we meet with Priests Councils in each diocese.
Overall we regarded this as a valuable exercise. There was great variety in the meeting, but we were welcomed wherever we went, and mostly the discussions were amiable and worthwhile. In all cases, except one, the bishop attended. (In that one case it was simply a matter of timing that meant the bishop could not attend.)
The agenda for the meetings, decided by us, was:
2. Handling of allegations against priests.
3. The New Missal
4. Appointment of bishops
5. Preaching about the economic situation.
6. The Year of Faith.
On point one we introduced the problem of the rapid decline in numbers of priests, and, looking ahead ten or twenty years, we asked who would be celebrating the Eucharist for the people. We suggested that clustering is a short term solution, and most priests find themselves with more pressure and responsibility the older they get. Our position is that the present paradigm of priesthood is no longer working, and we proposed, as first steps towards facing this imminent crisis, bringing back those who have left to get married and choosing viri probati in the parishes who, having done training which could follow the same template as that used currently for the diaconate, could be ordained.
Some meetings received these ideas enthusiastically. There is no doubt that priests are under great pressure, and that was generally acknowledged. But we did meet with a fair degree of disagreement with our analysis of the situation. There seems to be a substantial number of bishops, and some priests, who believe that the problems we are facing are not due to any difficulties in the Church or with the priesthood, but are caused by a lack of faith in the people. The people, they told us, have bought into the evils of materialism and consumerism, and don’t have time or interest in faith any more. They have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan. And they believe that ‘evangelisation’ is the answer. It is a convenient belief, in that the blame lies elsewhere than among ourselves. But, apart from stating their understanding of the problem, there didn’t seem to us to be any practical ideas, or indeed energy, around how this evangelisation could be progressed. One bishop told us bluntly that he totally disagreed with our analysis, and another felt that dialogue with us would be very difficult while we held such unacceptable views about priesthood. We consider there are real problems here for the Irish Church. If there are such radically different understandings of the current situation, it is hard to see how we can make headway in working towards a solution. And if we don’t, the result will be a Christian people largely deprived of the Eucharist; and, we believe, for no good reason. As the great moral theologian, Bernard Haring, said about forty years ago: ‘The people of God have a God-given right to the Eucharist. On the basis of human law [mandatory celibacy], to deprive the people of God of the Eucharist is, objectively, gravely sinful.’
We spoke to all the meetings about the work we have done for priests who had allegations made against them, and we listed the areas in relation to the Church’s handling of these allegations that we had problems with. We spoke about the work done by our legal team, and about our meetings with Ian Elliot. We also highlighted the fact that there are now sufficient numbers of false allegations against priest to cause concern. We acknowledged that there have been substantial changes for the better in how allegations are dealt with. There was general approval for our work in this area.
The New Missal: almost every priest we met agreed with us that the New Missal is very unsatisfactory, and a hindrance in the proper celebration of the Eucharist. One or two bishops tried to defend it, but most also agreed that it was not a good development. Many priests are still using the old missal, and many are using bits of both. There was general agreement that the volume of response from the people has suffered greatly. We outlined the efforts we had made to postpone its introduction, and lamented the fact that the bishops had not supported us. We also highlighted the faulty process, by while the Church makes decisions at the top and hands them down to the priests who then have to try to implement them.
As regard the economic situation priests told us that they are slow to preach about it because it is hard to say anything without straying into the political realm, and most priests try to stay away from that.
Little was said about the appointment of bishops, and the impression we got was that as far as most priests are concerned the Year of Faith is a non-event. Again, it was pointed out by some that having the theme for a year imposed from above without any consultation is decidedly not the way to go.
General impressions: Where the bishop blended in with the group the discussion was best. Where he dominated it was unsatisfactory, and it was difficult to know if the few contributions from the priests present were meant for his ears or ours.
The age, lack of energy, tiredness of priests was very obvious. Expecting these men to bring about any real change was clearly not living in the real world. Keeping the show on the road for another few years is the most that can be expected from most of them.
Regarding the ACP there was praise for our work in supporting priests, and some were generally positive about our existence and our work. But there were also individuals (and in a few cases more than individuals) who were critical of us, seeing us as ‘darlings of the media who want to destroy the Church’, and being a cause of division. At one meeting we were asked what was our canonical status!
ACP Leadership Team
Report on ACP meetings with Priests Councils