Report on ACP meetings with Priests Councils

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:
1. Vocations
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

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  1. What a facer!
    All I can say is that the ACP is one of the powerful signs of hope and new life for the Church in Ireland.
    The other signs of hope and new life include the massive number of people, communities of young and old missionaries to the people on the margins,going out to bring the good news to the poor, the physically and the mentally disabled,the abused women,the lonely aged,the homeless people….communities of true disciples of Jesus.
    Reform and renewal will get on the road when we succeed in at least sharing the blame for the exodus and ‘lack of vocations’, pull ourselves out of the mud of defensiveness and trust in the power of God to lead us on and sustain us for the journey.
    Maybe some of the priests in the Priests’ Council meeting have been too busy trying to run parishes as individuals rather than as mixed community teams of priest and other parish members, that they have no time to see beyond the parish door.

  2. Fascinating but very depressing overall.
    It seems good that some bishops participated as members of the group, perhaps a hopeful sign at a pastoral level, but it is the conservative theology/dogma that is getting in the way of a solution.
    I loved “what is your canonical status?”. Straight out of the Béal Bocht. That will keep me smiling, at least until bedtime.

  3. What arrogance – narcissism, to blame the people, their faith and/or lack of it. That the people have become ‘pagans’ and – even they had, that it’s their own fault.
    I’d suggest people have just gotten wise, grown up spiritually, or are choosing to – and just don’t need narcissists as ‘spiritual’ leaders.
    I heard a priest a few years back blame the sexual abuse crisis on the lack of faith of the people too.
    When will clerics ever get over themselves, and stop blaming the ‘sheeple’ for the fact they are incapable of leading them, spiritually, or it would seem, in any other way. If anyone is lacking in faith and spirituality – I’d suggest these guys take a very long and hard look in the mirror.
    This is sickening, utterly disgusting that the people again get the blame – scapegoated.
    The clerics would crucify Christ again if He were to walk the earth and that’s a fact – if this is typical of the ‘good’ and ‘faithful’ and ‘religious’ priest.
    Shame on you for suggesting such a thing.
    Jesus wept !!! Shameful !.

  4. Jane Anderson says:

    Congratulations to the ACP for taking this initiative. My hope and prayer is that other national groups of priests do likewise.
    The one thing that that struck me is the lack of reference to profound social changes requiring profound changes in the Church. The idea that faith/belief and the related clerica/ecclesial system is static, immutable and eternal, does not make sense in a constantly changing world.

  5. seán eile says:

    Depressing reading. Especially in the light of the new energy coming from Pope Francis. Pastors blaming their ‘sheep’ for wandering away seems a bit rich.

  6. There is certainly a loss of faith – in hierarchy. Renewal may come (will come?), but not through hierarchy or canonical process.

  7. I started studying for the priesthood in the early 90’s and left in 2000. The Church simply didn’t meet my moral standards. Take a look at it today; could you behave as Church leaders do and live with yourself? Their moral compass is malfunctioning. What moral person would follow them?

  8. Mary O Vallely says:

    “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.” Classic example of a narcissistic organisation, is it not? A lack of empathy, arrogant attitudes in some, (not all), a grandiose sense of their own importance, a failure to accept responsibility, an inability to look into their own hearts etc; (read Kevin Egan’s “Remaining a Catholic after the Murphy Report”, Columba Press) We need to keep challenging this culture so ACP team, keep the pressure on and the rest of us shouldn’t give up either. The very LEAST we can do is give our prayerful support.
    Still, good to see my own diocese of Armagh open to dialogue although I’m surprised at Down and Connor. Maybe there was a misunderstanding as I believe +Noel Treanor is very open to listening.
    Teresa Mee, as usual, speaks a lot of sense.
    “Maybe some of the priests in the Priests’ Council meeting have been too busy trying to run parishes as individuals rather than as mixed community teams of priest and other parish members, that they have no time to see beyond the parish door.”
    Next time you’re meeting with these men, take her with you.

  9. Blaming the people’s lack of faith is not new. It is the Vatican line. Check out Benedicts letter to the Irish people a while back. The relevant paragraph is quoted below.
    All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.
    Those who are still making this point are just parrotting the Vatican line. Shameful piece of buck passing.
    The full letter and my reaction to it at the time is here, and if the moderators want to cut the link I have no problem with that. It is intemperate, but so was and am I.

  10. Excellent interview with Fr. Byrne on Newstalk. Very civilised and got all his points in and across.
    Unfortunatelyy missed Tony Flannery on Morning Ireland, will pursue.

  11. Excellent piece also from Fr. Flannery, here, 44m50s into the programme.
    It is good to see the report, or elements of it, getting a civilised airing.
    RTÉ mentioned that they had looked for a response from the Irish Catholic bishops but that none was forthcoming.

  12. You can’t be surprised that people are leaving the church. Women in particular are treated very badly – just look at the Magdalene Laundries. I myself was treated very badly by the Catholic church. As a result, 3 generations of our family have now left the Church and it is very doubtful if any future generations will be finding their way back to it either. The church only has itself to blame for the past brutality it inflicted on the most vulnerable of us which has resulted in the decline of the church. Just recently, a nunnery closed in our town – not one person was willing to step forward to save it or become a nun to stop the closure. No one wanted to be associated with the past atrocities of such places and institutions.

  13. If Ireland is truly becoming a nation of Pagans,
    it is not because of materialism or consumerism,
    but because people are realising that Paganism
    offers them an opportunity to explore their own unique spirituality, and to have an experience of divine light and consciousness that is not viewed through the interpretative prism of others.
    The Pagan community is a vibrant, supportive, growing, inclusive, emotionally healthy and non-hierarchical one, and the Church could do worse than re-arrange itself on this model, rather than demonstrating ignorance by using the word Pagan in a pejorative fashion to mean non-religious.
    Paganism has been around for many millennia,
    as seeking a deeper connection to one’s surrounding environment
    and fellow human beings is a very primal thing.
    In the current age of banking scandals and destructive materialism,
    which have directly impacted the least fortunate and most vulnerable in society,(and the avoidance of which subjects ought to be considered moral cowardice),
    I think that being a more connected to one’s community,
    the very essence of Paganism, would be a very, very good thing indeed.
    R. Sweeney
    National Coordinator
    Pagan Federation Ireland

  14. Truly depressing. Why not bring a WOMAN along to you next meeting. This may improve the situation. Any other suggestions?

  15. BuenCamino says:

    “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.”
    How dare they! The arrogance of this… when the same men are driving new cars and living in palaces. People do have interest in REAL SPIRITUALITY and are finding it elsewhere… take a look at the interest in mindfulness… Buddhist monks attracting thousands of people to conferences around the country… retreat houses full, residential places in the Howth ashram next month completely booked out – the Church has become irrelevant to people as a source of inspiration/nourishment. WAKE UP!

  16. Drowho13 @8, your post is deeply disturbing. Does anyone out there need more proof as to the need of the ACP?

  17. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Did anyone ask this Bishop where he believed the true voice of the Holy Spirit moves? Did anyone ask him if he were in opposition to Can. 212 §3? Tell them to take their Canonical Status and file it. Once he realizes what it is you are doing and how “in tune” to the Canons you are (unlike anyone else) this should get him on board. And that would account for all the Bishops. You should rename the ACP to the Can.212§3 and call it a day. You want the truth? The truth is that religion is on the brink of losing the battle to the evils of materialism and consumerism (corporate entities mind you, not the masses). Is it possible that we need a saviour and all else is lost if he/she doesn’t appear? My faith is still in God. If I was a betting person, I’d put my money on this generation. Send an email to your local Bishops asking for a literal clarification on Can.212§3 and what it means and how it is evoked. Start simple.

  18. Padraig Walsh says:

    I attended the meeting with the Priests Council of the Kerry diocese. I was surprised to see that the report of the various meetings was published. I understood these discussions to be the beginning of a conversation on the various topics and it was never stated that the findings would be published. While there was nothing to hide from those meetings, an agreed statement would be more balanced.
    I was certainly surprised to read the headlines from the report. I thought the tone of the report was extremely negative and certainly didn’t reflect the tone of the meeting in Kerry which was very positive and very open.
    The words “pagan” and “evils” which were quoted in the report are very emotive and negative. They were never mentioned or even suggested at our meeting.
    The fact that one bishop totally disagreed with the ACP analysis, is not necessarily a bad thing. Surely there is scope for differing views to find the best way forward.
    It is important to state that the agenda was very broad and our meeting lasted about ninety minutes. It think it is ambitious to expect an action plan on all topics within that time-frame.
    The age factor was also mentioned. However, at our meeting, ten priests attended. Four are under the age of forty eight and seven are under the age of fifty five. While this age profile may differ from other meetings, the report seems to generalise and give the worst picture.
    Finally, the report takes issue with differing viewpoints and understandings, as if the ACP way is the only way. But if we respect the variety of opinion and experience, there is a need to listen to the views of priests around the country rather than impose one analysis and one solution.
    I think these meetings could have been a valuable starting point for serious engagement between the ACP and the priests around the country. I hope the handling of this report hasn’t undermined the process and the benefits that could come from it.
    Fr Padraig Walsh
    Chairperson of the Kerry Priests Council

  19. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thank God for Fr Padraig Walsh! I’ve been waiting for the past week to hear some replies from one or more of the diocesan Priests’ Councils, as a means of cutting through the obvious generalisations and conclusions drawn from “There seems to be a substantial number of bishops, and some priests . . .etc.” Thirteen bishops attended (half the Irish episcopate): how many mentioned “pagan”? How many gave the impression that they think JP2/Benedict-style Evangelisation minus any other attempts at reform is the only answer? I think we could all do with a bit of evangelisation or even ‘evangelisation’ as the above report puts it.
    I’m afraid the ACP Leadership’s rush to report on what, as Fr Walsh suggests, was meant to be an ongoing process simply leaves the way open to the sort of drive-past shooting from the hip we see in at least half of the responses above.
    Another point that surprised me: second only to Clogher, the ACP group in Cork & Ross (sometimes with Cloyne) has been consistently meeting and reporting back over nearly three years. Yet “Cork was only willing to meet with local members of the ACP, and we did not accept that.” WHY NOT? Aren’t Cork ACP trusted by Leadership? Whatever happened to those much championed principles of local collegiality and subsidiarity? If Bishop John Buckley and the Priests’ Council preferred to meet with their co-diocesan ACP men, on an agenda drawn up by ACP Central, why not let them at it? Is the ACP movement falling victim to a form of creeping dogmatic curial hierarchical clericalism?
    I’m off to check up on my canonical status before I turn in for the night.
    Eddie, The decision not to have the meeting in Cork was made jointly by the local and national leadership.
    As regards giving a report, it has been our policy from the beginning to report on all our activities. We welcome all responses, and we would love to enter into discussion with the bishops on the very important issues raised in our report. But we have discovered the futility of having discussions like these behind closed doors; the matters under discussion are not just the concern of the clerical church, but of all the believers.
    Tony Flannery

  20. Maureeen Mulvaney says:

    I wish to congratulate the ACP on bringing forward this meeting and also it is a little bit hopeful to see that some bishops had the courage to attend!Can I say it’s one small step for the bishops, the next meeting may be a “giant leap” for possitive dialogue, listening and action in bringing about change/renewal that is urgently needed.
    May I add thinking back 27 yrs. ago when the Association of Leaven was formed and we tried to dialogue with them, after a lot of knocking on the door, one finally came and the only two things he spoke with us were, two questions, How big is our army and is the media involved! Since both caused no threat, he just sat and listened and that was the end!

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