Report on Meeting of Clogher ACP
Twelve priests, including Bishop Liam, attended our 5th gathering of Clogher ACP on Wednesday 31st August in Clones. There were three apologies.
We began our meeting with a very beautiful, spiritual reflection and a report of our last meeting was read.
With regards Clogher’s story on child sexual abuse, it became evident that the Diocese has not been in denial of this issue; a lot of help has been given in the past, and continues to be given to a range of people who have been affected by the issue, not headline stuff but part of the untold story to date, much of what is not always possible to speak about publicly.
But it was felt that a discreet briefing should be offered to priests at the appropriate time, so that they would be equipped to offer a response whenever or if ever civil proceedings take place or when any report of the diocese’s handling of this area might be made public. It was agreed that what is most important is that support and information continue to be made available for all victims/survivors and avenues left open for survivors/victims to disclose and tell their story/stories. The question was posed, ‘Can we as a Diocese learn anything from the Cloyne/Dublin experiences?’.
Much time was given in reflection on the new pastoral year ahead. There was a sense of ‘heavy heartedness’ as we set sail into another new year in parish life and ministry. Our priestly identity has taken a terrible shaking, and while we could never compare our struggles with the victims of child abuse, nevertheless we recognise that the wind is no longer on our backs, and this is all the more reason to have the ACP there to support us so that we will not feel alone in our difficulties.
There was wide recognition that there is also a faith crisis in our country, and even if the issue of child sexual abuse was not there, there is an increased sense of negativity around. There appears to be little hunger for faith, much of this may be because our Church has been found wanting. Morale among clergy and the new translation of the Missal does little to lift us up. One’s own personal faith is more essential than ever to survive these difficult times, and the support of each other as priests is important.
As we prepare for the AGM of ACP at national level we reviewed our own progress to date and also commented on national level.
Less than one third of our priests have attended any of the meetings of Clogher ACP. It was noted that when we had a visiting guest speaker, greater numbers attended.
Our means of communication by e-mail was considered, is this an effective means of communication for clergy, is it adequate?
ACP Clogher was acknowledged as a great help to date for those who attended, it provides that ‘listening ear’.
Bishop Liam encouraged the need to develop links with the Council of Priests, the diocesan chapter and with himself.
It was also acknowledged that there is a need to connect with national level of the ACP, perhaps some of the leadership team could visit?
Further discussion needs to take place on issues from previous meetings, the need for professional help for clergy, developing pastoral reflection groups, social outings and days of reflection, and further discussion will be given to a proposal to set up a national fund to provide support for priest colleagues who are suspended and experiencing financial hardship including those who do not have the means to mount a proper legal defence for themselves.
The final part of the meeting was spent on reflecting upon the ACP after one year in existence. Much of that discussion centred on what the ACP is about and what it should stand for. There was much disappointment to date at what has been experienced at national level. A copy of the founding aims of ACP Ireland from the website was circulated, questions were raised about whether the energy of the ACP at national level was wisely used to further these aims, much energy to date may have been wasted in non-productive wrangling in relation to the New Missal for example.
Many of us gave the nod to some if not all of those aims twelve months ago, we were attracted by them, and signed up to them at the time. Unfortunately the experience to date has been one of confrontation, and not very Gospel like. More attention needs to be given in the year ahead to implementing the original aims of the ACP.
The members of the co-ordinating group were mandated to decide on a regular date and time for future Clogher ACP meetings.
I am full of admiration for the Clogher ACP group. There is a quiet recognition of their limitations, of the fact that they may not be representative of more than a third of Clogher’s priests, of the difficulties of bringing a group of busy men together regularly even in Clones, of their consciousness that wearing themselves out does not lead to pastoral effectiveness, of the need for self care, of the need to cultivate real friends – priest friends and lay friends -, of the need to adapt, of the need to know that “we don’t always have to be there”. Easy for a retired layman to say from a distance, but I am only echoing what they themselves have said in their regular reports to this website.
I admire, too, their doggedness in the best sense of that word. Theirs is apparently the only active ACP group in all of the Ulster or Armagh Province, yet they keep going but with a critical awareness that things could be better for the Association, not only in Clogher or in the Armagh province but nationwide. They are right to call the Association back to the best of those foundational aims of a year ago, but they are also right to point to where things began to go askew or awry – however justified the strong arguments against the manner of imposition and even some of the detailed critique of the Missal texts translation.
What is most admirable is that here, for the second or third time, is a group of Clogher priests with their Bishop. I have admired Bishop Liam McDaid for the past 49 years: he is a Clogher priest through and through and now more than ever a centre of unity. The very sort of pastoral bishop, with over forty years of parish experience and without pretension, that Bishop Eddie Daly says the Irish Church needs more of. Typical of the man that he should be there in Clones, but encouraging close ACP group links with the Council of Priests, the diocesan Chapter and with himself.
Now if Fr Paddy McCafferty could just invite himself along to Clones for their next meeting he might not be so convinced that the ACP are such an elitist and narcissistic swarm of false prophets?
Correction! I see I referred to Bishop Liam McDaid’s “over forty years of parish experience”. What I should have said was “diocesan and parish experience”. His years as teacher and president of St Macartan’s up to 1990 may not quite fit Bishop Daly’s strict requirement for a pastoral bishop; to my mind the teaching and guidance of a diocese’s youth is no disqualification at all.
So the Clogher branch think that the leadership got themselves involved in non productive wrangling. Presumably this “wrangling” was with the Irish Bishops. In any such “wrangling” I would have thought that the ACP leadership would win, given that the Irish Bishops appear to be afraid of their shadows. However, I am wrong because the Bishops won and did so by silently pressing ahead. So I suppose the Clogher branch is right–the attempt at conversing with the Irish Catholic Hierarchy was non productive.
I note that the branch thinks that the leadership, at national level, is not promoting the aims of the Association of Catholic Priests. One of those aims is stated as “establishing a church where all believers will be treated as equals”. Therefore (or ergo as the new translation might have us saying in the not too distant future) I am surprised that the Clogher branch take the trouble to mention that “Bishop Liam” attends. Why name him in particular? However, his presence might be skewing the discussion. It is interesting that he encourages contact with the council of priests, the diocesan chapter and himself–all good establishment structures. Not a mention of contacting the new associations in Austria and U.S.
Mairead, the Clogher ACP group have held five meetings between 3rd March and 31st August – almost one a month — as Admin have noted, setting the standard for everyone else in both frequency and content. If you read back over reports of those meetings, you will find the Clogher priests reflective, focused, self-challenging, constructively critical and at times realistically ‘heavy hearted’. You may also notice that all of their meetings are held at the home of Canon Larry Duffy in Clones – yes a canon of the Chapter; no, not as a figure of the establishment structure to keep an eye on things, just as a member of the ACP.
Yes, it is worth noting that Bishop Liam was part of two of those meetings and sent apologies for not being able to get to a third. While, I think, the Bishop of Elphin attended one of the ACP regional meetings, it does not appear that any of the other diocesan group meetings had their bishop along. But maybe you’re right: maybe they didn’t think it worth singling him out.
Odd that you should wonder about a bishop encouraging links with other groups and structures in the diocese they all share. A bishop is the chief source and motor of unity in his diocese, or he is nothing. It’s what he does. If he were a bishop in Salzburg or Salt Lake City I hope he’d encourage his priests to contact the new associations you mention. Meanwhile I’m sure Bishop Liam has enough to do over the next eight years in Clogher, spread across five Irish counties and two jurisdictions. He’s only a mere man, for Gawd’s sake. Don’t expect him to multi-multi-multi-task, as well as skewing his poor priests’ thought processes and moulding all their discussions!
Hats off to the Clogher ACP and to Bishop Liam. You are already setting the groundwork to heal the broken Church in Ireland and the World. We all love the Church and when we criticize the hierarchy in the spirit that is obvious at your meetings, this is not all negative if it expressed in loving manner and the particular bishop has the opportunity to reply with honesty to the criticism. I will give a good example….suppose a priest at the meeting asked Bishop Liam “Is paedophilia curable?” An honest answer from the bishop might be “For years I thought it was, but now I learn that it is like alcoholism, it is possibly controlable but never curable”
If I as qualified therapist in the US was asked that same question in 1976 I would probably give you the same answer. What I am saying is that it is no fun being a bishop in Ireland or any part of the world today. Some bishops in Australia chose to retire early rather than deal with the stress of the worst “cancer” to infect the Church in centuries. Bishops however need to be transparent and honest with their priests.
If I may make a suggestion: please hire a competent psychiatrist who has counselled both paedophile priests and their victims and have him or her address your group. He/She should explain that paedophilia is a psychosexual fixation frequently caused by the indivual paedophile [clergy or lay] having been molested sexually at a very young age [9 to 14]
I’m am personally familiar with the crime of paedophilia since 1953 when I was a boarder in a Catholic Boarding school in Ireland. Two of the priest professors were transferred to England the US by the bishop when five seniors went to the bishops residence and summarily said
“You have to get rid of these two …priests before we report the facts to the local paper.” and the bishop agreed.
Check my website (www.finbarrcorr.com) and email me with questions because you guys are on the right track.