Report on the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests – 2015



The Annual General Meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests – 2015
The Association of Catholic Priests held its AGM at Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone on November 24th, 2015 from 2.00pm to 4.30pm.
Seamus Ahearne led the gathering in an opening prayer.
Gerry O’Connor of the Leadership Team, who chaired the meeting, welcomed around 140 members and outlined the agenda: the first part of the day would be given over to the address of the keynote speaker, Helen Costigan, SHCJ, a canon lawyer from England who lectures in Heythrop College, London.
Gerry welcomed Helen who addressed the subject: ‘Clerical Sexual Misconduct: rights and responsibilities’. Helen explained that her main point was that Canon 1717 needed to be properly implemented and pointed to the importance of the distinction between disciplinary and criminal offences. Drawing on her wide experience of multiple cases she pointed out that, in canon law, a bishop has a duty of special care for his priests but that the process of dealing with accusations of abuse all too off indicated that bishops have presumed guilt in accused priests, an over-turning of a fundamental tenet of law. She also dealt with the question of accused priests being cut adrift and the possible negative effect on the promotion of vocations that may have resulted.
After her address, which was well received, Helen led a lively question and answer session where she commented on specific cases brought to her attention.
The following resolution, proposed on behalf of the Leadership Team by Sean McDonagh, was overwhelmingly carried.

 “In the interests of harmonising the administration of justice, and with the intention of sharing best practice, we recommend that the bishops construct a single set of policies and guidelines in enabling clergy to return to ministry.”

 After a break for refreshments, Brendan Hoban made a short presentation on the appointment of bishops that led to a discussion about reservations priests had about a number of aspects of the present unhappy situation. After the discussion (on behalf of the Leadership Team) he proposed the following resolution:

“The ACP expresses its grave disquiet at some of the policies presently being pursued in relation to the appointment of bishops in Ireland: the lack of any credible process of consultation; the preference in the main for candidates drawn from a particular mindset; the apparently haphazard policy of appointments to distant dioceses that pays little regard to the traditions and heritage of a diocese; and not least the choice of candidates who seem to be out of sync with the realities of life in Ireland today and uncomfortable with the openness of Pope Francis to change and reform the Church.”

The resolution was again overwhelmingly carried.
Gerry O’Hanlon addressed the meeting on the subject of disciplined priests.
In the Bull of Indiction announcing this Holy Year Francis, as Bishop of Rome, notes that ‘Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy ‘and that ‘these words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith’. Accordingly, as the Pope goes on to say, ‘mercy is the foundation of the Church’s life . . . the Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love’. He surmises that perhaps as Church ‘we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy’, and that the temptation ‘to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step’.
We would respectfully request that in this spirit of mercy the Irish priests who have been disciplined by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for holding what are alleged to be unorthodox views be restored to full and unrestricted ministry. We believe that these priests have endured deep suffering and that an amnesty from the Vatican which would declare them to be priests ‘in good standing’ would be a practical sign of mercy in this Jubilee year and would correspond appropriately with the desires of Pope Francis when he says that ‘it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy’.
Gerry proposed the following resolution which was again overwhelmingly carried:

“We request that during the Year of Mercy the Superiors of Religious Congregations and the Irish Bishops’ Conference approach the Vatican authorities with a view to restoring to full ministry those Irish Priests who have been disciplined for alleged unorthodox views. We believe that this would be very much in the spirit of the Year of Mercy as outlined by Pope Francis.”

Gerry O’Connor then introduced three proposals from the Leadership Team:
(i) the appointment of an Executive Secretary to the ACP;
(ii) the appointment of an advisory committee to work with the Leadership;
(iii) proposal for the leadership to continue for another year.
Gerry then explained the reasoning behind them: the need to place the association on a firmer, more organised footing and to move its effectiveness to another level.
The Executive Secretary would bring more effective organisation, more consistent continuity and more efficient administration including the collection of the annual membership.
The Advisory Committee would act as a support for the Leadership, a source of new ideas and approaches and would have particular responsibilities for resolving unforeseen difficulties.
The Leadership which had some difficulty replicating itself would continue for another year, during which time it would work with the Advisory Group on recruiting new personnel and setting in place a new structure.
Gerry told the meeting that the Leadership and the Advisory Committee would work towards proposing resolutions at the AGM next year to put in place the three developments.
Gerry paid tribute to Gerry Alwill (who withdrew from the Leadership at the AGM) for his work over the last few years.
Finally Gerry presented a financial statement of income and expenditure for 2015.
Total income was : €6,764.98
Expenditure was : €7,740.20
Funds on hand     : €15,851.36.
At the end of the meeting, Gerry thanked all who had attended, those who had spoken, especially Helen Costigan, whose talk had opened up an invaluable seam of practical advice on a difficult area and all who had contributed in any way to the planning, organisation and running of the AGM .
He thanked in particular Pat Rogers for his liturgical resources on the web-site, Mattie Long for his effective moderating of the site and Bernard Cotter for his contributions. Mattie Long told the meeting that the site was now attracting over 60,000 hits a month and encouraged more members to respond to the debates on the site.
Gerry O’Connor closed the meeting with a final prayer.

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