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Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) responding to the letter of reply from the Irish bishops to the ACP submissions at a meeting with representatives of the Irish bishops on 04 June, 2014.

The response of the Irish Bishops to our meeting of 04 June  last (with Bishops Boyce, Drennan and McKeown) is disappointing and disheartening. It seems to emanate from an unfocussed and unwarranted optimism with no empirical data offered to support what are, effectively, opinions based on nothing more substantial than looking into their own hearts and discovering that present practice is sufficient.
With respect, given the critical situation in which the Catholic Church in Ireland finds itself, this nonchalant response is completely inadequate and unacceptable. Leadership demands a much more open and creative engagement with the issues addressed in the June 4 meeting.
(i) Vocations
It is reassuring that the bishops recognise the seriousness of the present situation and, presumably too, the mathematical certainty that within little more than a decade Irish priests – apart from a small phalanx of aged clergy – will have virtually disappeared.
The ACP believes it is completely inadequate and unacceptable for the leaders of our Church, in the face of the mounting evidence before them, to suggest that the answer is (i) to pray more; or (ii) to grasp at straws on the basis of a minimal, periodic increase in already depleted numbers ‘following the Year of Vocations’; or (iii) to implicitly blame priests (‘it is also important that priests play their part’).
While it is obvious to people and priests that, on its own, ‘praying for vocations’ is clearly an inadequate response to the present critical shortage of priests (and the ‘Eucharistic famine’ that faces the Irish Church), with respect it is the bishops’ responsibility to provide the Eucharist for our people and if blame is to be allocated it is the bishops who will have to shoulder that burden for their present indefensible lack of engagement with this issue. It is frustrating and mind-boggling that a bench of bishops, confronted with the evidence before their own eyes, could possibly imagine that their pious response is adequate or acceptable. People and priests will again wonder what kind of world they’re living in.
(ii) Celibacy 
In their response to our proposal that celibacy should no longer be a requirement for priesthood, the bishops suggest that our proposals are ‘not feasible’. What is distressing is not just that there was no acknowledgement on their part that a married priesthood was possible and that it already exists in parts of the Catholic Church (England, for example) but their clear and implicit acceptance that, as far as the Irish bishops are concerned, celibacy seems to be more important than the Eucharist.
(iii) Women in the Church
Our proposal, that the Permanent Diaconate be extended to women, is rejected by the bishops with clichéd deference to the increasingly patronising aspiration that ‘women should surely take their place in the life of the Church and in positions of authority’. Empty promises only exacerbate the ongoing problem of a refusal to engage with a developing theology.
(iv) The New Missal
Noting the unease and unhappiness in relation to the New Missal and saying that ‘they will be made known’ is a grossly inadequate response to the damage the new translation has caused to our worship. It needs to be revamped in part or in whole in the immediate future. Kicking this particular can down the road is not adequate or acceptable.
(v) Censured priests
The bishops’ comment that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) ‘does dialogue’ with a censured priest is untrue. Indeed it would play very loosely with words to describe the bullying tactics employed by the CDF as ‘dialogue’. The injustice of describing so many admirable and highly principled and loyal Irish priests as ‘heretics’ and ‘dissidents’ demands, in justice, a more proactive stance from the Irish Bishops than the bland, clichéd response to what is a running sore in the Irish Church.
In conclusion, we need to say that the bishops’ tribute ‘to the work of all clergy throughout the country’ rings very hollow when not dealing with the problems is, effectively, condemning a progressively smaller group of aging clergy to carry the burden of an ever-increasing workload into their final years.
At the meeting between the ACP and the representatives of the Irish bishops, the leadership of the ACP proposed the discussion with the Irish bishops and with Rome
of the following:
(i)    Ordaining suitable married men;
(ii)   Inviting priests who left the active ministry to get married to return to ministry.
(iii)  The ordination of women to the Permanent Diaconate.

Below is a link to a pdf copy of the letter received from Bishop Boyce outlining the bishops’ response.

Letter Bishop Boyce


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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Well that seemed to be a slap in the face of sorts. So many people looking to protect the status quo. What I don’t understand is this example of Jesus only choosing men as apostles. Weren’t they all eventually beaten to death for their beliefs? This doesn’t seem like a good reason for the ordination of only men today. There was a reason he only selected men. Also, the vocation is a gift is it? I thought it was a calling. So are you to pray that men receive their calling?

  2. As the pope has openly invited bishops’ conferences to confer on the issue of the dire manpower crisis, and to propose solutions together – including the option of married priests – this response from the Irish bishops is totally incomprehensible. It seems to indicate not only that our Irish bishops are incapable of addressing the deep crisis in the Irish church on their own, but that they are oblivious to what the pope has said about the wider crisis. This takes ‘not listening’ to a whole new level of irresponsibility.

  3. June McAllister says:

    Of course prayer is important. What the bishops seem to be unaware of is that God has gifted us with intelligence and the ability to discern through prayerful reflection. It is this discernment that enables us to be aware of the future difficulties in the Church. It is also through prayer and discernment that each of us must evaluate their response to God and whether or not the institutional Church, as it presently exercises its authority, is enabling us to better fulfil Christ’s desire for us to be, and to spread, the Kingdom of God. Jesus is compassion.
    Francis stresses this. But evidently the Pope doesn’t carry much authority. Neither, does it seem, does Bishop Martin who supports the prospect of married clergy. So, therefore, who carries authority? It seems to me that anyone dressed up in expensive robes can lay down the law for people who are just as much members of the mystical body as they are themselves. Jesus calls us to be shepherds, not dictators. We cannot continue to grumble and blame a group of unmarried elderly men. The Church is full of sinners – including the bishops! Let us be compassionate followers of Jesus and put the pharisees to rest.

  4. Mícheál says:

    No surprise there, sad to say. Given the type of man that has been chosen for the office of bishop and given the ideological approach of those doing the choosing, can anyone really be surprised at this response. The bishops simply don’t get it.

  5. Further to my comment…..4 points
    1. Praying for Vocations….Our Lord is well aware of what the Church actually requires in the plan of God, and it will be provided. However, where the difficulty probably lies is in ourselves not aware fully of what the plan really is…at least…as Vatican II continues to unfold….Don’t forget the supposed overhaul…
    2. Celibacy works for and is intend for the few as opposed to the many. How well has it worked for the many?
    3. Women and the diaconate..while in essence ought to be…it may not address more chronic problems with clericalism.
    4. Try not to dwell on Eucharistic Famine…as the Bridegroom is always with us…and will be leading the way….

  6. Staggeringly dismissive. I think its just all beyond them.

  7. Tony Flannery says:

    A personal comment on the bishops’ response to the question of censored priests.
    When the bishops say that the CDF does dialogues with those of us who have been censored they are directly challenging the account I have given of my ‘dealings’ with the CDF in my book, A Question of Conscience. Not by any stretch of the imagination could the word ‘dialogue’ be used to describe what happened. I find it very disconcerting, and indeed hurtful, that the Irish bishops would so publicly suggest that I am telling lies.
    Of all of them, I am sure that Archbishop Diarmaid Martin knows how the CDF work, from his years in Vatican diplomacy, and that he knows that they do not dialogue with people like me. And yet he allows this statement to go out in his name.
    From the beginning of this saga I have never got any word of support from any Irish bishops. But now to find that they are presenting a scenario which they surely know is not true is a new low.
    Tony Flannery

  8. June McAllister says:

    Tony – rise above it. Don’t let the bishops hurt you. They say these things because they are threatened by Truth and want to feel secure in their power and control. Don’t let it get to you. Your book has had a WIDE circulation so everyone knows what really happens. I expect Luther got hurt when he tried to ‘clean up’ the church and stop the selling of indulgencies. Jesus probably got hurt when he told the truth as well. Control and power are not the weapons Jesus used. Rise above it – if you tell the truth and refuse to submit to the secrecy and bullying, then there will be a backlash that wants to stamp you out of existence. Just be glad they can’t nail you to a cross! You have plenty of support from the sheep who want to follow the True Shepherd

  9. Mícheál says:

    @Tony Flannery
    For our bishops, power is everything , but integrity means nothing.

  10. Mary Vallely says:

    ‘Beware of discouragement; it is the death of the soul.’
    (The motto of Frédéric Ozanam, founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul.)
    I leave that reminder with you, Tony et alia. Keep the pressure on, keep the doors open, keep your spirits high. Perhaps working on one bishop at a time? A body of bishops can appear almost dehumanised but an individual is more approachable and amenable to reason, justice, compassion and sense. ‘Beware of discouragement’. 🙂

  11. Clare Hannigan says:

    I(iii) Women in the Church
    Almost twenty years ago I volunteered to become a member of a children’s liturgy group.
    Women are not permitted to read the Gospel in the church during the celebration of the Mass. We were however permitted to lead the children’s liturgy and to read and explain the Gospel to the youngest and most vulnerable members of the parish community while the priest read and explained the Gospel to the adults. We did this with little formal training, support or recognition. Twenty years on and there is still no formal recognition for women who lead children’s liturgy.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    “It is also important that priests play their part in promoting vocations, often by the simple posing of a question to someone they think suitable for the priesthood”.
    Sure, what could be simpler? And won’t the parents be proud and grateful that Father singled out their boy for such an honor? “It was always the dearest wish of an Irish Mother that one of her sons would be a Priest” (St John Paul II, Limerick, 1 October 1979).

  13. Con Devree says:

    There is no great difference between what The Pope has been saying and the statement on the issues in the letter signed by Bishop Boyce.
    Pope Francis does not claim to know what the solution to the vocations issue is. His two predecessors predicted a serious shakeout in The Church the short to medium term.
    The concern is not just about vocations to the ministerial priesthood. There is also the fact of an increasingly divided church with high levels of internal apathy, a largely unevangelised laity, a growing irreverence of the Blessed Sacrament/Eucharist, and the ever more obvious restriction on religious freedom which is intensifying stealthily in the developed world, sometimes at the behest of self-identified Catholic legislators.
    This Papacy was always intended to be about change. But of what nature? In terms of doctrine Pope Francis displays no inclination to depart from tradition. His style of engagement facilitates a thrashing out of issues. The thrashing is not about inflicting defeat. In the words of Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin (June 2) the task is not to “oversimplify what are really complicated questions in the hope of discovering who to blame.”
    The upcoming synods are intended to take traditional teachings as given and examine how to teach them better and how to help and support those in difficulty with them.
    As in the case of Thomas the Apostle, the process is one of assuaging doubt into deeper belief, by the wounds of Christ. What is suggested here is a new phase in the Post Vatican II era. The exploration of tradition, guided by the Council teachings, will lead the way, in faith, into the promises and obligations of progress, while maintaining the reliability of tradition. One context, as always, will be the ongoing battle between good and evil.

  14. Des Gilroy says:

    It is so disheartening that the bishops do not appear to have any ideas, apart from prayer, how to tackle the decline in the number of priests in the Irish Church. It is even more so when they reject out of hand all suggestions from their priests who operate at the coalface.
    It is the bishops role to ensure staffing in the Church. This is a role they have taken upon themselves and by having no strategy to recruit and train new entrants to the priesthood, they are failing in their duty, not only to their flocks, but also to the Lord. Prayer alone is certainly not a strategy.
    If the bishops were in a sinking ship, would their only recourse be to prayer if other assistance was on call ? I certainly think not.
    And perhaps the Lord is answering our prayers. Being all-knowing, perhaps He recognises that in the current climate in the Church there is a necessity to reinforce his troops with women and married men. Perhaps he is answering our prayers by cultivating vocations among women but our bishops are too blind and bound by “tradition” to recognise His Will.
    And when are they going to see the ridiculousness of relying on the argument that Jesus only chose men as his apostles. If we go down that road, we can also note that, while Jesus only chose men, he also only chose men who were Jews. Taking the argument of the apostles’ profiling to its logical conclusion, none of our bishops, not even Pope Francis himself, should have been ordained.

  15. It pains me to say it, and to think it; but we may not be far from the day when a significant number of priests and people secede from the Church in Ireland to create a new dispensation – an inclusive church, faithful to the scriptures, devoid of clericalism and fear, free from stagnation and open to the prompting of the Spirit, a viable alternative to the stunted and myopic Church whose sickness is so alluded to in Hans Kung’s recent book. In short, I propose a reformation of a dying model of Church and the creation of a new reality modelled on the refreshing yet unrealised Spirit of Vatican II. I cannot see how, at this moment in history when we can so clearly see demise of the ‘old’ church, we can dig ourselves out of the depressingly obvious scenario of a church on its last legs.

  16. Teresa Mee says:

    1.Could anybody tell me what is the link between priesthood and ‘Jesus only chose men as his apostles’.None of them were priests, as far as we know?
    2.Do we know what is at the root of the problem of so few men experiencing a call to priesthood today? Does the ACP really believe that ordaining women and married men is going to solve the ‘shortage of priests problem?
    3.What would be the point of ordaining women deacons? What can a deacon do that a ‘lay’ member of the Church can’t do?
    Maybe we need to listen more deeply to ‘what the Spirit is saying to the Churches’.

  17. John Collins says:

    It is clear from this disappointing reply that the Irish Church has not finished sinking. The ship needs to go down a wee bit more (perhaps until the mitres are floating) before reality bites !!! Keep your hearts up people of God – I pray for a miracle.

  18. Elizabeth B. says:

    Sad to say, but true, our Bishops are afraid of their own shadows, and, as a group (with the possible exception of some individuals), are apparently incapable of acting with courage and integrity as leaders of a church which is changing under their noses and they can’t or won’t acknowledge it. Though they are, by their own admission, clearly aware of the serious problems faced by the Catholic church in Ireland and elsewhere, they simply shrugged their collective shoulders and, relying on all the ‘moth eaten’ clichés (Jesus only chose men; celibacy is a necessary part of priesthood; etc. etc.) indicated that, as Mary McAleese recently observed, nothing will change.
    This has echoes of John Charles McQuaid’s attitude on his return from the Vatican Council….. the Council is over, let’s get back to business as usual!!!!
    It is so difficult to keep one’s heart up in the light of such attitude.

  19. Con Devree says:

    To say “our Bishops are afraid of their own shadows” is not borne out by the evidence. They increasingly take positions in line with Catholic teaching and at odds with the culture and current fashion. This takes courage, bombarded as they are from all sides, yes all sides, including those who seek to be faithful to Church teaching.
    The aptly termed “moth eaten’ clichés” are not at the core of Catholicism. They are the low hanging fruit, seemingly offering liberation, empowerment, and freedom of choice.. If they are picked, what then? What has happened to the separated ecclesial communities who have harvested this fruit? The Anglican Church has done so to the degree desired in this thread.
    Data collected by NatCen Social Research and recently released to the Church Times indicates that the proportion of the British population who identify themselves as Anglican has more than halved in the past ten years. The percentage of people who attend religious worship is largely unchanged. By contrast the percentage identifying as Roman Catholic has remained static.
    There are no grounds for triumphalism. But it is obvious that picking the low hanging fruit, changing the teaching on sexual ethics, celibacy, marriage, and ministerial priesthood, does not make a church any more attractive to secular society. In fact it probably helps socialise people out of Christianity into the secular culture.

  20. Con Devree @ 19 Rather than interpret the figures quoted as evidence that it`s useless for the church to try to adapt in the world it exists in to recover its position of dominance culturally, as it always has done, by the way, despite the efforts of those who would try to maintain the status quo by pretending it always was so, perhaps a daring leap into the unknown, into the terrifying even, might be in order: perhaps there`s something in that very target for derision, the secular culture, that is worthwhile, and that all those who live in it and by it are not damned? Do love, faith and hope, generosity, goodness, in other words, have any part in the lives of those who live by that secular culture? Can anyone deny it?

  21. After that pathetic response from the bishops, it is very easy to feel complete despair. As for prayer, well for the first 20 years of my time in Edinburgh, I took part in a monthly Vocations Mass and, while it definitely benefitted those who were present every month, there certainly did not appear to have been any increase in young men coming forward for seminary training for the priesthood. Perhaps we were praying for the wrong kind of vocations ie young male celebates. MM@6 is probably spot on — it is simply beyond them. Mary@10,we must cling to your advice “Beware of discouragement …….” By the way, while I have been a Vincentian since I was 16, this is the first time I knew that this was Blessed Frederic’s motto. Thanks, Mary.

  22. Joe O'Leary says:

    Con Devree, faithful gay relationships as per civil unions and marriage are NOT “low hanging fruit” but a serious human and ethical achievement.
    I would not think the statistics about the C of E prove anything at all — poll after poll shows that perceived homophobia is one of the main reasons for the flight of youth from the churches. The Catholic Church in the USA has lost fully one third of its membership, and the Catholic Church in Ireland is clearly in no better case. The Anglican Communion, meanwhile, is a far more vital and coherent entity than people seem to realize — despite the raging homophobes among its bishops (not only in Africa).

  23. Con Devree says:

    Since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God there has to be much in the ambient culture that is good. The Church at times learns from the culture. However the Church has gifts from God to offer the culture which it rejects. Currently these pertain to awareness of God, the life issues and to the poor. Evangelization and service rather than accommodation are the permanent responsibility.
    Cultural dominance is a legitimate objective of the Church. “Go teach all nations.” But it has to emerge by the power of grace, not on ethnic or political grounds.
    At the moment in the Anglo-European-American world the Church is operating in increasingly difficult territory – a showdown between faith and secularism has begun. When faith conflicts with certain policy initiatives the secular world assumes that religion must always lose. The concept of religious liberty is being re-interpreted as to only mean the right to be allowed to pray in private but not to live one’s faith in the public square.

  24. Noel Campbell says:

    Apologies firstly for using a cliche but reading some of the comments on the bishops’ response the first thing I thought was ‘it’s not WHO is right or wrong but WHAT is right’.
    I find myself in sympathy with both sides of this debate and I dare to suggest that there is no fixed well packaged solution to the present difficulties in our Church. What I do feel at times is a struggle between two groups for control and honestly it saddens me greatly.
    “What were you discussing as you walked along? We were discussing who was to be in charge” Jesus’ reply should be embedded in the heart of all who seek positions of ‘control’ , “the least among you must be the greatest”.
    I consider myself, without any false modesty, a very earthy Joe Soap kind of priest, struggling with my own human failings and doubts but one thing I do keep to the forefront is that I must be available as a gentle pastor to all I encounter. The people I engage with are not interested in what the bishop says or doesn’t say or who is in control. They simply want to pour out their troubles and anxieties to a listening ear and receive some words of comfort and encouragement, and yes, at times actions that might help them.
    Thankfully members of our Parish community are doing the same and thank God for that.
    I don’t feel the threat of a crozier or mitre over my head when I engage in my priestly duties . I suspect that it is by our example, our joy in the Gospel that will affect people who are desperately seeking a safe spiritual harbour and certainly not our success in endless debates about married/unmarried, male or female or about who is in control

  25. In Africa magazine July/August (p.3) Pope Francis is quoted from conversation with Bishop of Xingu-‘ National Conferences should make bold proposals’. A book ‘Ordaining Community Leaders’, by Dom Lobinger, instances hundreds of married deacons leading community worship and he (writer) speaks of married community leaders. Bold proposals required!!!
    Our bishops, all good men, speak from their own experiences but ongoing shortage can achieve what other countries now do. We out of necessity will catch up. We must be patient and think osmosis and dialectic transformation.
    Visiting my parents & grandparents Pharmacy on the Mall in Waterford, as young child, (Reginalds Tower was linked to the Pharmacy), old gave way to new. Patience and trust we require. I suppose we all journey at different paces but ‘night and day while we are awake or asleep God goes on working’. Thirty years as a priest has taught me that God is in all things, patience allows us to acclimatise.

  26. Noel@24, I read the sincerity in your words, but with all due respect I suggest that this particular endless debate is not about people wanting to be in control or in charge as you assume. Its about justice within the church which preaches justice to the world. For example, if things were reversed and you were denied the opportunity to exercise your call as a pastor because you were male or because you were married, you might not be so comfortable with the system. In other words you speak from the inside and from a position were your call was facilitated by the institution. Try to see it and feel it from the outside. I would also suggest that it is ‘by our example’ of our continuing to tolerate this state of affairs that many people people have long since set sail from the oppressive confines of this particular safe harbour. Others of us in the reform groups, though unwelcome and dismissed, stay on and try to engage the issues for the good of all. Thank you for your contribution and I hope you continue to engage on this and other subjects in the future.

  27. Jackie Minnock says:

    Am reading the contributions here and find myself agreeing and disagreeing in equal measure – which I believe is normal.
    In response to Teresa on the question ‘what is the point of ordaining women deacons and what can a deacon do that a ‘lay’ member of the church can’t do’? Recently I have taken part in a seminar on the very topic of women being part of the ordained diaconate. Apparently ‘lay’ people cannot read the Gospel/assist at Baptism/ Funeral liturgy/ witness marriages – speak on the Word; attend the sick and do works of charity in the name of the Church-ordaining men to the permanent diaconate is suppose to assist the clergy in their work – listed above. I know that many ‘lay’ people and ‘women’ in particular do assist the clergy in their work, perhaps not in all of the above areas but in a lot of them – therefore when male deacons come into play – women will not be ‘qualified’ to assist.
    Why not ordain women deacons – if there are women who feel they are called to be deacons? Deacons are called to be ‘the service of Christ’ to the Church – this service does not have a gender therefore the gender issue for ordination, as in the case of priest, does not apply. There is a wealth of history to support women as ordained deacons in Church teaching and history and canon law does not, outright, prohibit it. Also there are women deacons in the some of the Orthodox Churches and Rome has said they recognise their sacraments and have no issues with their sacraments so there should be no issues for Rome either.
    To have women the permanent ordained diaconate acknowledges their place within the Church – a place that has long since only received lip-service. Why should male deacons receive the charism of ordination and females be asked to do the work of the deacon but be refused the charism? The Church is clearly saying who is worthy of the charism and apparently women are not.
    Ordained deacons, either female or male, will never replace clergy nor should they – they are the serving hands of the bishop along with the clergy to the People of God.
    The Church will have to be guarded that another layer of clericalism is not instituted when the permanent diaconate is in full swing.
    Jackie Minnock

  28. Scanning these entries is almost enough to make the average pew dweller give up ! So the Bishops of Ireland are a gormless, anodyne lot. It was ever thus. The CDF lacks ‘nous; as well as compassion. Likewise. The sartorial trappings and posturings (so roundly ridiculed by Pope Francis in his Exhortation) still bemuse and alienate the faithful. Again likewise. The ‘new missal’ is in parts at least overly erudite and convoluted. All of these things are easier to live with than the new conscience shaped by the spirit of the age that can reconcile the Word of God with abortion and the destruction of marriage and family. It is by the grace of God that the Bishops are at least still faithful to core values and by all indications prepared to fight when the battle moves to their gates as inevitably it will in a secular, ethically rootless, arbitrary culture of rights .

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