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.
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.
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.