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The Irish Church: ‘We need to talk’

The Independent  (Monday 4th February) had a column on the Meeting of the Priests’ Council (Dublin) and the leadership of the ACP. It was a sloppy piece of journalism and a distortion.
We met. We talked. There is nothing extraordinary about that. We shouldn’t be surprised or excited or euphoric. It is what adults do!  This is Communion. The Church doesn’t belong to the Bishops or to Rome or to anyone. We are the Church.
It is good that the ACP and the Council of priests meet.  It also is a problem: It creates something the ACP never wanted: It spawns administration;  More meetings; more travelling; more is dumped on the Leadership. They get sucked into this Bureaucracy of life. It can mean the kiss of death.
People need to talk. The Bishops and the ACP need to talk. Bishops need to talk to each other. Priests need to talk. There needs to be talk all across the Church. There isn’t an Us and Them.  The ACP isn’t about dissident priests. They are by definition priests who love the Church; who find their Inspiration in Vatican 2 and who want the Church to face today’s world and not hide away in the past. The catch word of the Council was: Aggiornamento.  This bringing-up-to-date is an evolutionary process and never ends. The Incarnation means that the Word has to become Flesh in everyday life but there is a problem.
The Mission Statement of the ACP is a commitment to Vatican 2 whereas Rome is rushing back to the past and seems committed to unravelling the  heart of the Council. This retrenchment can put Roman church at odds with the ACP.  That can also mean that the College of Bishops is reticent to get involved except in a piecemeal manner – via the Priests’ Councils (The deferential model is still around). Are they put off by the tag of dissidents?  John Wilkins wrote an article recently – ‘Bishops or Branch Managers? ‘ (Doctrine and Life).  We call on Bishops to be Bishops and our Bishops to be a College.
There are no heretics lurking around the ACP. It may be convenient to dismiss the 1000 priests if there was a hint of heresy. (Tony Flannery is also not a dissident or a heretic but only an ordinary thinking priest who is alive in his faith and is in touch with the Irish world). The ACP is a place of encouragement; a place really of Evangelisation. In fact, clearly and obviously, all new Bishops should be ‘recruited’ from the leading ranks of the ACP.  The Bishops should be delighted to join the serious banter of theological reflection in the ACP. This is what they most want for a living, throbbing Church.  The Nuncio too should be listening and learning. He too needs to be more than a diplomatic puppet from Rome. If he has any chance of understanding the heart of Irish Catholicism – he has to humbly sit and listen among the gathered priests and listen ‘attentively’ to all who are the ‘faithful.’  It is also expected and demanded that the same priests are listening to their people where they are and are sharing Communion in their Communities. Many wonder at what is being inflicted on the Irish Church as new Bishops are appointed. How can these poor men cope with the needs of the Irish Church and the expectations of the Roman politburo. Sometimes there is an immediate conflict between the criteria (of Rome) and the real needs of the Local Church.
The Irish church is best known by the Irish. Rome fears, in a concerned way, for the Irish Church. But we don’t need static or stagnant theology which oozes out from officialdom at present. The Church of Jesus Christ is not like that.  We do need to reclaim our Church and speak up to Rome (The Missal alone tells us of their Theology!).  One of new shoots of hope was the strong correction made by our four Archbishops to Tim Dolan of New York on his Report (Irish College).  That is the robust manner which should sum up our Irish Church. We must work together; our Community of Faith. We must all become Faithful (full of faith). We must have faith in each other and faith in the Spirit who leads us. Communion is our challenge.
There is no euphoria in the Meeting of the Priests’ Council and ACP. It is what the Church is about:  Communion, Communication, Community. This is Evangelisation. And we need to be evangelised – the whole Church.
Mulala Yousafzai spoke yesterday from the QE2 Birmingham. She thanked God for getting back her life  (even  if she still awaits a cochlear implant – how appropriate too this is for us as a message to ourselves!) and then spoke eloquently of her commitment to fighting the battle for the education of the young girls in Pakistan. The Taliban won’t stop her. Can we too be  that brave?  If there is fear around the Church; if there is a sense of ‘watching our backs’ (note Doctrine and Life re Dissidents); if some of our Ministers of the Gospel are being shot down in their Ministry – then we must ask why is Jesus Christ and the Gospel being suffocated? How can fear rust the soul of the Church?  It can’t and it won’t.  May the ACP do its work. And the Bishops too.
Seamus Ahearne osa

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  1. The Papal Nuncio has gone out to many Parishes in our country over the past year and has attended many functions and events, so I don’t know what you are talking about saying the following above;
    ‘If he has any chance of understanding the heart of Irish Catholicism – he has to humbly sit and listen among the gathered priests and listen ‘attentively’ to all who are the ‘faithful.’
    He is listening to the faithful and he has done so much for us in the Church here since he came. His picture has appeared almost every week in the Irish Catholic where he has attended several events countrywide and continues to do so. He is a breath of fresh air in our Church. God bless.

  2. There’s listening and then there’s LISTENING. I suspect that the kind of listening that happens at these meetings or in any social setting might well be selective listening, listening to be polite, and listening to placate, but not necessarily listening that leads to meaningful discussion and appropriate action and I’m speaking of the listening of the “powers that be”.

  3. Raymond Hickey Bordine says:

    Seamus, thank you for your vital message of hope, life, and enthusiasm! You speak the words of the church that we here in America used to know and love but which now has been ‘shot down’ and ‘suffocated’. “Shot him down, down like a dog on the highway” [Alfred Noyes] but here we might say “down like a dog in his church of Jesus, the Christ.”
    The RCC here in America is in its death throes, gasping and struggling. I believe that once again it will be up to the good people of Ireland to save this church; to once again make it a Christian church and to snatch it from the grasp of Rome. Your spirit is pure, your intentions are sterling, and your hope is eternal. You are a priestly people, a royal people, a most holy people.
    Thank you, Seamus Ahearne, for keeping the spark alive so that we might light one candle rather than curse the darkness.

  4. Bob Hayes says:

    ‘The Church doesn’t belong to the Bishops or to Rome or to anyone. We are the Church.’ Seamus, I thought the Church was the Body of Christ. The Church belongs to God – it is most definitely not ours!

  5. Sarah Mac Donald says:

    “The meeting will be private, is confined to priest-members and is not open to the media.” So states Fr Brendan Hoban of the forthcoming meeting of ACP priests on 20 February.
    So no laity and no media – who must then rely on second hand accounts from the ACP in order to keep the wider public informed.
    Yet, Fr Seamus Ahearne accuses Monday’s article of being sloppy and a distortion. Perhaps because the editor in the Independent in his/her wisdom gave it all the space it merits in the wider public’s estimation – ie of little or no import.
    I suggest that Fr Ahearne first of all takes a good look at his own sloppy writing and grammar and his distorted thinking before casting stones.
    Secondly, that he looks at the manner in which the ACP and Priests Council function. Most people under the age of 40 – of which there would be few in either organisation – would not deem them as transparent or open-minded.
    Looking forward to seeing greater degree of glasnost in your musings Fr Ahearne and less of the politburo group think and – for that matter snide unchristian comments about the media and those in the church who don’t toe your line. The bickering is distasteful…
    The ACP and priests can’t have it both ways – they court the media and then berate it for not presenting material the way they want…. so much for freedom of the press!
    Sarah Mac Donald
    Irish Independent

  6. Mary O Vallely says:

    I agree with you, Sarah, that the “bickering is distasteful.” If you were the journalist who wrote Monday’s article (I didn’t see it) then I can understand how hurt you would feel about accusations of sloppiness and “distortion”. I might have reacted in the same way myself. Fair dues to the moderator for posting your hard hitting comment and good to see critical comments too. We can all learn from them.
    However, I echo Raymond’s (@3) passionate endorsement of Seamus Ahearne’s words. He is at least alive in his faith (as is Raymond) and I also agree with Darlene about two kinds of listening. We all know many priests and bishops who nod the head and appear to be listening but you know in your heart that they are not taking seriously what you have to say. Sometimes they do have to listen (and read- ok!) a lot of dross but if they dig deep enough they may find a little nugget there. It’s a reminder to us all that real, active listening is hard work and many of us need practice.
    Sarah, I believe that there are times when priests in the ACP do need to discuss their own particular issues away from the rest of us. It could be that I am too used to being “shut out” and feel that it is part of the norm. Hmm. Maybe something in that but I honestly don’t see why they need to have the media and laity at all their meetings. Everyone needs space to discuss with those who truly understand, those who share similar experiences.
    Good to see open criticism on this forum. It is necessary and good as long as it isn’t intentionally, personally hurtful. Hey, but we’re only human, after all. 🙂

  7. Eddie Finnegan says:

    OmiGawd, Sarah MacDonald! Aren’t you being right touchy all of a sudden? I think anyone who knows Fr Seamus Ahearne even slightly will recognise that his punchy, even staccato style reflects the man. Not a damn thing wrong with his grammar. Nor with his ideas which you twit as ‘musings’, stemming from ‘politburo think’, lacking in ‘glasnost’. You were really reaching for the clichés last night.
    A ‘sloppy distortion’ maybe the Independent piece was (I didn’t see it). So, are you blaming the editor for mangling your copy while in the same breath praising him/her for, in his/her wisdom, recognising that the great Independent (independent?!)public would see through its subject matter, priests meeting priests, as of little or no import. Still, I’m sorry I missed the ‘euphoria’ bit: what the hell were they on?
    I’ve re-read Seamus’s piece. Where was he making “snide unchristian” comments about the MEDIA? He wrote ten words about a piece which, I assume, appeared under your name. Two of those ten words an independent columnist might get riled about for about ten seconds, if she’d had a particularly stressful day – maybe if she’d got another drubbing from her nameless faceless Independent editor and then come home to a two-line email from The Tablet saying they could no longer use her stuff. Otherwise maybe three words: Get over it!
    I’ve just read Seamus’s piece a third time to find where he was being snide or unchristian about “those in the church who don’t toe your line”. Nothing! I was really looking forward to his distasteful bickering. Zilch. The tiniest little bit of much needed advice to the Roman Viceroy, but not a bicker and all in the best possible taste. Sarah, don’t apply for the editor’s job.
    Finally, the ACP is an association of Catholic priests. Occasionally they meet alone, like once in a blue moon or every year with a ’13’ in it – just like any self-respecting masonic lodge, witches’ coven or hellfire club. So what? They have business to attend to. As a layman, not particularly given to ‘politburo group think’ or should that be ‘groupthink’, I can’t see the problem with that. Our local Residents’ Association is meeting here tonight in London N4. Just ourselves. No media. We’ll issue minutes, of course, to anyone who wants to read them. But, Sarah, I think you jumped to a rather sloppy conclusion(like 2+2=17) and managed to distort both Seamus’s piece and Brendan Hoban’s notice about Athlone. Or is it that you really hold a secret flame for ‘The Irish Catholic’?
    And, by the way, don’t worry about The Tablet. There’s still a raft of Irish bishops to be commissioned and they’ll need someone to scribe a few thumbnail sketches.

  8. Lee Cahill says:

    Are Sarah Mac Donald (authoress of last Monday’s Irish Independent report on meeting between ACP and Dublin Priests Council) and Sarah Mac Donald (writer of posting no.5 above) really the same person?

  9. Sarah Mac Donald says:

    Thanks Eddie – QED – more than any words of mine could ever do!

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Thanks Sarah, glad you enjoyed it! I’ll take a day or two to unpack your “QED” while hoping that I’m not an unthinking pawn in demon-strating the demonic secret world of the ACP or its roadies and groupies. 🙂
    In fairness to Sarah MacDonald’s journalistic balance, I think ACP should prominently reproduce her account, “ACP holds talks with Martin”, from today’s (well, tomorrow’s 9 February) Tablet, p32. God knows the site isn’t slow to reproduce every other favourable mention, particularly of transatlantic provenance.
    There’s nothing sloppy or distorted about her piece when we compare it with the ACP participants’ own account already published. Except, of course, that it is a heavily or exclusively ACP-ish account. [Brendan, may I say in all good humour, if I hear about Killala once again I do believe I’ll scream. You know, and I know, that if Killala were in any other local church across the globe, it would be at most a half-parish in a corner of someone’s deanery.] I think that may have been a bit of hyperbole ?
    Seriously, though, I don’t think Diarmuid Martin is so far into the “listening” game that neither he nor his Council of Priests ever open their mouths at a meeting. So, Séamus Ahearne (a man with a foot in both camps), it’s over to you, though I think it was wise of all participants not to publish any blow-by-blow accounts from this initial exchange of views.
    Stay calm, lads! Don’t panic! Keep taking the tablets, but give the independents a skip.
    @Lee Cahill (8) I suppose, Lee, in your neck of the woods they still talk about Jewesses, farmeresses, teacheresses, doctoresses. No sign of the odd priestess yet, I suppose. They could do with a few in Killala!

  11. The following was taken from a recent clerical blog;
    The Vatican’s head of doctrine says critics in North America and Europe are conducting a “concerted campaign” to discredit the Catholic Church that is resulting in open attacks against priests.
    In an interview published Saturday by Germany newspaper Die Welt, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller likened the sentiment directed toward the Church to that of the pogroms against Jews in Europe.
    Mueller, who leads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was quoted as saying that those attacking the Church borrow arguments used by totalitarian ideologies such as Communism and Nazism against Christianity.
    In recent years, the Catholic Church has faced growing criticism in Europe and North America for its handling of sexual abuse cases and its opposition to contraception, same-sex marriage and the ordination of women.”

    Just how does one interact or communicate with this mind-set….never mind equating the call for dialogue about current important matters of interest for the future of the Church with the persecutions, rapes, assaults and murder of the Jewish people!!

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