It’s twelve months since the Assembly in Dublin when over 1,000 of us squeezed into the room in the Regency Hotel for a truly inspirational event which at the end of the day left many, if not all, of us full of hope and confidence for the future in an inclusive, compassionate and Christ-like Church. There have been further meetings since in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere but, overall, things have gone very quiet. It seems unlikely that we could recover the vigour we witnessed at the Assembly. Why is this?
Perhaps it’s due to the election of Pope Francis who brings renewed hope to the Church. Perhaps it is because we exhausted our agenda on that first day and have really nothing further to say. Or maybe it’s because we have no way of breaching the citadel of power that is the official church as represented by the Vatican and the hierarchy. Our role as laity is to listen and accept what we are told – we have no opportunity of engaging with and developing our Church through dialogue.
Hopefully Pope Francis will take an approach which will, in time, diminish our need for an ACP or an ACI. Nevertheless, we must deal with matters as they stand at present. I think we have lost momentum and perhaps we should review where we’re going with the ACI. In particular, I think the decision to have separate associations for the laity, or more correctly the ‘unordained’ (sisters, brothers and laity) and the priests – the ACI and ACP respectively – doesn’t help matters. The following are some points that might be considered:
- By having separate associations we are starting off with a decision to maintain the very divisions that I understood we were trying to remove.
- The daily lives of priests, sisters, brothers can be changed radically by decisions of the hierarchy. The hierarchy doesn’t have the same hold on the laity so the motivation to sustain an organisation such as the ACP/ACI is far greater with the religious than with the laity. On the other hand, it would appear that the ‘powers that be’ in the Church view the activities of the ACP as those of just some ‘dissident’ priests – priests against whom they can bring sanctions. There’s a chance they might respond differently if they saw that it was a movement across the Church as a whole with large numbers of people over whom they have no direct control. So, working together, the religious and the laity can provide motivation and protection for one another.
- It is very likely that an association that included priests and the unordained would be represented in most parishes in the country.
- It has been proposed that the ACI would be an ‘umbrella group’. Umbrella groups tend to generate bureaucracy which causes energy to be dissipated in political game-playing between the individual groups represented. Some level of politics and bureaucracy is inevitable, indeed essential, but they are also very effective at smothering the initiative and spontaneity of ‘people power’. Also, an umbrella group excludes individuals such as myself who are not attached to any other relevant group or association.
- Pobal Dé was founded in the 1980’s in response to the concern about the need for reform of the Church at that time. We Are Church was founded as an international organisation in the 1990’s because of similar concerns about the need for reform. What would the ACI have to offer that these associations don’t already provide? Also, it would be interesting to know how successful these have been in maintaining their original momentum and achieving their objectives as an indicator of where the ACI could hope to be in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if membership of the ACP is to be confined to priests, then it will remain an all-male association – not a good start in the light of our objectives!
In making the above comments, I am not overlooking the enormous amount of work the members of the Committee of the ACI have undertaken over the past year or so in bringing things this far and the amount of time they have given to organising and attending various meeting etc. around the country.