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It’s time for the bishops and the ACP to talk

The Austrian bishops, led by Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, recently went on their ‘ad limina’ visit to the Vatican, where they had what sounds like a fascinating discussion with Pope Francis.  They brought with them the results of the Vatican survey, which they had taken very seriously and about which they had consulted widely.  Among other findings was that 95% of Austrian Catholics believe that people who are divorced and remarried should be admitted to the sacraments. They seem to have had no fear bringing such findings to Rome, and neither was Francis shocked by them. Schonborn says that he responded by saying: “Don’t judge, but look closely and listen very carefully,”
In an interview afterwards, Schönborn said he regretted that the Austrian bishops haven’t dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms in the past. They haven’t had the courage to address the need for greater decentralization and to strengthen local churches’ responsibilities, he said. “We were far too hesitant. I beat my own breast here. We certainly lacked the courage to speak out openly.”
The Austrian Priests Initiative, led by Helmut Schuller, has been the most outspoken and radical of the various priests’ movements around the world, much more so than the ACP here in Ireland. The Austrian bishops also discussed with the pope the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, which has called for the ordination of married men and women, and their “Call to Disobedience,” Schönborn said. The pope advised them that the most important thing for bishops is always to be in close contact with their priests, the cardinal said.
The message is obvious.  Francis was telling the Austrian bishops to speak to their priests, to discuss the issues and concerns with them.
We here in Ireland, members of the ACP, have been consistently looking for some real discussion with our bishops ever since our beginning over three years ago, but without success.  Clearly now there is a new reality.  Pope Francis wishes real discussion and listening to go on at all levels in the Church.  So it is now time for our bishops to sit down with us, the ACP, and for all of us to begin to talk openly and fearlessly with each other. The days of fear, of secrecy, of oppression are happily in the past. Beginning with a dialogue between bishops and priests, it can be broadened to include all the faithful, and with no topic of concern being excluded from the discussion.
This is a time of grace, a time of opportunity in our Church. It is undoubtedly the work of the Spirit.  If we fail to respond I believe we will be guilty of a great sin. So let the talk begin.  There is no time to lose.

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  1. Cardinal Schonborn clearly regrets not seizing the moment! This might well prove to be a costly error. It is my contention, that perhaps, the RC Church appears to be green again, therefore, a relaxation in the reform agenda, the world over. However, we know there continues to be pressing issues as the UN report on child sex abuse indicated. This is only one issue. There are still parish closures, a shortage of priests and so on. Yet, people may be thinking and believing that Pope Francis will get to it all. While Pope Francis is certainly focussed on overhauling the church, as he calls it…I do not know, how much change will really result. If Pope Francis is open to hearing from the official Church and the People of God, then we need to continue to talk reform and insist on change. In this light, I was heartened by the work of the Catholic Church Reform. I believe this group resulted from the teleconferencing of reform organizations last year and Father Tony Flannery was a part of that. On their website is a number of interesting articles, as well as, a survey for Catholics to complete. I did one and I think, it is necessary to keep alive the reform agenda. I had commented many months ago, that the reform movement needs to be one global effort. This same group recently prepared a letter to be signed by Catholics. Unfortunately, the date to sign has passed and I didn’t know about it. For a universal Church, the number of signatures is completely insignificant..but, that further points to my concern, that reform, has ebbed. Hopefully, not for too long.

  2. cathy swift says:

    “The days of fear, of secrecy, of oppression are happily in the past. Beginning with a dialogue between bishops and priests, it can be broadened to include all the faithful, and with no topic of concern being excluded from the discussion.”
    Please, could you explain why you think the conversation should be limited in the first instance to a dialogue between bishops and priests? My initial reaction to reading this is that, as a laywoman, I feel a bit insulted at the notion that my ilk cannot take part in any dialogue going until ? – until maybe there’s a concensus among the ordained? (how long is it envisaged that that will take?) but I’d be very happy to learn why my initial reaction may be a wrong one. (If that sounds sardonic, its not meant to be – maybe a better way of putting it would be – I’d be very happy to read ideas about why my initial reaction may be wrong and to go away and think about any arguments that are made.

  3. Cathy,
    A simple explanation. We in the ACP have spent over three years trying to get the bishops to sit down and talk to us, without any success. Knowing the practical realities of Church life, I think there is a marginally better chance of getting them to talk to us first before they might take their courage in their hands and venture to sit down with the rest of the faithful.
    In other words, I see this as the best political approach right now.
    I don’t know will that go any way to answer your question, and lessen your insult.

  4. Wasn’t the logjam in the North breached first by one or more back channels – completely invisible communication through intermediaries between those most at odds in the public sphere?
    I don’t see the Chinese wall between ACP and ICBC coming down as a result of a public challenge anyway. Such ‘calls’ are always seen as another PR barrage.

  5. cathy swift says:

    yes, I can see that and all politics are compromise and negotiation and for that to work, one needs to be realistic. But as somebody outside that particular loop and maybe not sufficiently worried about giving management its due (a long-standing difficulty for me in all areas of my life!), my position (I think) is that its important to have as much dialogue as possible with as wide a community as possible and I’d worry that by prioritising dialogue with people who don’t want to talk (or haven’t up to now), you may be stymying the potential for growth and development. A different way of looking at it is that if the conversation develops and is accepted by a sufficiently large part of the community at large, it pushes management into having to dialogue regardless of where they may have originally started out. (I’m an early Irish historian so my basic perspective is that management can only manage if the population agrees to be managed; if an early Irish king pushed autocracy too far, he simply got the chop. It was a nice simple world back then.) Of course the great advantage of history is that its entirely retrospective so any analysis a historian comes up with is of only limited value in working out how to move forward.

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