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Tony Flannery on the ACP

The first AGM of the Association of Catholic Priests, which was very successful, was held over two days in early October. The association was founded to promote the renewal of the Church as outlined in the Second Vatican Council, and also to be a voice for priests at this difficult time. Our current membership is 560; roughly two thirds are diocesan priests. We made it clear at the beginning, and have continued to do so, that we do not aim to represent all priests, but only those who wish to join, and who share our aims and objectives as outlined in our website. (associationofcatholicpriests.ie)
The first year has been much busy. We quickly established ourselves as a voice in the national debate on religious issues. But what was unexpected was the degree to which we became a voice for many lay Catholics also. This was clearly expressed at the open session on the first evening of our AGM. (But as with priests, we don’t for a moment suggest that we speak for all Catholics.) As a Redemptorist I am involved in missions and novenas. I am constantly impressed by the number of people who are still staying with the Church in spite of all the difficulties we have experienced, and the increasingly anti-catholic agenda being pursued by sections of the media. While these people are still faithful, they now have many questions. Their trust and confidence in the leadership of the Church, both at national and Vatican level, has been seriously dented. Many tell us they appreciate that the ACP is voicing their concerns and beliefs.
We failed to get the introduction of the New Missal postponed in order to give time for proper consultation, because our efforts at dialogue with the bishops proved futile. In fact one of the big disappointments of the year was the fact that the bishops, as a body and as individuals, were unwilling to enter into discussion with us. This we find strange, since almost all our members are very active in the ministry, and working hard in the service of the Church. Recent contact with the Austrian group shows that, while they have adopted more radical positions, Cardinal Schonborn gave them the respect of having real discussion with them.
The other big issue, the extent of which we had not foreseen, was the fear and insecurity of priests in relation to the handling by Church authorities of allegations of child sexual abuse, and the fact that many of those who are accused have been left isolated and unsupported. We were lucky in securing a legal team who are working for us, and they have already advised some priests, most notably Fr. Kevin Reynolds, who was getting no support from Church authorities in trying to clear his name. We are well aware of the enormous damage done by some priests to children and of the danger that people may actually believe that we are engaged in further cover up and denial. But priests are firstly human beings, with the same rights and duties as other citizens, and even when they have been convicted of crimes we believe that our faith calls us not to turn away from them or treat them as pariahs. So we will continue, as best we can, to support and help priests in difficulty.
One of our main priorities for the coming year is to consistently raise the problems around ministry in our Church, especially in the Western World. From the beginning the Christian faith was built on local communities of believers, with the Eucharist as its heart and centre. With the rapid decline in the number of priests, these communities are going to be deprived of the Bread of Life, and of the nourishment that it provides. This is due to the rigidity of Church authorities who decide that only celibate males are allowed to preside at the Eucharist. We believe that this is wrong, and contrary to the mind of Jesus. We regard the clustering of parishes, currently favoured by most dioceses, as an inadequate response to the problems, since it will entail priests moving rapidly from one church to another each weekend, without really belonging anywhere. This will be unsatisfactory, perhaps to the point of soullessness, because the person who presides at the Eucharist is meant to come from the community, not someone who whizzes in to “say mass”. We will do our best to keep that issue alive.
We regard the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress as a real opportunity for the Irish Church. But it must have no element of triumphalism about it. The celebration of the final mass at Croke Park will be the crucial factor here. If it is a big display of bishops and cardinals wearing mitres, surrounded by hundreds of vested priests, it will give out the wrong message. Instead it should be penitential in character. Rather than ceremonial dress, we ask for some modern, imaginative equivalent of the ‘sackcloth and ashes’ of the Old Testament, so that the celebration would be simple and humble, asking forgiveness not just for the abuse of children, but for the other abuses of power perpetrated by Church people in the past.
We are grateful for the volume of support we have received, not just in Ireland, but internationally. Conscious of our human frailty we hope to continue serving the Church.

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  1. Wendy Murphy says:

    Dear Tony
    I found your words so moving in their sincerity and clarity. I also found the following letter in today’s Tablet similar in spirit especially about ‘the local community of believers’.
    “Eclipse of love”
    The new English translation of the Mass has
    made me realise that the congregation are not
    allowed to use the word “love” in their
    responses. This seems very strange as the
    Catholic Church was founded on the love of
    God as revealed through the life of Jesus Christ.
    This absence is not an accident on the part
    of the church authorities in supporting the
    Latin foundation of the Mass. In its earliest
    beginnings as a state religion, the Church
    allowed itself to be corrupted to the political
    demands of the Roman emperors. In this context, God could not be portrayed as a God of
    love, as a “Daddy”, but had to reflect the qualities of the emperor. Hence, through the vehicle
    of the Mass, God had to be glorified, worshipped and praised – in the same manner
    as the emperor. Love was not allowed to
    intrude, as love rests on freedom, and the
    emperor was not willing to allow his subjects
    freedom. Just as the emperor had the power
    of reward and punishment, life and death, so
    these same qualities were thrust upon our loving God, with the notion of heaven and hell.
    This allowed the church authorities to establish their power as an intermediary, between
    an individual and a pseudo-God, portrayed
    as vengeful – rather than as a loving God. The
    end of the Roman Empire saw the church
    authorities continuing to use the Mass to control the hearts, minds and wealth of the people.
    The Second Vatican Council sought to bring
    our loving God back into the Mass, but the
    authorities are now attempting to reverse this.”
    Peter Briggs
    Oldham, Lancashire

  2. “In fact one of the big disappointments of the year was the fact that the bishops, as a body and as individuals, were unwilling to enter into discussion with us. This we find strange, since almost all our members are very active in the ministry, and working hard in the service of the Church.”
    This demonstrates how important it is for your association to exist. As priests on the ground you are only asking to be treated as men, brothers, comrades, co-workers, equals. Unfortunately that still does not compute. You are seen at best as employees without rights, charges, children who should be seen but not heard. (I’m not sure where that that places us laity in the evoluntionary chain.) Although with some no doubt there is still a ring kissing mentality, individually the bishops are decent men, many of whom we know as friends. But collectively they form an unhealthy stratum in the system of clericalism. They don’t know it, but you are working for their freedom too. I am sure that many of them, apart from the unashamedly ambitious, live in a state of holy terror and fear of the vatican. Therefore to be seen to give you as an organisation any recognition or respect is, as yet, beyond their imagination. But please keep going. We all need to find our voices and we are grateful to you for showing us it can be done in a constructive way. And it is happening. I personally find I can’t keep up with the number of Catholic websites that are calling for change, or for an end to the campaign being waged by the present adminstration, against the reforms of Vatican II. In fact I would say as laity, we in Ireland are a bit behind the rest of the world in finding our voices. I am aware too that the comments on this website should really be coming from your members instead of people like me. There is room for a lay equivalent in Ireland. That said, something new is emerging and it is good to be part of it.

  3. Wendy, I imagine that you are referring to the use of the word ‘charity’, instead of love. Love is a nebulous word, and most modern people are not really sure what it means. I used to think love was a feeling. But the love we are talking about with respect to God is charity. Not Oxfam charity, but caritas. Let’s look at Wikipedia:
    In Christian theology charity, or love (agapē), means an unlimited loving-kindness toward all others.
    The term should not be confused with the more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving.
    The more accurate use of terms is very important. People THINK they know what love, specifically caritas, is, but they do not, or at least the majority of them do not. With the use of more accurate terms comes the opportunity for priests to explain exactly what they mean in our Catholic faith.

  4. Wendy Murphy says:

    Call it what you like Martin – I’m happy with the word ‘love’ and, surprisingly, I know what it means.

  5. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Whenever I hear an earnest preacher (or read an earnest blog commenter) talking down to ordinary blokes like me with little Latin and less Greek about the fine but essential-for-my-salvation distinctions between ‘agape’ and ‘philia’ and ‘eros’, I just sit agape in my pew or at my keyboard, or ponder erotic thoughts or plan my Philadelphia-here-I-come escape…..

  6. Yes, Wendy, we need more accurate words like Martin says. How does “consubstantial” grab you?

  7. Wendy Murphy says:

    LOL! Eddie and Fr S and thank you. I think we’re in danger sometimes of losing our sense of humour and don’t ridicule the ridiculous enough. Don’t want to hurt people, of course, and accept everyone’s point of view, but have no intention of being hammered into the ground with words like Authority, Agape, Consubstantial, FACT (note the capitals) etc etc. It would be a pity for us as individuals, and impossible to bring the Good News we’re charged with, if we somehow lose the habit of joyfulness.
    I agree with MM, and endorse his/her comments, it is good to be a part of this discussion although I, not a priest, or religious, not even Irish, only stumbled across this blog looking for a bit of open dialogue about deep concerns. Hope we’re not hijacking a forum that would be best left to members of ACP – I would hate to feel that we’re cramping the style of others with more limited and tentative outlets to air their views. Please let me know, if this is the case.

  8. The saddest line was “Fr. Kevin Reynolds, who was getting no support from Church authorities in trying to clear his name.”
    The Eucharistic Congress — will it be a somnambulistic replay of the 1979 Papal Visit (except without the Casey and Cleary brio)?
    It may be the last hurrah of clericalism, instead of the first step toward a humbler and more human church.

  9. Sean (Derry) says:

    Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he explained an article by the laicized priest, Eugene Cullen Kennedy from the great writings of the National “Catholic” Reporter?
    Fr S, by sticking the word ‘Catholic’ into a title of a newspaper or an association of priests does not magically make it become Catholic.
    With 2000 years of Catholic teachings to choose from you really could do much better in your choice of reading material.

  10. FrS, what a powerful article! Thanks for bringing to to our attention.
    To quote from it, ‘Clericalism is, after all, an Aztec god that will tear any cleric’s heart out, whether he is guilty or innocent, as a necessary sacrifice to its own survival.’
    Irish bishops, please wake up/speak up/stand up – before its too late.
    Speaking of humour Wendy, I had this thought this morning:
    Our bishops are so much in fear of the vatican that, if one of them dreamt of meeting a ACP priest on the road, they would probably issue a press release to disclaim it ever happened – the dream that is. So don’t hold your breath Fr Tony.

  11. Bishop Finn did report the matter to the cops. The liberal media is not reporting the whole story cos they wanna bring a good, holy bishop down.

  12. Sean
    “You really could do much better in your choice of reading material.”
    The subjects I’m fairly well read on (which are relevant to this discussion) are Biblical Exegesis, Dogmatic Theology, Systematic Theology, Moral Theology, Ethics, Moral and Faith Developmental Psychology.
    Canon Law doesnt quite do for me, what it obviously does for you.

  13. Martin
    Lol! Bishop Finn – “The liberal media is not reporting the whole story cos they wanna bring a good, holy bishop down.”
    Bishop Morris – “The Conservative Vatican …………………

  14. Sean (Derry) says:

    Fr S, you say you are fairly well read on ‘Dogmatic Theology’. Why then do you fail to understand the Church’s Dogmatic statement regarding women priests? I’m sure, as you well know Pope John Paul II settled this issue when in 1994 he declared,
    “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32), I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).
    And for those who still didn’t get it the Church ruled that this teaching “requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 25:2)” (Response of Oct. 25, 1995).
    You will also remember that Pope Benedict XVI recently referred to these facts in his letter to Bishop William Morris who obviously was also a slow learner.
    Am I missing something or do you actually still believe that we can have women priests?

  15. Mary Burke says:

    We’ll soon see whether the civil authorities in Kansas agree with you or not, Martin.

  16. I don’t know Bishop Finn but I can spot rank prejudice when I see it. This man has not been tried and it is astonishing to read of Catholics who have already found him guilty of the charge and of much more besides. If the spiritual unhealthiness and lack of ordinary (much less Christian) charity apparent in this situation is not obvious to some then it is to their shame. (MM might want to spread his net a little wider and he will discover the proliferation of sites dedicated to support of the Magisterium and the successor of St. Peter.)

  17. Sean
    “Am I missing something?”
    Yes indeed you are.
    Three times now you have brought up the subject of my sermon on the ordination of women. Nowhere did I state that my sermon was FOR the ordination of women. I said that a small group of people “accused me” of that. They werent listening and neither are you.

  18. The point about Bishop Finn is that the system was not slow in abandoning him to his own fate. Our bishops need to take note and realise that its not to late to join the growing movement for change.
    Spencer, yes I acknowledge the existence of those other sites as well. There is indeed a battle on for the hearts and minds of the faithful. Lets hope we can keep it positive. Its hard not to be dualistic and adversarial in our thinking. And its easy to be cynical (a personal weakness on my part). But surely the discussion should be about how the Magisterium should be supporting us.

  19. Spirit of Vatican II says:

    Fr S – be careful – you might end up like the unfortunate Bishop Morris. His letter was ‘misunderstood’ as well. =p

  20. Spirit of Trent
    Dont worry, I am very well aware of their tactics, but good to see you acknowledging how underhand and vicious they can be. That was very honest of you.

  21. Mary Burke says:

    Whether you call yourself Spirit of Vatican II or Martin your pathetic effort at attempting to intimidate those who disagree with you is just that – pathetic. Come out of the closet and let’s see whether you have the courage of your convictions.
    Do you actually think that you’ll win the minds and hearts of anyone with even a modicum of education?

  22. Is Seán (Derry) saying that the Pope has infallibly declared that there can never be women priests. I must have missed that delicate nuance from the Benny machine. Another nail in the coffin of the official RC church.

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