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Dermot Lane commends and challenges the ACP

The last three years have been a huge success for the ACP. So let me first of all offer you my congratulations and thanks for all the work that you have done, sometimes unnoticed and unacknowledged. The ACP has given outstanding support and leadership to the priests of Ireland.
Here are some stray and scattered thoughts on what I might have said from the floor at the AGM if I were there. These thoughts were, in part, prompted by a question from Gerry O’Hanlon recently.
1. The reform of the Catholic Church in Ireland must be driven by the Second Vatican Council. The ACP has said this since its foundation, and it should continue to beat this particular drum. There is much in the vision of Vatican II awaiting implementation: the role of the laity, collegiality, ecumenism…
2. The interpretation and implementation of the Second Vatican Council has entered a new phase with the appointment of Pope Francis as Bishop of Rome. An outline of this new phase can be found in the many significant statements that he has made since his election. These include:

  • His pre-Conclave speech( March 2013);
  • His meeting with the staff of La Civilta Cattolica in June 2013;
  • His press conference on the plane to Rome from Rio (July 2013)
  • His recent interview with the editor of La Civilta Cattolica ( in August) published in Jesuit journals(September 2013)
  • His letter to the atheist editor of La Repubblica ( September 2013)
  • The interview of Francis by the atheist editor of La Repubblica ( 2013)

3. Francis has retrieved some of the neglected aspects of Vatican II:

  • Dialogue with world, the churches and religions
  • reading the signs of the times,
  • the missionary thrust of Christian faith called to go out to the frontiers,
  • a recovery of the mystery of Church as the light of Christ in a way that parallels the mysterium lunae,
  • the need to move beyond a self-referential Church ad extra.
  • a return to the Church as the People of God
  • an understanding of infallibility as something belonging to the whole Church.

4. Francis has challenged the Church to become “the home of all, not a small chapel that holds a small group of selected people”. If this is to happen in Ireland the Institutional Church will have to heal the many wounds it has inflicted on so many people in the past: the victims of sexual abuse, gay and lesbian people, divorced and remarried, priests forced to leave ministry, women, outspoken/prophetic priests and theologians…The most frequently used word in the speeches and interviews of Francis is “Mercy”. Is it possible for the Church in Ireland at this time to exercise the Mercy Francis has spoken about and to embody the compassion that is so central to ministry of Jesus?
5. Since Francis is now moving the Church towards a pastoral implementation of Vatican II, the ACP has a vital role to play. It is the members of the ACP that are at the front line of pastoral activity in Ireland. How can the ACP enable parishes to embody the vision of dialogue, collegiality and inclusivity that Francis is promoting at this time? How can the ACP move its members to adopt a more collaborative model of ministry that activates the priesthood of the laity. How can parishes begin to live the mercy-filled vision of Pope Francis? In responding to these questions, attention should be given to the following:

  • The vision of Vatican II as a point of departure;
  • Acceptance of Francis’ interpretation of Vatican II as primarily pastoral;
  • The promotion of a new dialogue: between laity, priests and bishops; between women and the institutional church; between theologians and bishops, between the disaffected and the official Church, between the wounded and the institutional church
  • The urgent need to develop a theology of dialogue throughout the church, with particular reference to the divorced and remarried, the gay and lesbian community, and the role of women in the Church.
  • The importance of instituting new forms of consultation that go beyond what Francis calls “ceremonial consultation”.
  • Attention to the gifts of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community. The programme of renewal and reform of the Catholic Church must be driven by the Spirit: without the Spirit the Church is just another institution, without the Spirit pastoral activity is simply social work, without the Spirit the liturgy is just another empty ritual, without the Spirit the teaching of the Church is just another ideology. This turn to the Spirit will require the drawing up of credible criteria for discerning the action of the Spirit of Christ in the Church and the world today.

6. Pope Francis has also retrieved the meaning of what is involved in thinking with the Church: “When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the Pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit”. In this way Francis has retrieved the importance of the sensus fidelium as intrinsic to the teaching-mission of the Church
7. The crisis of faith in Ireland today is far more serious than most Church leaders recognise. This crisis of faith is not something that began with the revelations around child sexual abuse. This crisis of faith had begun prior to the revelations of abuse and the inadequate response of ecclesiastical authorities through the failure of the church to come to grips with the winds of modernity. Modernity arrived in Ireland almost overnight to challenge a church that seemed immune to the challenges of modernity
This crisis of faith will not be resolved by condemning secularisation, or demonising the secular, or berating the ways of the world. The only way forward out of this crisis of faith is by engaging with the secular world as proposed by Gaudium et Spes, by initiating a dialogue between faith and the public square in Ireland, and by attending to “the unquiet frontiers of modernity” (Charles Taylor). Addressing this crisis of faith will also require social and cultural analysis of what exactly is happening in modern Ireland today. In this way faith will be able to find positive points of contact with the secular ( eg, the turn to mindfulness, the search for well-being/wellnes, the quest for the spiritual…) while critiquing the negative aspects of the secular. This analysis will need the help of the arts, philosophy and theology. It is far from clear that the current methods of the new evangelisation in Ireland are sufficient to the task of addressing the crisis of faith.
8. Theology at this stage in Ireland, due to neglect by the institutional Church, is in danger of becoming an un-ecclesial activity and this in turn is giving rise to un-theological ecclesiologies and un-theological pastoral practices at Parish level (see D. Lane, The Furrow, Feb. 2004, and again The Furrow, Jan. 2010).
9. Some of the urgent issues facing the Catholic Church at this time include: the overcoming of clericalism, bridging the gap between intellectuals and the institutional Church, healing the wounds revealed in the Ferns, Murphy, and the Ryan Reports, and the regaining of trust among people
10. Is it possible that the bishops of Ireland could now establish a group of eight to advise them on the reform and the renewal of the Catholic Church? This group of eight might include a disaffected intellectual, a woman, someone from the business world, a theologian, a religious, lay person active in ministry, a priest, and a bishop. This group of eight should be given a clear brief, with a specific timeline, and some resources (which might be funded, for example, by the Bishops’ Conference and CORI and 10% of all weekend Parish collections for one month.
11. The Catholic Church in Ireland needs a pastoral plan and a theological “think-tank”: how to bring faith into dialogue with society, the academy and the Church; how to establish authentic structures of dialogue at national, diocesan and parish levels; how to recover from the betrayal of trust ( see Broken Faith: Why Hope Matters, ed.by P. Claffey, J. Eagan and M Keenan, P. Lang, 2013)
12. A particular focus for the Irish Church and the ACP at this time should be attention to the ever-increasing number of disaffected Catholics, indifferent unbelievers, the growing number of articulate secularists and atheists within Irish society, and the significant number of unbelievers who, nonetheless, continue to be fascinated by the story of Jesus as for example appears to be the case with Scalfari , the former atheist editor of La Repubblica , who I suspect speaks for many.
13. It is worth observing in passing how Fianna Fail has reinvented itself in the last two years. Is it conceivable that the church might reinvent itself to become a servant church, especially of the poor, the social conscience of society, the champion of social justice as outlined in the synodal document of 1971 entitled Justice in the World.
13. A final challenge for the ACP at this time is to get the Catholic Church to move from being a teaching Church to being a teaching and learning Church (Gaudium et Spes). Without a learning Church, there cannot be a teaching church. If the Catholic Church fails to become a learning Church, which was one of the striking features of the Church at Vatican II, then it will continue to be a merely self-referential institution, with narcissistic qualities which have been critiqued by Francis. If there is no learning from the world as envisaged by Vatican II, the church could end up as a sect within Irish society.
I hope you have a productive AGM next Tuesday.
Best wishes,
Dermot Lane

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  1. Mary O Vallely says:

    Excellent letter from Dermot Lane! I agree with all the points especially the warning to pay heed to the gifts of the Spirit in No 5. Is there any chance someone could give out a link to both Furrow articles he mentions in No 8. please? I would like to understand more about “un-theological ecclesiologies and un-theological pastoral practices at Parish level”. Thank you.

  2. Kevin Walters says:

    Quote: Attention to the gifts of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community. The programme of renewal and reform of the Catholic Church must be driven by the Spirit: without the Spirit the Church is just another institution, without the Spirit pastoral activity is simply social work, without the Spirit the liturgy is just another empty ritual, without the Spirit the teaching of the Church is just another ideology. This turn to the Spirit will require the drawing up of credible criteria for discerning the action of the Spirit of Christ in the Church and the world today
    Many years ago I went to see a priest (a kindly man) and asked him if he would baptise my daughter, he took me into the Sacristy with his back turned away from me, he open a large book and said “What is the child’s name? I replied “It will be xxxx” he turns slowly and looked at me for some time in a perplexed manner, wanting to speak but did not. It was many years later before I realised what had transpired between us. Those who walk in friendship with the Holy Spirit hear his voice within their hearts and when they fall into error, he corrects them and in so doing gives glory to our Father in heaven. Unknowingly I had conveyed a truth to this kindly priest, that had pieced his heart, he had permitted the secular law to supersede Gods law (Holy Will) within his heart, as until baptism my child had no name before our eternal Father in heaven.
    These words in the above article covey the same scenario
    ◦#The urgent need to develop a theology of dialogue throughout the church, with particular reference to the divorced and remarried,#
    The writer has permitted the secular law to supersede Gods law (Holy will) in his heart, either they are married or they are not. We must account for the words (terminology) we use we cannot walk with the Holy Spirit in harmony (Friendship) unless our words agree with our beliefs.

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    In conjunction with my Post 2
    Keynote speech by Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga at Synod Closing Assembly 28.10.2000. Please read 7. CONCLUSION
    We see no blush of shame, no humility, and no accountability only self-glorification. Can anyone discern the Holy Spirit at work?
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a G8 for Ireland. I wholeheartedly support the contention that the problem to be tackled is clericalism…and you know….that an Irish G8 team will firstly find themselves receiving push back from the clerical realm in the Irish Bishops…..It is absolutely astounding the potential for Ireland to lead the way for renewal…but, the Irish bishops must embrace ……reform and renewal…They must agree with Pope Francis that the Church needs an overhaul and they need to get at-er…No more stubborn mules…as one of the elderly priests down south said…

  5. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Kevin, forgive me if I seem stupid, but I just didn’t get that priest/baptism name story. Can you please explain it for me? I genuinely want to understand what you mean in that story and your understanding of it.

  6. Dermot Lane writes as pastor and theologian. His analysis of the situation of the Catholic Church in Ireland is perceptive and challenging. I find myself in whole agreement. I like, especially, his stress on the Church as a learning Church. Now that, mercifully, the ‘reform of the reform’ has run its course, we may return to implementing Vatican II.

  7. Kevin Walters says:

    Shaun the Sheep@5
    Thank you for your comments, when I made my Post I spoke from the heart without reflection, this will give me the opportunity to re-examine what I wrote.
    On the worldly plane my daughter was given a name by me and my wife and registered with the State and this name is accepted by all in our society. Her name will remain with her till death (unless she changes it by deed poll) but eventually it will be lost in time, her name is not permanent.
    On the spiritual plane before baptism my daughter’s name would not exist, but once baptized my daughter’s name can never be changed and would exist permanently (eternally) before our Father in heaven.
    Now bear in mind I was in church with Gods representative on earth discussing spiritual matters.
    I was talking on the spiritual plane from my heart the kindly priest on this occasion was talking on the worldly plane from his intellect, when the priest said “what is her name”? I immediately responded “it will be xxx” (When it arrives on the spiritual plane after baptism) I had rebuked his statement. What is her name? Implies permanence there is nothing permanent on the physical (worldly) plane. If he had said what name have you given her? I would have responded with her name. In my heart my daughter had no name until she had one in Christ.
    I hope this helps.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  8. Mary O’Valley @ (1)
    Mary, I am intrigued and interested in your question re. “un-theological ecclesiologies and un-theological pastoral practices at parish level.” Perhaps there may be seeds of reform in exploring this question further. I wonder if I experienced an un-theological pastoral practice this morning, Nov.2nd, feast of All Souls when immediately after Mass No.1, Mass No.2 was commenced by the priest without even leaving the altar and with the comment that Mass No.2 would be “very brief!” Personally, I felt very sad and, of course, did not stay. My question is what on earth was this saying to the few people present about the sacred Liturgy of the Eucharist and what is the point of two rushed Masses running into each other? Just because the priest has “permission” to celebrate three Masses on Nov. 2nd doesn’t mean that he should do so, unless it is needed at another time of the day for a different congregation.

  9. martin hunter says:

    A very encouraging letter and one that could be an important guide for those in formation…formators first of course!!

  10. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Thanks Kevin, that is very deep and lots to reflect on there. There is also that verse from Revelations about the name of the soul which only God and the soul knows, written on a little pebble. Rev. 2:17:

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

  11. Wonderful piece by Fr. Dermot Lane. Imagine having a parish priest like that!

  12. Pat Rogers says:

    Many thanks, Dermot, for those thoughtful and timely pointers to what the way forward in Church life could be — if only a majority could be found in support of the themes you’ve underlined from the vision of Vatican II: a culture of dialogue throughout the church, that goes beyond “ceremonial consultation.” I wholly agree that our current crisis of faith in this country will not be resolved by condemning secularisation, and that all of us, but especially our bishops, need to work to bridge the gap between intellectuals and the institutional Church.
    It’s clear that new communication strategies are needed, if our bishops are once again to play a meaningful role as teachers of faith and morals to our people, and in particular to our young adults, so many of whom seem to regard our church as a relic of former centuries. If the story of Jesus is to be brought anew to the forefront of consciousness, to throw light on our lives, it will hardly be by a barren insistence that “they” (our Magisterium) have all the answers, ready-made and permanent, but rather in a friendly dialogue of seeking truths that can support life and bind us together in community.
    Whatever pope Francis may articulate by way of teaching, his gestures and brief statements so far seem to offer hope for that kind of return to basics and to genuineness that we all long for.

  13. Kevin Walters says:

    Pat Rogers@12
    It’s clear that new communication strategies are needed, if our bishops are once again to play a meaningful role as teachers of faith.
    Do you not understand, in the secular world the Bishops have lost credibility, they sold their spirituality (integrity) for a worldly image of goodness, in covering up the Child abuse scandal and now without any blush of shame, how can they expect to lead mankind, to serve the Truth, when they cannot do so themselves.
    We need to teach the doctrine (The Word of God) that cannot be misunderstood because It is Inviolate and that ALL are accountable before It, even our Bishops and Popes, and then with compassion in our hearts walk before His Word (Will) in unity of purpose. This unity can only be achieved in humility (we All fall short of the Word of God) and this humility (True Contrition) must firstly be manifest by the leaders of the Gods holy church on earth, before our Father In heaven, then once again they take up the mantle of teacher, not to do so ( step down from their thrones and bow down in humility ) only confirms their hypocrisy.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ.

  14. Not related to this article but I can’t find anywhere else to put it.
    Various sources including the Irish Independent* are quoting in regard to speculation that Pope Francis is about to announce women cardinals that
    “Last night, the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland (ACP) said it was particularly delighted, as an Irish theologian was a leading contender.
    Spokesman Fr Tony Flannery told the Irish Independent the ACP was very happy that women may finally get this recognition.”
    Anyone with half a brain would know that in light of the Pope’s recent comments about Pope John Paul II having spoken definitively about female ordination, that such speculation was totally daft and associating the ACP with it does the organisation no favours 🙁
    * http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/trinity-professor-tipped-to-be-churchs-first-female-cardinal-29723995.html

  15. Association of Catholic Priests says:

    Reponse to Martin Harran above.
    Martin, you miss the point. There is more possibility of a woman becoming a cardinal than a woman being ordained a priest. The position of cardinal in the Church is a functionary, and history tells us that lay people can become cardinals. It is also an obvious way of getting women into positions of significant decision making withing the Church, which Pope Francis is on record that he favours. So, maybe the idea of a woman cardinal, while new, is not quite a far-fetched as you think.
    Tony Flannery

  16. Sandra Mc Sheaffrey says:

    I missed this post as I was in the best wee country in the world for a few days. Scanning the recent entries I was drawn to read what Dermot Lane had to say. Yes, an excellent composition. However, look at what happens as soon as a word is uttered or printed. My side, your side. Two of Dermot’s words ring out for me: mercy and learning.
    I just cannot hope to sum up the reasons for the current positions of people on the map of relative connection with church. I don’t know anyone from my growing up years who doesn’t have a jaundiced eye in regard to the church. As for their children- the church is irrelevant. The hunger and the need for hope are there,and somewhere in the midst of all the conversation there has to be a laying down of arms, a yielding of position, if we are to be freed to learn again about Jesus. His side, not mine, nor yours.

  17. Patrick Claffey says:

    Thanks Dermot for an excellent piece – it would have made the basis of a very good chapter! There seems little doubt that we are in a very positive current at moment and one can only hope that will continue. The challenge in Ireland will be to find the energy to engage with the change

  18. Malcolm R says:

    I totally concur with Pat Rogers’ words; “Many thanks, Dermot, for those thoughtful and timely pointers to what the way forward in Church life could be — if only a majority could be found in support of the themes you’ve underlined from the vision of Vatican II: a culture of dialogue throughout the church, that goes beyond “ceremonial consultation.”
    A majority made up of people like Teresa Forcades,O.S.B.,who in an interview in Oct 2013 responded to a number of questions.
    For those who have never heard of her: “At 47, the Benedictine sister Teresa Forcades, O.S.B., trained in medicine and theology, divides her life between the San Benet a Benedictine monastery in Montserrat, an hour away from Barcelona, and intense political participation, as she’s not afraid to say. She’s one of the faces of the citizen movement Procés Constituent, which is creating a model for an independent state free of capitalism in Catalonia”
    Q. In September, the BBC called you Europe’s most radical nun. Do you like that title?
    A. I’ve never liked labels. Instead of putting a label on me, I like it when people talk about me because they know me. Now, the truth is that I believe the Gospel calls us to a radical response against social injustice. If that’s why they call me radical, because I say that you can’t serve God and money and that today we have an economic system that puts money above people, it’s true. That’s what I am. That’s what I’m trying to denounce.
    Q. Do you feel the same empathy with Pope Francis?
    A. I believe that Pope Francis has given signs of hope but at the same time, very aware that there is a structure in the church that is opposed to changes in the direction of justice. I believe we have a deficit of real democracy in the Church, I mean, we are many but the decisions are made by a few. I keep my eyes and ears open in the hope that Pope Francis can move forward. But for me the important thing is that, whether in the Church or in society, getting more social justice will never be a top down movement. Pope Francis will only be able to make changes if he allies himself with the people at the bottom who have been asking for them for many years. The Good Pope, John XXIII, made changes with the Second Vatican Council but he didn’t make them alone. He could do it because throughout the twentieth century there were many movements, such as the one for liturgical reform or the new theology one, with people who spoke publicly and demanded that the Catholic Church approach modernity. It was this base that John XXIII promoted in his role as Pope. I think this is the position Francis is in. He will not be the one to bring about change. Because I even believe that bad changes come from top to bottom, as we see today in the social cutbacks we are having in our countries. If Francis does it, it will be because there’s a base in the Catholic Church that has been asking for change for years’.
    For the complete interview see; “Iglesia Descalza

  19. Kevin Walters says:

    Sandra Mc Sheaffrey@17
    We all associate Jesus with love (compassion and mercy) but the essence of love is Truth and if this Truth is not incorporated into all our actions (Word and deed) they become worldly, and the image of Christ (The inviolate living Word of God) is lost within ourselves and on all who observer us. We are all in need of God’s mercy, how do we show (Accept) His mercy, firstly to our selves’ and then to others? We show His mercy to our selves’ by openly acknowledging that we have the need for it, to all those we encounter, this permits us to walk with the Holy Spirit in humility (unity of purpose) in humility the barrier (Pride) is broken, as we no longer judge others, only ourselves, this enables (Encourages) others to accept their fallen nature, rather than justify it and in this acceptance of themselves, we all can walk together in unity of purpose (Humility). This humility (Unity of purpose) will nullify the justifiable hypocrisy that our children and others perceive within the church.
    But how can we imprint this image of humility on our own hearts and before all of mankind, in a way that cannot be misunderstood?
    I believe that the answer lays in a revelation that has been given by God to his holy Church on earth, which promised a new splendour for the Church, but has still to materialize.
    Please consider reading my post on ACP Site. 18Aug 2012 Where are the penitents? Trends in Confession: John Cornwell.
    Post. 28 Kevin Walters August 22nd, 2012 at 9:20 pm.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ.

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