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The ACP is at the heart of the Church: Brendan Hoban

I was given the task of inviting church leaders to the recent ‘Assembly’ day in the Regency Hotel in Dublin. Two responses I received declining the invitation from two senior church figures both mentioned the word ‘communio’ as part of their reservation about the Dublin event. What struck me about the two responses was how the two letters echoed one another.
Both letters worried about the implications for ‘Communio’ (or Communion with one another or, more simply, unity in the Church). The implication, or rather more than that, even the insinuation, was that by organising such an event we were in danger of damaging the Church!
Nothing could be further from the truth. When the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) was founded less than two years ago it arose out of a belief that, in the ever-developing situation of crisis for our Church, a priests’ voice was needed to help point a way out of the enveloping darkness.
Finding that light, we believed, fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, was about renewing our commitment as a Church to the reforms of that Council and the direction God’s Spirit, through the pope and the world’s bishops, had pointed us. Looking around us at the devastated landscape that makes up the Irish Catholic Church now is reminder enough of the price we’ve paid for betraying that Council.
We thought we would attract a few hundred priests to become members. Now we’re edging up to 1,000. We were presented as anti-Rome, anti-bishop, anti-whatever-you’re-having-yourself. And, of course, we refuse to subscribe to all of those labels. For instance, the Irish Catholic newspaper, from the outset, contrived to present us as a radical rump with the mantra that we represented less than 10% of Irish priests. And other media sought, for their own commercial reasons, to exaggerate (and sometimes invent) elements of our platform.
We had a hard time of it. It was galling to have to justify our position (after years of service to the Church) at the heart of the Church. It was humiliating to be presented as theological illiterates somehow urging on an organised defection from Rome when we understood and accepted the centrality of the primacy of the ‘successor of St. Peter’. It was dispiriting to find bishops, who should know better, taking their cue from bizarre elements of the media and the rantings of even more bizarre ultra-religious groups, and effectively questioning our credentials with an unapologetic hands-off approach to us.
Now, almost two years on, the ACP is in a different place. We are at the heart of the inevitable discussion that’s going to take place about the future of our Church. A body of almost 1000 priests represents a voice that needs to (and insists on) being heard. The Regency experience of over 1000 people, organised by the ACP, indicates that there is a groundswell of opinion supporting our platform of reform. And the findings of the recent ACP survey of 1006 Irish Catholics indicates that huge numbers of Catholics want significant change in our Church.
In that context, while bishops naturally worry about great energy forces being released in our Church, somehow or another  the present hands-off approach to the ACP and the issues we surface is not fit for purpose. Where else in the Irish Church today is there more light and energy and gospel commitment?
Here are some questions tumbling around in my mind. What else do we need to do to have our credentials, not to speak of our rights in canon law, respected as loyal members of our Church? How much longer have we to wait (and how much more damage needs to be done to the Church) before our leaders will engage with us in a respectful and realistic debate?
Let me cut to the chase and clarify a few points:

  1. The ACP does not seek to overturn the defined teaching of the Catholic Church. Full stop.
  2. The ACP is not a threat to the unity of the Church. We cherish and we value and we wish to further the unity of all our people, with our fellow clergy, with Religious, with our bishops and with the Successor of Peter. Full stop.
  3. Our platform is firmly rooted in the Gospel, respectful of all God’s faithful and grounded in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, teachings that were promulgated by the pope and the bishops of the world nearly fifty years ago. Where’s the threat there?
  4. We want a conversation about the realities of Irish Church life today and about issues we believe the Irish Church urgently needs to discuss.
  5. We believe closing down debate and dialogue (and ‘silencing’ our members) is a recipe for disaster at both public and pastoral levels.

So I say to all Catholics, including our bishops: Don’t say to us that we are against church teaching when we cherish it. Don’t tell us that we’re damaging Communion when we’re working for it. Don’t tell us that we can only reflect on our experience if we keep silent. Don’t tell us that we can’t discuss the problems of our Church (because we have a right and duty to do just that.) Don’t silence us because that won’t make the issues go away. Don’t talk down to us as if we don’t matter.
Don’t pretend that freedom of conscience and the dignity of every baptised person are strange concepts that we can pull conveniently out of the air to suit ourselves.
Above all, don’t ask us to walk away. It’s our Church too. We are not dissidents (and it is insulting to depict us in that light). We are at the heart of our Church. We want to remain at the heart of our Church. We know that our Church is in deep crisis. We need to talk. We need to listen. That’s not just our right as baptised Catholics. It is our duty and in present circumstances, it is our supreme responsibility.

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  1. Brother Jude says:

    Thank you Brendan for this article. Please look after yourself at this time. Thank you for all you are doing for so many people in the pew and in the sanctuary! May Blessed John XX111 give you something of his vision, courage, patience and also his gentle humor in dealing with those who deliberately or inadvertently misconstrue the authentic aims of the ACP.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    At last the voice of gospel and catholic faith may be able to face down the obstructionists who have discouraged every reform in the Irish church for 50 years — if it is not too late. I notice that “Communio” — a beautiful NT word, Koinonia — seems to be opposed to “Concilium” in today’s church (as in the rivalry between the reviews so titled). Whoever dreamed up this opposition did a great disservice to the Church. The church of the Council is all about communio. The constant innuendo that the Council was a breakdown of historic Catholic communio is a masterpiece of obstructionist mendacity.

  3. Thank you Brendan. Your frustration is palpable and understandable.
    I think the ACP should spend no more energy defending itself. The Holy Spirit is at work and is more powerful than any of those you indirectly refer to. The renewal movement in the Church has begun.
    Dialogue and Discernment is happening. The focus of the ACP has now got to be on how we move forward with this renewal. Most of the laiety who attended the Regency meeting in May want to get involved in a new church which implements Vatican 11 but many are not sure how to do this. All great movements started from the bottom up and not from the top down and this renewal movement must work from there also. Jesus started with 12 ordinary men. The ordinary people came and listened to him and knew he spoke the truth and followed him. He walked with them, he listened to them, taught them and challenged them. He too was challenged by them and learned from them, especially from women. All the time that this was happening the hierarchy of the day were trying to work out how they could silence him. Today they are at the same thing – so what’s new. The ACP must now walk with the laiety, give leadership and direction and work together in building up this new church that we all yearn for and that is where the focus has to be.

  4. Cyril North says:

    These words echo the ideas of John XXIII, an authentic catholic leader if ever there was one.

  5. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh says:

    The above words by Fr Brendan Hoban are so needed at this time, when it is the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and what have the leaders of the Roman Catholic got to show for it, as they have ignored the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and returned us to a church of the Middle Ages? I praise Brendan Hoban for wanting the platform of the ACP to be firmly rooted in the Gospel and grounded in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. With that in mind, I would ask him to seriously consider an end to the so-called umbrella group of the laity, since we are all THE CHURCH and THE PEOPLE OF GOD. To have the priests meet in County Mayo and the lay people meet in Dublin on the same day, as I believe is happening today, just reinforces clericalism and division, rather than the unity of thought that is needed to have all voices working together and listened to for the good of our church.

  6. Sean O'Conaill says:

    How come those so worked up about the need for ‘communio’ are so paralysed by the FOA syndrome: fear of assembly?
    When did the Irish Bishops’ Conference ever organise a national church event that allowed participants to speak their minds on any church issue?
    If you look at the ‘assemblies’ that the magisterium does organise, they are all carefully controlled ‘love us back’ events centred on presentations by powerful men intent on avoiding any opportunity for honest, open questioning. FOA is the key weakness of the current magisterium – a fear that if you allow even the slightest crack in the dam that holds back a thousand questions you will be overthrown.
    Did the Vatican visitators, for example, ever hold open forums anywhere in Ireland? If they did, that should be documented. My memory of that visitation is again of carefully controlled, small and private meetings. And of course we will never see the full visitation report. This was a formula for the usual secretive process in which the magisterium enables itself to declare conclusions reached before a ‘visitation’ even starts.
    Where is the ‘authority’ in all this? It’ll probably be left to the Irish Times to organise a poll on the decline in the authority of the magisterium in Ireland since 1968, and the situation worsens by the day.
    And as for ‘communio’, how many of those lost to the church in Ireland in recent decades have walked away precisely because they were never given a speaking role in their own church? Many certainly did so because there was a de facto ban on real ‘communion’. There can be no ‘communio’ without open dialogue.
    Authority rests in the end on courage and integrity. Fear of open assembly is sure proof of the absence of at least one of these. There was no sign of that fear at the Regency event.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    I sat as an observer the All Hallows meeting tonight and heard a string of eloquent and dedicated interventions from people deeply concerned to pass the faith on to their grandchildren. The proceedings were more prayerful and faith-filled than any clerical meetings I’ve attended. Everyone knows that the hierarchy have fallen silent and are living in fear. The laity have to take the lead and assume responsibility for witnessing effectively to the message of Christ.

  8. At the risk of going over old ground I would suggest that we remind ourselves of Hans Kung’s Open Letter to the Bishops, published April 19th 2010. That is the clearest statement yet of the need to listen in charity to each other as we seek renewal in the Christian Church. I have included the text of that letter although you may feel it is too long to publish within this thread.
    It would be good to make it currently available to readers.
    Chris McDonnell UK
    Letter has been posted separately on Home Page.

  9. Emma Louise Regan says:

    Like Martina I can feel the frustration in this article as once again it seems the ACP need to outline what they are not….as distinct from what they are.
    And while that may be difficult for them, I find it reinforces by belief every time that this is the only church voice at the moment that is representing the middle ground of ordinary Irish catholics.
    Brendan’s gift of writing with such clarity is so vital at a time when so many others (church and media people) continually try to portray its members and their agenda as other than it clearly is, for their own reasons.
    It also wins the hearts and minds of many of the laity- who may not be as familiar with Vatican ii documents etc but who know they want a church that is grounded in the reality of their lives.
    Many lay people are only slowly becoming aware of the ACP since the Regency meeting in Dublin and many would readily admit they are searching for more information about it.
    So be patient.
    We may take small steps and need to repeat some- but the Spirit is guiding us all.
    In him we trust.

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