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Where does the ACP go from here?

Quo vadis? The ACP after three years.
— Some points to stimulate discussion – and discernment
Tony Flannery has given us a good outline of what has been achieved over the last 3 years. Gratitude is an appropriate context for discernment. To the ACP for providing a space in the Irish Church for open debate; a good media profile; a lively web-site encouraging open debate; prophetic work on behalf of priests; giving many lay people, especially those on the margins, new hope; a wise, astute, generous and courageous leadership, in particular their insistence, against media hype, that we are mainstream and not ‘dissident’.
And now of course gratitude because we have a new Bishop of Rome who is ‘stealing our best lines’, with talk of dialogue, consultation, collegiality, listening to the sense of the faithful, unequivocal affirmation of Vatican II and who wants the Church to reach out to the world and in particular to the poor.
Gratitude, above all to God, rejoicing in the newly felt presence of the Holy Spirit.
Where to now though, in the context of these past 3 years and the new Pope? After a preamble, I propose three main headings.
Preamble: Think strategically: how best to use this kairos? Political scientist Sidney Tarrow: the notion of political opportunity in social change, need to perceive and grasp, the importance of seeking structures of access rather than immediate advantage – cf Solidarity in Poland (recognition of Trade Union rights, rather than anything more specific). I refer you to our own recent history in the Church: Vatican 2, change of mood, change of theology, but without adequate structures/institutions/law to embody! We need to learn from this.
And insert any ‘ad intra’ talk of reform in the context of the ‘ad extra’ outreach to the world, the poor, the environment that is obviously dear to the heart of the Pope, and has deep resonances among the people (of faith and not!). Not narcissistic, not self-referential.
a) Structures and institutions of shared decision making and doctrinal formation
Continue to promote the ‘full implementation of the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council’ (Constitution), in particular the notion of collegiality at every level, parish, diocese, Conference, Synod of Bishop, Council of Cardinals (why not women cardinals?), Ecumenical Council. Melloni says the creation of the G8 of the Council of Cardinals is ‘the most important step in the history of the church for the past ten centuries’. These are the structures of access that Tarrow speaks of.
And it’s not enough that the Pope wants this: we need to continue to prepare the ground at local level, to support what he is doing and to challenge when it falls short. We need to find ways to encourage an atmosphere of more open debate in our church, and more inclusive access to decision making and formation of teaching.
To this end in Ireland, where there is a danger that the bishops will sit on their hands – note the good work already done (see Killaloe/Down and Connor/Kerry/Waterford, Limerick and so on). Lobby for regular Diocesan and then National Congresses/Synods, to make more visible, to give momentum? Monitor, to ensure that ground rules allow for open and honest discussion, and controversial issues are not ‘managed’ out of sight! All this to include lay people, and especially women. Why not a G8 now, in Irish Church, to include laity/women? To build on the momentum of the Regency Hotel meeting….
And, can we help parishes and priests to engage more with shared leadership at parish level? To inculcate facilitation skill? To make Parish Councils more effective?
Watch out: the Pope, with his love of discernment, is coming from a Jesuit/religious background which reserves decisions for Superiors – the distinction between consultative and deliberative assemblies and bodies needs to be thought through. In this context I note the significance of Canon 129 with its a-historical limitation of the decision making powers of laity.
b) Concrete issues
In tandem, it may be helpful to focus on a limited range of more concrete, specific issues that gave reasonable hope of early resolution–e.g. communion for divorced and remarried couples; clerical celibacy (in light of Eucharistic famine, present and impending, spoken about by Brendan Hoban). And, of course, continue to work for the interests of priests. And to support Tony Flannery and others in challenging their shabby treatment by CDF procedures which are manifestly not fit for purpose.
I would leave other more contentious issues on the agenda, but not be inclined to pursue them as vigorously unless, per caso, the opportunity arises – am thinking of contentious sexual teaching, the ordination of women, and so on. I think Conor Gearty is right: change of mood/attitudes/, then structures, then doctrine. But: huge caveat – remember, as above, that we had good mood/theology at Vatican 2 and the structures did not happen – learn!
c) Cooperation
Do all this in close cooperation with other groups like the ACI (think of appointment someone on our own leadership team as link person; issue of merger down the road?), ACTA, European and international groups. Continue to nourish more conventional institutional links – e.g. with the bishops, however difficult this can be.
Our spirituality – the tone of our approach.
I take it as a given that there is and will be huge resistance, not least within the Church, the Curia, the Bishops to what Francis is trying to do. This is what institutions do when faced with uncertainty, with radical change.
In this context a group like ours needs to take stock. Opposition, contention, generate energy, mobilization – what happens then when, for example, the likes of Obama takes power (drained energy away from anti-war movement in USA). And yet, as Francis says, complaining for its own sake ‘never helps us find God’. His own approach has resonated deeply with people on the ground.
We need to find a new voice, a new tone in this new context: of constructive but not uncritical support, conscious of our responsibilities towards unity and stability as well as change; able to be patient as well as insistent; open to the process of dialogue, consultation and prayerful discernment which Francis is proposing and without which we are building on shaky foundations. We need a hermeneutic of trust to complement our hermeneutic of suspicion.
Conclusion: The last 20 years have been awful. But now, still in exile, we can sense hope, can breathe again, a new spring in the step. Hope and history rhyming, the sense of ‘the marvellous’ (Heaney), the Holy Ghost brooding over the bent world (Hopkins), a space has opened.
I am suggesting gratitude, trust, and readiness to continue the hard slog, to focus on what is strategically important, to believe that central to our discipleship of Jesus Christ and the coming of his Kingdom for our world is a renewed and reformed church. It seems to me that we as a group are privileged to be part of this.
Gerry O’Hanlon, S.J.
Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.
29 October, 2013

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  1. Shaun the Sheep says:

    I think all the talk about ‘women’ is misguided as women are already over-represented in the church especially at the local level, making up a large majority of those who are EMHCs, readers, catechists, etc… How about a drive to have some dialogue with men, particularly the few youg men who still go to Mass? They are truly an unrepresented, silent minority with no appeal to a popular claim of being ignored, silently ignored as they are.

  2. Much food for thought here. Whether we like it or not Vatican II was a catalyst and the dust still has not settled. While some are still trying to protect ‘orthodoxy’ and others are trying to implement the new understanding of Church doctrine which emerged from that time, that is a Church that exists ‘in’ the modern world and not a Church that exists apart, high up on a pedestal, static and unchanging, there is a wild flower meadow growing up at the end of the garden. People are living their lives with a ‘sense’ of their faith as opposed to rules and laws. Married couples using artificial contraception are receiving communion every week, completely disregarding outdated Church laws. There are other examples of exiled ‘categories’ of people quietly making the Eucharist their own also ignoring the unforgiving laws of the Church. People are using their own God-given common sense in the absence of proper leadership, ‘It is the Church’s peculiar task and challenge in this age to model itself on the servant presence of God in the midst of life, to use whatever resources it has in the service of those most in need’ (O’Brien).

  3. Con Devree says:

    There is no mention of prayer in Fr Lane’s and almost none in Fr O’ Hanlon’s article. Neither mentions catechetics. There is no growth in the Church without prayer. Without catechetics faith runs the danger of becoming just fideism. The situation regarding catechetics in Ireland is disastrous and Fr Lane, given his position must be aware of that. This is particularly true in relation to the Mass and to the Blessed Sacrament.
    The Fianna Fail example is not helpful because it highlights the main theme of Fr Lane’s article – reinvention. Fianna Fail’s “reinvention” is not gaining them any extra support. If anything they are losing their identity. More importantly, in the context of the Church it is important not to confuse reinvention with renewal. The latter is of course the work of the Spirit as both priests say. But both of their articles mistakenly imply that the Spirit and Pope Francis will render the Magisterium redundant in the process of renewal and invent a purer reconstructed Church which merely reflects both priests’ a priori conceptions of it.
    In terms of the G8 idea there are many Catholics globally (many of them young, engaged in extraordinary levels of evangelisation) who do not share both priests’ view of Vatican II. Many of them have come under the influence of holy priests whose views on Church teaching differ greatly from those of the ACP. Some have seen growth in vocations in their respective diocese as well. Whereas a G8 would enable the articulation of contradictory views it would be incapable of creating consensus whose creation relies on truth.
    At the level of reason there is nil probability the moment of reconciling the views of those who seek to be faithful to the teachings of the Church and those who dissent from them. Recent contributions to this web site demonstrate that.
    Jesus was neither a traditionalist nor a liberal. He demonstrated his obedience (His sonship) to the Father through his creative acceptance of tradition (purging it of its dross)) and his creative extension of it into the future through the Church, not through individuals. The Life at the centre of Tradition is only revealed through faith and prayer, not through social manoeuvring.
    Contradictory concepts of Tradition are at the core of the problem between both sides. This being so, are not the ACP on one side and extreme self-styled traditionalists on the other merely reorganising deck chairs?

  4. sean eile says:

    Con (no 3) I quote ” Many of them have come under the influence of holy priests whose views on Church teaching differ greatly from those of the ACP.” Comment: what`s a holy priest?

  5. Con Devree says:

    Sean Eile (4)
    The answer to your question is way too long to deal with here.
    The Gloria in the Mass tells us that Jesus Christ alone is holy. But because Christ has joined the Church to Himself as His bride, the Church is held, as a matter of faith, to be “unfailingly” holy. (Lumen Gentium 39)
    Paragraph 12 of the Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (DMLP) says that priests are enabled and indeed obliged even in the midst of human weakness to “seek perfection”, are bound to acquire this perfection, and are given the grace to do so because each assumes the person of Christ. History shows that priests have responded to this grace in different degrees. But the canonised priests (saints) model how it can best be pursued, and epitomise what I mean by holy priests. I have had the good fortune to come under the influence of similar living priests.
    The decree DMLP (par 15-17) lists the “spiritual requirements in the spiritual life of the priest” as follows: 1) Humility and obedience; 2) celibacy to be embraced and esteemed as a gift; 3) voluntary poverty.
    I am tempted to give my own version here but it would be too long. I think it best to read the whole Vatican II DMLP document. It is very challenging and enriching for priests, but informative and comprehensive as regards the priest’s pursuit of perfection (holiness). Like the Bible it is meant to be taken as a whole. Quoting selectively from it serves no purpose other than the pursuit of a personal agenda.

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