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Why do ordinary priest-members of the ACP not contribute to the website?

It has been something of a truism of online social networking for a couple of decades past that about 1% of a social website’s registered members initiate ‘content’ regularly; 9% comment frequently or from time to time; while 90% just lurk and read, or never visit at all.
But ACP-online is not just a local residents’ social website, concerning itself with litter on the streets, or someone’s cat gone astray again, or which pub we’ll have our Christmas drinks in this year. It is (at least intended to be) the virtual extension of a ‘real life’ association whose objectives are clear but varied enough to have a wide appeal, whose core membership of 1,000+ share an island, a vocation, a gender, a lifestyle, a generation more or less, and a reform agenda to fix a Church that seems badly broken.
Both Association and Website, as Fr Pádraig McCarthy has, a little exasperatedly, reminded members once again, also exist to give “an opportunity for Irish priests to engage proactively with the crucial debates taking place in Irish society” [An Extreme of Inequality – 12th March].  In Cavan, three weeks earlier, Kilmore-ACP expressed concern “at the silence of the Church on the current recession and on the hardship that people are now forced to endure.” On this website, however, it is priests and lay people, rather than “the Church”, who are being silent when Pádraig McCarthy and a few others raise these issues. All in all, we might expect a much greater vibrancy and level of participation on a dedicated website for priests than that suggested by the 90% : 9% : 1% ratio for hyperlocal online secular media.
Still, even settling for that low interaction ratio, from a membership of 1,000+ we would expect to find a regular flow of original articles, columns, blogs and other substantial content from at least 10 priests, other than the Leadership Group. We would also expect to see responses to, or comments on those discussion topics from at least 90 priests, regularly or from time to time. So, after 30 months of existence, how does this forum, this “voice for priests at a time when that voice is largely silent” on issues of the Irish Church and Society, seem to be doing?
“Seem to be doing”, I say, as this is the most unscientific of surveys. I have taken a dipstick and dipped it into three short periods from the start of the year till the Conclave, to check the level of oil of participation and the unction of engine function over the past ten weeks.

  1. Jan 1 – 19: ‘Getting Over the Christmas’ (GOC) – a mixed postbag
  2. Jan 20 – Feb 10: ‘Tony Flannery’s Discussions with Rome’s Uncivil Service’ (TFD/CDF)
  3. Feb 12 – Mar 11: ‘Bye-Bye Benedict’ (BBB) – but not just about Benedict

Of course a properly comprehensive survey would have sampled priestly participation rates at various points from September 2010 till now, but life’s too short to go scavenging through the ACP website ‘sub specie aeternitatis’, so I didn’t.

  1. (GOC): Though slow to warm up after New Year’s, the 12 discussions included some meaty material, 6 of the articles from priests. Yet the same few authors keep recurring: Brendan Hoban, Seán McDonagh (x2), Donal Dorr reviewing Seán McDonagh. To none of these could anyone possibly object – except to ask, ‘where are the other 997?’ A second Swiss Abbot, Peter von Sury, on ‘how bishops should be selected’ elicited 3 comments, none from priests. Ironically, Brendan’s ‘The Church should listen to its priests’ received just two comments from one priest, his old Maynooth ‘immediate’ Joe O’Leary in Paris. But how can silent bishops listen to silent priests? The 12 discussions over three weeks produced 105 comments, 11 of them from 4 priests – two in Ireland, two abroad. If all 4 are ACP members, they thus represent a 0.4% response, or much less than one-twentieth of what we might expect from the core membership of a moderately vibrant website, or one-forty-fifth of the 90 we might expect from the Association’s predominantly Ireland-based priest membership.
  2. (TFD/CDF): Though discussion stemming from Tony’s press release of 20th January formed the backbone of these three weeks, there were a number of other topics also. While the initial discussion gave rise to the greatest number of responses (74 – almost all expressing solidarity), 14 other articles followed averaging 24 comments each. These 15 discussions with 404 comments over three weeks may be some sort of record for the website – though the 70+ discussions of the Liturgical Texts Debate are probably in an altogether different league. Of the 404 comments, 53 came from priests: 19 from priests in Ireland, 34 from priests abroad. As two priests made multiple comments, approximately 15 home-based priests (about 1.47% of membership) and 30 priests from outside commented. To express it slightly differently: while only one-sixth of the 90 home-based priests one might expect actually responded, still this was 7.5 times as many as commented on the more diffuse post-Christmas topics.
  3. (BBB): On Benedict’s resignation and the lead up to Francis (whom of course we had all predicted) another 15 discussions over three-and-a-half weeks –giving rise to 194 responses. Here 6 of the 15 articles were original contributions from Ireland-based Irish priests: Pádraig McCarthy and Alan Hilliard of Dublin; John Mannion of Clonfert and Mattie Long ‘from the edge’ of Tuam and Europe; Séamus Ahearne OSA and Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, both Dublin-based. Of those 194 comments or responses to 15 discussions on one Pope’s resignation (not quite an everyday occurrence) and preparation for another’s election (rare enough to be of some passing interest), 186 came from lay men and women. 8 respondents were priests, namely: Joe O’Leary (Paris/Cork outré mer), Chris McDonnell (UK), John Wotherspoon (Hong Kong), Seamus Ahearne OSA, Donal Dorr SPS-Kiltegan, Bobby Gilmore SSC-Columban, Wilfrid Harrington O.P.-Dominican, Pádraig McCarthy (Dublin). Which seems like 0.7% of core membership – all to some extent beyond reach of an Irish episcopal nod or frown. But where are all “the Maynooth men” from the parishes?

Over those 10+ weeks, 42 main Discussions elicited 703 Comments or Responses – some one-liners and others very lengthy indeed. Of the 42 Discussions, 26 were initiated by Priests, Priest Groups or ACP Leadership. 16 were posted by Lay members, or reposted from external sources (NCR etc).
Of the 703 Comments, 76 came from 59 Priests; 625 from Lay posters (including Religious Sisters and Brothers); 2 were unclear, whether Lay or Clerical. From a core membership of 1,000, then, 2.6% might seem to be “contributing Content” to the site – except that most of those 26 articles are from the Leadership or externally sourced. Again, it might seem that 5.9% of Ireland’s priests are “contributing Comment” to the site – except that most of those 59 priests are either from outside the island of Ireland, or (if based in Ireland) are somewhat beyond direct “episcopal jurisdiction”. In other words, they’re ‘Orders Men’ (Jesuit, Redemptorist, Augustinian, Dominican, Columban, Kiltegan, SMA, Passionist, Oblate . . .), or if Diocesan, they’re sufficiently ‘emeriti’ or unclerical to let any negative aspersions from bishop, vicar or diocesan colleagues in one ear and out the other. Alternatively, they may be Joe O’Leary, whether based in Tokyo, Germany, Paris, London or Cork. At times I see Joe as possessing multiple identities, though all of them very well integrated. If the O’Leary laptop or Homepage went missing, this website might go into receivership. For years he has blazed an online trail that, alas, few fellow Maynooth men have emulated.
(Continued on 26 and 27 March)
Eddie Finnegan finnegan811@btinternet.com

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  1. Mary O Vallely says:

    Fair play to Eddie for the work that he has put into dredging through the ACP archive to give us these statistics. Of course, this is aimed at the 90% of the ordained who are members in name only and who do not contribute in any way by either sending in articles or comments. I suggest that Eddie’s article and his “To be Continued” pieces in the days ahead be printed out and handed to priests for a bit of reflective reading during this Holy Week. Perhaps it is burn out with some priest members but I do wish that they would articulate WHY they do not contribute. As a lay person and a woman (God love me ) I have no idea of the battles and pressures and indeed loneliness of the ordinary curate or PP but I do urge you to talk about it and let us understand better. In understanding perhaps support can be offered. We can do little to help if we do not understand.
    Eddie would have made a very fine priest because his passion, commitment and love for the Church, for God and people, is so evident. To have put so much effort into this and not to be heeded would be a crying out to heaven shame so I pray that those who have been asleep will waken up with renewed ardour, vigour and fighting spirit.
    Remember Oscar Romero’s words, those of you thinking you just want a quiet life:
    “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”
    You want to do something about injustice? For a start, sign that resolution at the top of the page. Please. Thank you, Eddie and thank you ACP. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair.
    Mary V

  2. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    I can only echo Mary’s words. I, too, find it very difficult to understand why the clerical members of the ACP are so howlingly silent.
    I find it very hard to continue to give priests the benefit of the doubt – to accept that they have genuine, valid and acceptable reasons for not commenting on this site. I WANT to continue to respect those men who have dedicated their lives to the promotion of the spiritual lives of the rest of us by becoming priests. But it’s like a slap in the face every time I ask a sincere question on this site and no priest seems to have the common courtesy to respond to it.
    It may not appear to be so, but it involves quite a bit of soul-searching on my part and it causes me quite a bit taking my courage in my hands every time I write here. So I FEEL rejection each time my questions are ignored.
    So I ask again, just like Mary and Eddie and others have done, why are you so silent?
    Why are you in the ACP?

  3. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Thanks, Eddie. Except I try to do encouragement rather than exasperation!
    The item I did on inequality and poverty got just four responses on the website. However, while debate on the website can help highlight issues, there can also be the response by ACP members of bringing the topic into homilies etc., as I have done. We have no way to measure that.
    I also try to keep in mind that there are probably many ACP members who joined to support the project, but who do not enjoy expertise on computer. There are probably some who joined by snail-mail rather than on line. Of those who use computer: I wonder what percentage check their email at least once a day? Or who check the ACP website every few days? I wonder what percentage of the congregation on a Sunday are actually inspired to action as a result of liturgy or a homily? Sure, more feedback would be an encouragement, but we are still sowers of seed, and God gives the growth and harvest.
    On the matter of inequality and poverty, it would be good to build on what Pope Francis said very publicly, as reported by the Guardian:
    “In 2009 Bergoglio made headlines when he criticised the government of Néstor Kirchner, husband of current Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, claiming it was “immoral, illegitimate and unjust” to allow inequality in the country to grow. “Rather than preventing that, it seems they have opted for making inequalities even greater,” he said. “Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities,” he said at the time.”
    We also have shocking inequality and sinful economic structures in Ireland and in the EU. Left-wing politicians seem to have a monopoly on being heard on this. Yet there’s plenty in Scripture, and in Catholic social teaching, about this. Who will make this part of the Good News heard?

  4. Ned Quinn says:

    1. Content to give support to ACP by membership of same.
    2. Feel less confident in articulating their views – but feel
    others are expressing them more eloquently than they
    possibly could,
    3. Can’t work out the CAPTCHA code.
    4. Prefer to keep their membership secret for fear of reactions
    of significant others.
    5. “Qui tacet consentire” Silence means consent.
    6. Been to all the meetings, protested outside Nuncio’s
    residence (twice!) and paid my dues.
    7. Too old, weary and demoralised to be in the front line. But
    still hoping forlornly.

  5. Do you think perhaps, the 90% plus priests are excerising their leadership by not commenting on the website? Perhaps, they want to draw the voice of the laity……Is the future of the Church with the clergy or the laity? For the interim, it is both, you might say……but, there is every likelihood….that the future of the Church is with the laity, and perhaps, the leadership of reform, will also be with the laity!

  6. Just one example of a case where some of our silent priest members might have made a useful and enlightening contribution is the case where Elizabeth wrote about the scandalous wealth of the Church on “Is the Church in Ireland silent on the extreme inequality in our land?” Her case there might have been answered, she might have been directed, for example to such an article as:
    or at least had the arguments presented there, or any others relevant, adumbrated for some Church perspective on the question, but no one bothered. If they can`t be bothered to answer that, a basic thing, about the funding of the Mission of the Church, what will they respond to? But there have been many other times when it would have been quite easy and natural for a priest to comment on issues or to refute arguments, when no response was forthcoming. Their experience, knowledge and wisdom is just not getting through here.
    It can`t be that they don`t care, or don`t know how to answer, so I`ve long thought it must be because of other reasons. Perhaps, among them a decision has been taken, on principle, not to engage here-in an open forum-in such debate, since it would appear to involve discussion with the laity on issues best reserved to the clergy, as well as with other clerics who might not approve of the approved episcopal party line, and all this in public, where one might be held accountable? But if that`s the case this site should be renamed pronto.

  7. Ned Quinn says:

    Left out number 8 in above.
    8. Passionately agrees with the aims of the ACP and delighted to be a part of it – but has never been an “activist”. Pleased others are and supports them

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    This website seems to be falling into excessive self-analysis. I’m sure most priests would be happy to react to anyone who gave a lead, with constructive concrete proposals. But many of the discussions here will seem tangential to the daily concerns of parish clergy.

  9. Paddy Coady says:

    I agree with the points made above by Ned Quinn. Most of the priests in our parish and neighbouring parishes would not be used to this form of communication. I had on two occasions difficulty in using the CAPTCHA Code. I had to borrow my daughter’s Apple MacBook laptop as my PC for some reason was not compatible. I also nearly missed the opportunity to sign the resolution from the Athlone meeting because for some reason I only started to read below the blue. I then signed as did my wife and daughter. Perhaps this invitation to sign could be highlighted better. Having said that please accept my congratulations on your very fine and informative website

  10. Stephen Kellett says:

    I have no idea whether Joe O’Leary’s comment that ACP content is tangential (i.e. not important) to many priests is correct or not but if true, then the question still remains, why aren’t more priests in the ACP writing in saying so and clamouring to express what they want to hear or talk about? It’s not as if the editorial staff can read minds. There will always be some idiosyncrasy about what is thought paramount. This article seems to be, then, an appeal to ACP priests to engage in the conversation, to enhance it despite any misgivings. And misgivings of various kinds many people undoubtedly can have. But if being unsure or being a sinner were a disqualification from engaging in religious conversation, things would be pretty quiet!

  11. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Priests who need to get things off their chests best not air it within the confines of an online blog. They should be emailing the ACP directly. If they feel the need to add to the musings of both lay and clergy alike on this site, I’m sure just as any other, they are welcome to do so. I believe most of them are still hesitant to see the ACP as the true conscience of Christendom. Although their consciences may be telling them that there are immmediate reforms to take place in the RCC, it’s more likely they should come from a real grass roots movement somewhat below the treetops where they are currently perched. Sorry to be somewhat blasphemous of the ACP’s platform, it’s just that as long as they see the priest’s associations as the true activists within the reformation, hope will dwindle. It’s a self defeating platform if the reform of the religion means the structure is less totalitarian and this is to be brought about by a group of priests who wish to carry through their own reforms. They should be bringing forth questions from the laity. True faith is a dictatorship – one king – the organizational structure of the RCC shouldn’t be – all equal. Does anyone agree with this?

  12. Bob Hayes says:

    Undoubtedly the Church – not just in Ireland – faces many organisational challenges; and priests no doubt fully appreciate the situation.
    As discussion has opened-up in public (Surely it has always gone on in private?), and with the openness of the new media, doctrine and the very essence of our Faith have been presented for analysis and critique. ‘Everyone is his or her own theologian’ certainly at times seems to be the sentiment.
    The role of the priesthood has not escaped this open-access analysis and DIY theology. Here and/or on other similarly motivated English-language discussions I have read propositions that the priesthood ‘went wrong’ around the sixteenth century, somewhere in the Middle Ages, with the conversion of Constantine (fourth century) or even that the priesthood was ‘usurped’ by St Paul for his own purposes.
    This openness and dialogue is all well and good in the blogosphere, but ask yourself this: how does a priest who has given all his adult life to God and the Church feel when he reads that his ministry is said to be based on a concept that many of the chattering-classes claim has been defective for anything between 500 and 1,900 years?
    If priests accept the claims of ‘reformers’ that the priestly ministry is a defective construct of the ‘Roman regime’ they may well find themselves concluding that they devoted a lifetime to voluntary social work accompanied by daily ritual. Perhaps that spectre is what deters so many priests from participation in these discussions.

  13. Bob Hayes says:

    Lloyd (no. 12), thanks for the concise statement of Protestantism.

  14. Des Gilroy says:

    One can reasonably understand that many diocesan priests within the membership of the ACP do not contribute to the site discussions because their views may have already been expressed and duplication is to be avoided. Or because they disagree and do not wish to rock the boat.
    However, what is most difficult to understand why a much higher percentage of ACP members have not signed the Athlone resolution in support of Tony Flannery and the other silenced members.

  15. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Actually Bob, I don’t think St. Thomas Aquinas was a Protestant and his statements, true and dear to his assertation on natural law, are the very reason associations like the ACP were formed. St. Thomas’s doctrine is the Church’s own and what he has stated can’t be denied, or can be denied and the results speak for themselves. I also think priests tend to not support the ACP or the website because of statements like (13) and (14). A whole lot of words but nowhere do I find a personal opinion as such or a contribution which may enlighten the reader. If I understand you correctly, the aims of the ACP may ultimately make priests feel less close to God? Thanks for the concise statement on Vaticanism, Bob Hayes.

  16. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    And further, priests don’t want to put their name to it because of fear. They don’t know what putting their name to it means. It takes nothing to be the messengers of the laity. There is no fear involved in pushing forth our messages/questions nor any possibility of reprimand or excommunication. It is a part of Canon Law. That’s the hesitation now that I think about it. You are the activists but don’t need to be. What would Fr. Flannery’s position be if he was forwarding this “conscience” from the tens of thousands of people who want to be heard. Nothing, because it’s built into the Canons. It’s not too late to take on this strategy and when you explain to priests that this is about bringing messages forward and not about putting your own necks on the line, they might start to listen. Once these floodgates open there will be no stopping it.

  17. Re: 15. Perhaps because the concept of something like real ‘support’ in an unknown. Lot of talk and good intention that never really comes to anything, as less so and mattering much less as times goes on. People, and rightly and understandably so, have their own lives to live and traumas from which to recover and heal.
    I’d suggested before that all ‘victims/survivors’ come together, as being members of the very same Body so wounded. Not just greater numbers but a more audible voice perhaps against abuses of all kinds, which are at heart deeply spiritual abuses anyway – all of them perpetrated on a priest or layperson.
    And of course that support is not like ‘Calvary’ – a one off even. 😉
    You take it with you and you lift a phone or call in and ask how Jhohn Mack or Fr such and such is doing, or if he’d like a cuppa tea or something stronger. Maybe head off down Lara Loonigans’s and get palladik for an hour.
    Course this would apply to us all as Christians – brothers and sisters, well if we actually and truly believed we were, and treated each other as such.
    “Support” is not something the RCC is very good at I find and that’s not to blame – just how it seems to be. Someone needs to take the bull by the horns.
    For people with questions – maybe an area for questions and answers, where priests, theologians or others might feel less fear of involvement than on some of the more controversial subjects.
    Though I noted some comments on abortion a while back. Jo asked something and none came back. Though there was suggestions that abortion is always wrong etc etc. Which is fair enough. But giving someone, anyone, a woman the chance to ask those kinds of questions without fear of demonisation. Most of us asking these things are asking cause they have done, or do affect our every day realities. And regardless of the ‘ideals’ set out – what we do, might have done or maybe should do in future situations similar to those of which we might be speaking. We know what the Church ‘teaches’ and that’s good enough. But as mere mortals and clerics dealing on the coalfaces of life – what to do, we think we might do on given subjects – even purely subjectively, standing out momentarily from the umbrella of the Magisterium – in those not uncommon situations.
    See it perhaps as a family member or friend coming to tell you something ‘shocking’ – how you have, or might deal with that, despite Church teaching, as best you can. Then when the shock has settled – can review in the light of Church teaching. Looking at the grey areas which most are in life.
    Sorry waffling.
    Support is something worth looking into for everyone. I believe.

  18. Bob Hayes says:

    Lloyd (no. 16) states: ‘A whole lot of words but nowhere do I find a PERSONAL opinion as such or a contribution which may enlighten the reader’ [my emphasis]. Therein lies what divides us.
    I believe we must resist the temptation to see ourselves as being at the centre of a personal belief system in which the whole world is viewed and judged in relation to our own subjective measure. It is a self-centred way of living that engenders abstract notions of sin and virtue, right and wrong based purely upon personal views. This is the road to relativism which – in the name of dialogue – is deconstructing the priesthood. Many priests are surely watching this process with a sense of deep anxiety.

  19. Bob Hayes says:

    Lloyd (no. 17), ‘priests don’t want to put their name to it [ACP] because of fear’. I find this a rather hyperbolic use of the word ‘fear’. It is also deeply insulting to the thousands of priests who face real fear – fear for their lives and those of their flocks – in China, Afghanistan, Nigeria and many other places.

  20. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Yes, Bob, I too hope one day that people on that side of the world come to the realization that human dignity is a personal belief system in which the whole world is viewed and judged in relation to our own subjective measure. If this is a road to relativism then so be it. We realize how sacred an attribute we have all been given and the importance of individually airing these “dignities”. That may be a little too “new age” for your liking but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you can’t disagree that the threat on human rights knows no boundaries; it is an evil that can unite the planet if there were only a religion so virtuous and robust to usher it in. The ACP are on the right path but I’m not sure if they can follow the right road to kick off the process. I’ll hold onto the “fear” quote still if you don’t mind as I patiently await my enlightenment.

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