Friday, February 01, 2013

ACP meets with Archbishop Martin and Dublin Priests’ Council

 ACP Meeting with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and members of the Dublin Diocesan Council of Priests

Tuesday 29 January 2013, 2.30 – 4.15pm


Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Gareth Byrne (chair of Council), Séamus Ahearne OSA, Peter O’Reilly, Ciaran McDermott (members of Council)

Brendan Hoban, PJ Madden, Tim Murphy, Arthur O’Neill, Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, Pádraig McCarthy (members of ACP).

Séamus Ahearne and Peter O’Reilly are also members of ACP.

Apologies from Auxiliary Bishops Éamonn Walsh and Ray Field.

The context of the meeting:

The ACP sought a meeting with the Episcopal Conference; the Conference proposed that a better way would be for meetings with the Councils of Priests in each diocese.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin welcomed all, and welcomed the opportunity for listening, with respect for difference, out of a shared love for the Church.

Gareth Byrne chaired the meeting, which opened with prayer.

The prepared agenda:
1. Vocations
2. Procedures for dealing with allegations against priests.
3. Impending new translation of Lectionary.
4. Pastoral implications of the current economic situation.
5. Role of priests in appointment of bishops.
6. Renewal of the Church in the Year of Faith.

Matters discussed:

The agenda was used as a guide, but the discussion brought much interweaving of items.
Brief account of ACP: Two years old, over 1000 members, to provide a voice and encouragement for priests. 

The ACP is not, as sometimes portrayed, a rebel organisation, but an association of priests who love the church, and who wish to engage constructively with the Episcopal Conference. 

This meeting is the first with a Council of Priests.

The situation of vocations to ordained ministry is serious. For example, the present situation in Killala diocese: 4 priests under the age of 50. As things stand, there will be few left in 20 years time. Similar situation around the country. 

The various solutions proposed – clustering, bring priests from abroad, etc. are not realistic, and we need to think outside the box; the Church is in denial. Rome does not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Outlook is bleak for male celibate vocations. 

It is important for the life and mission of the church that existing Eucharistic communities be able to have a full celebration of Mass each Sunday. 

Can Episcopal Conference communicate the message to Rome? 

The Church needs to have a forum for voices to be heard, and bishops need not just to listen but to engage with the discussion. Young people are accustomed to a culture of freedom in their lives, which does not exist in the Church. 

We need a culture of open speaking – including by bishops. It would be good to see bishops taking a stand on issues such as this.

Where France was 30 years ago, we are headed. There is also a danger of a swing back to pre-Vatican II culture and mentality in the church. What kinds of applicants are coming forward? Seminarians in Dublin receive preparation for collaborative ministry. Times and models of church have changed.

The first AGM of the ACP showed clearly that priests felt the need of a forum to speak openly without fear about their experience. Many priests in the present situation have a strong sense of dissatisfaction about “what ministry means to me”.

The Regency meeting open to all brought 1200 people; many lay people feel disenfranchised in the church. They too have a strong desire for dialogue with bishops.

Dublin diocese has a programme, with a variety of forms, for the well-being of priests.

Fear of allegations against priests has been a cause of serious disquiet among priests. There has been significant progress in the procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse by priests in Dublin diocese. 

Handling of allegations is a complex process with many different situations. There are practical difficulties in establishing the facts in these cases.

The procedures can vary considerably from diocese to diocese. The National Board for Safeguarding Children draws up norms, which are now more flexible.

The procedures for dealing with allegations of unorthodoxy against priests (as, for example, the case of Fr Tony Flannery) are perceived to be seriously defective and unjust, and we need proper transparent structure for this. This was clearly called for by the 1971 Synod of Bishops on Justice in the World. To give witness to justice, the Church must first be seen to be just, and must undertake an examination of its own modes of acting.

In such matters, it would be better to handle the situation here in Ireland, where there could be conciliation and arbitration procedures, without first involving Rome.

We still do not have a church in Ireland where lay people can participate with fullness. Catechesis is important; we need to find ways to bring qualified lay people into this work. 

There are about 30 full-time pastoral lay workers in Dublin. Preparation of children for sacraments is an area which requires serious attention. Large numbers of volunteer catechists are also needed.

The translation of the Missal was very badly handled; we need to learn lessons.

The appointment of bishops exclusively by Rome is a relatively recent development in the Church, and needs to be reviewed. It is not at all adequate that the criterion be that the candidate be a safe pair of hands.

The hierarchy has not been prominent in addressing the matter of the injustices in the current economic situation in Ireland, a major concern for people, especially the less well-off. The hierarchy also needs a meaningful and effective press office which will anticipate matters where possible, rather than just a belated reaction.

The fact that this meeting has taken place is important. ACP and hierarchy can cooperate constructively. To struggle with these issues together is an expression of Communio.

The meeting covered a lot of ground, and was a good initial contact, in a cordial and honest atmosphere.

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