Read at all Masses, Sunday 2 Oct. 2016.
A phobal Dé,
It is with very mixed feelings that I write to you to share with you the news that Pope Francis has accepted my retirement as Bishop of Clogher on grounds of health and in the light of medical advice.
I decided that this was something that I should explain to you personally through a letter rather than a press release. I have asked the priests to assist me by having this letter read at Masses this weekend. It is at least seven years ago since many of you noticed the tell-tale tremor in the hands at the altar which was subsequently diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.
The medical booklet describes it as a ‘designer disease’, which sounds posh, but is really just saying that the symptoms and progression of the disease are very individual and differ a lot from one to another.
When I was appointed to take on the responsibility of being your Bishop, I was advised medically not to let this condition prevent me from taking on the challenge (Pope John Paul 11 was a sufferer) but to keep it under review and follow medical advice.
I was fortunate to have excellent medical care but it is a neurodegenerative condition which over time gets worse rather than better, to put it simply. The office of Bishop is stressful and demanding work-wise so it was inevitable that I would find my own condition becoming increasingly problematic and beginning to interfere with my capacity to fulfil my responsibilities.
The priests of the diocese were most supportive, as were family and friends. The staff and carers at Bishops House and the Diocesan Office were most attentive and I was conscious of the assistance of all your prayers.
Some months ago the medical team called time and, in his report, Professor Daniel Healy, Consultant Neurologist, wrote
“I have advised him on medical grounds that he should retire from his position as Bishop of Clogher. Bishop MacDaid has bravely tried to continue to the best of his abilities with his mission and episcopal responsibility. However, I am now of the view that this is having a negative impact on his quality of life and health.”That does not leave much room for discussion especially when your body appears to be giving the same message. This report was sent to Rome and kindly received by Pope Francis. I suggested that I take six months to finish work in hand which was why my resignation did not take effect until this weekend.
The diocese will not be left rudderless. Within a matter of days from now, the Chapter of Canons of the Diocese will choose an Administrator to govern the diocese while a process of consultation will be initiated by the Papal Nuncio to select a new Bishop to lead the diocese into the future under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Again I could not speak highly enough of the kindness, encouragement and support which I have received from the priests and people of the diocese. I know you will be equally generous and supportive to the Diocesan Administrator and, in time, to your new Bishop. For all Bishops and Priests, the past half-century has been a most difficult time.
As Bishop of Clogher for thirty one of those years, Bishop Duffy has carried the heaviest burden of responsibility and it is only right that we should acknowledge this and express our gratitude.
Some Church members find it difficult to see beyond the Bishop and Priest and mistakenly take human failure on their part to be a failure in the way and teaching of Jesus Christ. In any way of life, when we meet with human failures, we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we dismissed the profession itself.
If there are instances where the Civil Law is imperfectly framed or unjustly applied the vast majority of the population still accept that the law is the foundation of civilised living for society. When adult and parents opt out of Church on account of the shortcomings and failures of the messengers, is this not impoverishing themselves and their children, effectively depriving them of the nourishment and guidance which they can find only in the message of Christ?
I am not saying these things out of pique or in a rant but out of concern for my Church and its members. We are missing out on the talents and energy of so many good people. It is sad to see good people wasting so much precious time criticising and denigrating the Church when they could do so much for their community simply by living the Christian way and being an effective witness to it at work and elsewhere. In this way, we can spread the good news we are offered and preserve the integrity of the message of Jesus Christ.
Would you not agree that we could say we suffer a similar loss in our schools? Teachers do some marvellous catechetical work but they feel they are often working in a vacuum with little or no support in comparable instruction from parents and little or no Church attendance to give it all a community foundation and backing. If we had these members back and involved, what new life and vitality could we then give to each other’s flagging spirits?
Throughout the diocese I have witnessed and experienced much joy and neighbourliness among people as together they seek to build up the community. This is despite the obstacles, current and historic, that often lurk in the background.
Within the wider Christian Church, much progress has been made in overcoming obstacles of the past and present. As I retire, I wish to thank all of the other Christian Churches in the Diocese of Clogher for their friendship, kindness and fellowship. I particularly acknowledge the courage and integrity of Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and of his successor as Bishop of Clogher, Bishop John McDowell. Together with others, they have moved ecumenical respect and activity to a new level. I pray that the progress already made will continue to be built on so that the whole Church of Christ may be a standard for all as it ‘ministers the Gospel to all humankind’ and ‘makes its pilgrim way in hope.’
We have a very impressive group of young people in Clogher don Óige who have broadened their horizons and have attracted favourable mention wherever they have gone. Their leadership is enlightened and gives appropriate attention to development and teamwork.
They are training adult and youth leaders who know what they are about and have involved themselves in worthwhile community projects like the John Paul II Awards, with the assistance of sponsorship from the Knights of Columbanus. To neglect to nurture this promising tree would be to our sorrow and shame.
We have an excellent team of priests, much loved and respected by those they serve and genuinely supportive of each other’s needs. Unfortunately, their numbers have significantly diminished and many of those still working are well advanced in years. Happily, more and more lay people are engaging in ministry and offering support in our parishes, including many young people. This is a heartening expression of the living out of our baptismal calling.
This will have to happen on an even greater scale if we are to maintain the traditional parish organisation of our communities. Pastoral Support and Adult Education Groups have greatly facilitated reflection and planning for the future including for the World Meeting of Families due to be held in Dublin in 2018.
These are some reflections on how I see things as I pass on the keys. All that we have has been given to us for our use, from the gift of the created world to life itself. Most of us accept that we need God’s Word to direct us and God’s table to nourish us. Most of us believe that the Church has to play a vital role in preserving the integrity of what Jesus Christ left to us, in interpreting it for our time and in passing it on. That is difficult for people to accept when we see how imperfect the Church can be. It needs continual renewal and purification. This process is more authentic when we have the humility and honesty to admit that it must begin with me.
It’s time for me to take my leave. It has been a privilege to serve you as Bishop for the past six years. It has been a great learning experience to work with my fellow priests. It has been an uplifting experience to be a conduit of God’s grace to you, especially at difficult times. It is with some reluctance that I go yet I know that it is the right decision. I offer my apologies and ask forgiveness from anyone I have wronged or failed in my ministry.
It is time to prepare for the next phase of the journey. I hope to live locally where I have spent most of my life. With a bit more attention and care my condition might still allow me to make some little contribution to the life of the Church. I leave with a heart full of gratitude for all the blessings I have received from God in so many ways, not least the marvellous people he has given me as family, relatives, friends, colleagues and fellow-travellers.
From this weekend I retire as your bishop and from the many responsibilities that come with leading the diocese. My name will no longer be mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer of each Mass celebrated in the diocese. That naming of the pope and the local bishop tells us something: that we Catholics all around the world are united with one another through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
As the Second Vatican Council tells us, all who are led by the Spirit are called to holiness. It is in the reality of that holiness and unity – and having experienced your goodness to me over the years – that I ask you to remember me in your prayers, as I will continue to remember all of you.
Let us entrust ourselves to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and St Macartan, patron of our diocese,
Lord God, hear the prayers of your Church
and give us the strength of St Macartan,
faithful disciple of St Patrick.
May the Word of God be reborn in us.
May we in our time promote collaboration among the People of God,
and lend a supportive hand to those in our families and parish communities that may be in need.
May the Spirit of God sustain and strengthen us in our friendships with one another on our journey towards the light, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
– (From the Collect for the Feast of St Macartan, National Proper for Ireland (2009)
and the Novena Prayer to St Macartan)
+Liam S. MacDaid
25 September 2016