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Wintry consolation in Athlone

acp_01When a meeting trebles its expected size, something is happening. So it was at the recent gathering of the Association of Catholic Priests in Athlone. Twenty were expected, but sixty showed up, anxious to play their part in the renewal of the Church called for by the pope and Cardinal Brady. Priests came from most dioceses and from a number of the religious orders, including Jesuits Michael McGuckian, Gerry O’Hanlon and Brian Grogan. The mood was sober, but not without humour, as when the resurrection of black vestments and copes from dusty closets was noted. A long agenda was dealt with effectively. The steady growth in membership (currently 380+) was heartening, but priests noted that the ACP was not approved of by some of their brother priests, who are also concerned for the future of the Church. Respectful listening to ‘the other side’ through honest and open dialogue was agreed. Read Brian Grogan’s report…

Legal Rights for Priests: The Executive reported that while lawyers support the notion of human rights for priests, the relevant legislation is fraught with difficulty: 25 drafts of a single document had not yet resulted in a final statement. The relationship between bishop and priest is analogous to that between father and son. While the ACP had been told that the Murphy Report was deeply flawed, it was felt that the ACP must not get lost in law, but show itself to be truly Christian – in this context a meeting with One in Four was proposed, which would be honest about the failings of priests, while also indicating the distress caused to priests falsely accused.

Dialogue with Bishops: A majority favoured a structured dialogue, since both the Episcopal Conference and the ACP have the same goal – renewal of the Irish Church. Bishop Seamus Freeman in his Rite and Reason article in the Irish Times had asked for dialogue, and this will be taken up. Diocesan meetings of the ACP were also urged. A delegation of the ACP is meeting with the Apostolic Visitors.

Liturgiam authenticam: Some felt initially that it was too late to make a statement about the new liturgical texts which are already being introduced. Others proposed that the ACP at least recommend a stay of execution, given the difficulties that the Church was already trying to cope with, the sense of rage and confusion among many of the faithful, and the imminence of the Eucharistic Congress. The translations were referred to as incompetent latinised English, and the resistance of the German bishops to the imposition of Roman translations was noted. The manner of  imposition of the texts came up, and reference was made to a presentation by a Capuchin scholar to the Catholic Academy for Liturgy (6.1.2011) available on the Pray Tell Blog which notes seven areas of doubtful theology behind the new texts. It was finally agreed that a pastoral communication be made to the National Conference of Bishops, voicing the reservations of the ACP.

Synod/Assembly: The driving insight here is that, given the crisis in the Irish Church, all shareholders should gather for structured dialogue to agree the way forward. Particular agendas (or lack of agendas!) must yield to the issue of ‘what the Spirit is trying to say to the Churches’. The People of God as well as the ACP want to be heard, but more, they want to play an appropriate role in the decision making that shapes the Church. For those who doubt that change is possible, Saul Alinski’s Rules for Radicals was mentioned as vindicating the capacity of individuals and small groups to effect worthwhile change. It was urged that we are now in ‘make or break’ time; that we have a framework of 5–10 years before the Church crumbles, and that we must choose to be lemmings or leaders! It was finally and overwhelmingly agreed that there is a huge need for an Assembly/Synod, and the Executive will further progress this conviction.

Web: A gratifying number of members use the ACP site – some 60%. Different areas of interest are offered: Homilies; Social Justice; Ryan/Murphy/Apostolic Visitation; Liturgy; Pastoral Initiatives; Assembly/Synod; Women’s participation in Church, etc. The intention is that the wealth of expertise within the Irish priesthood would be put at the service of all. I came away in what Rahner calls ‘wintry consolation’ – a sense that while the landscape is bleak, I had met with a body of good men who are willing to stand against desolation and to work creatively – and to suffer too – for the sake of the People of God within the Irish Church.