The following is the reply from the Conference of Bishops of Ireland to a request in June for a meeting from Fr Brendan Hoban on behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).
“I write to let you know that your correspondence was circulated to all members of the Irish Episcopal Conference and discussed at the recent meeting of bishops. The Bishops are of the opinion that engagement with the Association of Catholic Priests would best take place at local level by using established structures such as the Council of Priests.
With all good wishes…”
Translated this mean a simple ‘no.’ The ACP is a group of over 1,000 Irish priests with support from thousands of Irish Catholics, many of whom are members of the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI).
The ACP wrote to Bishops stating: “There is little need to rehearse the elements of the present position of the Catholic Church in Ireland: the decline of Mass attendance, the lack of confidence in anything that has the name ‘Catholic’, the steep and sharp decline in vocations to the priesthood. The Association of Catholic Priests believes that what is now needed is a proactive emphasis on unity within our Church…
There are, as we know, huge ‘dis-connects’ in our Church that need to be addressed: between people and priests; between priests and bishops; between bishops and Rome. These gulfs are damaging the Church…
The Association of Catholic Priests believes that the current crisis demands real engagement between the different groupings in the Irish Catholic Church. Unless this engagement takes place it will not be possible to plan strategically for the future of our church.
1. The present reality needs to be named. This necessitates that the conversation includes all shades of opinion within our church… The differing voices need to be heard; it is not good enough to tell some people that if they are not happy with the present rules to go elsewhere.
2. This process of engagement must give as strong a voice to the lay parishioners as it does to the clergy and the bishops. We need to trust that God is with His Church as surely when discordant and critical voices are heard as when there is assent and agreement…
3. We need to face the question as to what is going to happen as more priests retire. The present clustering of parishes is, in our opinion, not the answer. The question everyone is asking: what will we do now to save the Irish Catholic Church from becoming, in twenty years time, a Eucharist-free zone and, as the Eucharist is at the heart of Church, from effective collapse?...
4. We need to communicate clearly and assertively to Rome the reality of our present situation and to create the space in the Irish Church to allow for the kind of conversation we need to have at parish, diocesan and national level…
We stress that the Association of Catholic Priests is not ‘against’ the Church. We are part of it, we care about it and we want it to survive. We would like a response as soon as possible.”
The response from the Bishops was disappointing to many people, especially members of the ACP. Christmas is coming and it is an opportune time for the Bishops to rethink their refusal.
Anyone looking at this refusal from the outside, would not be surprised at the Bishops’ action. It seems that this is what is expected from a group of men whose leadership capabilities have been called into question of late. Thinking about this refusal as a member of the Catholic Church beggars belief, literally!
In whose name has the refusal been issued? God’s? If it has then the Bishops will need to go on a catechetical tour to explain their notion of God. And if it has not been done in God’s name then the bishops one question to answer – what would Jesus do?
Individually, most Bishops are kind, considerate, just and God-fearing men. The problems arise when they meet together and the ‘group think’ mentality seems to take over.
Refusing to meet their priests is not a luxury Bishops can afford in today’s Church. In fact, it is a downright insult to men who have served their Church faithfully for years. Why is there such a fear of dialogue? Are they saying that the Holy Spirit is not guiding these ACP priests and ACI people? What if the Holy Spirit has somehow found a hiding place in the creases of their ageing skin, the brittle bones of their bending bodies, the trembling voices of their uncertainty or the sacred space in their simple souls? The time is coming when Bishops will have no option but to listen and to act.