POPE’S REPRESENTATIVE Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, on his way to the summit of Croagh Patrick during a Reek Sunday pilgrimage. Pic: Conor McKeown
Fr Kevin Hegarty
THE Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) celebrates its sixth anniversary later this month. Over 300 priests attended its inaugural meeting in Portlaoise. It now has over 1,000 members.
It has provided priests with a forum to articulate their concerns about a declining Irish Catholic Church. It has been blessed with excellent leaders who have contributed significantly to social, moral and religious debate in our society.
Last week a further development in the evolution of the association occurred. Liamy MacNally, who shares this space with me in The Mayo News, has been appointed its first administrative secretary. He brings to the role considerable life experience as a journalist, priest and publisher. I wish him well as he takes up his new task.
Recently the ACP has raised concerns about the role of the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles John Brown. His appointment in 2012 was somewhat unusual in that he was not a member of the Vatican Diplomatic corps.
Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York in 1989, during his post-graduate studies in Rome he impressed Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the ‘Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’, who was a close collaborator of Pope John Paul II. On completion of his studies, Ratzinger appointed him to the congregation.
In the Spring of 2010, Pope Benedict summoned the Irish hierarchy to Rome to account for its failures to deal effectively with the clerical sexual abuse cases, revealed by the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy Reports. Dr Brown’s appointment as Nuncio followed as part of the Pope’s plan to restore the authority of the Irish Catholic Church.
Since his arrival in Ireland he has developed a high public profile. Previous Nuncios were usually elderly men of Mediterranean background, who rarely ventured beyond the nunciature on the Navan Road. Their names were known only to ecclesiastical anoraks.
Dr Brown is different. He is a relatively young North American who starts his day by jogging in the Phoenix Park. He is often photographed in the conservative weekly, ‘The Irish Catholic’, attending pious events throughout the country. He is a regular at Knock and on Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday. He has won plaudits from right wing catholic journalists like David Quinn and Michael Kelly. He has even attended the autumn rural extravaganza, the Ploughing Championship, possibly to experience the ‘smell of the sheep’, a condition that Pope Francis has recommended every pastor should share. Those who have met him attest to his charm.
He is however, somewhat eclectic in his choice of company. Pope Francis has recommended dialogue in the Church. In his attitude to the ACP, Dr Brown, his Irish representative, fails to take this advice. He has refused to meet the leaders of the Association, though it represents over a third of Irish priests. If a priest refused to meet a group of such magnitude in a Parish, he would be in trouble.
Currently, the ACP is somewhat perturbed about Dr Brown’s role in the appointment of bishops. Consultations with clergy about appointments, which at its best was fragile, has ended. Since his arrival ten bishops have been appointed and a further six are imminent due to retirements. Those chosen, under his watch, share similarities. None of these are priests of the diocese to which they have been appointed. They came exclusively from the conservative wing of the church. They are stolid men who display little of the imagination or creative courage needed in Church leadership today.