Shaping the Future of the Catholic Church in Ireland? New Priests Reform Movement

imageWhat kind of future does the Catholic Church have in Ireland?

By all accounts the Irish Catholic Church is steadily losing esteem and public confidence. But of late there have been attempts to start conversations about what has gone wrong in the church, and what the faithful might do to reform a body that many of them dearly love.

I’m still on holiday in St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, so the travails of the Irish Catholic Church seem a bit far away. But I just received an email from Fr Michael Bennett, an occasional guest contributor to this blog, who alerted me to an article in the Irish Catholic about a new priests reform movement, The Association of Catholic Priests.

Spearheaded by Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Brendan Hoban and Fr Sean McDonagh, the movement does not claim to represent all priests in Ireland. Its objectives include:

  • Providing a voice for Irish Catholic priests at a time when that voice is largely silent and needs to be expressed;
  • Giving an opportunity for Irish priests to engage proactively with the crucial debates taking place in Irish society;
  • Full implementation of the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with special emphasis on:
  • The primacy of the individual conscience.
  • The status and active participation of all the baptised.
  • The task of establishing a Church where all believers will be treated as equal.
  • A redesigning of ministry in the Church, in order to develop the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.
  • A re-structuring of the governing system of the Church, basing it on service rather than on power, and encouraging at every level a culture of consultation and transparency, particularly in the appointment of Church leaders.
  • An equal place for women in all areas of Church life, including the governing systems and the various forms of ministry.
  • A re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching and practice that recognises the profound mystery of human sexuality and the experience and wisdom of God’s people.
  • Promotion of peace, justice and the protection of God’s creation locally, nationally and globally.
  • Recognition that Church and State are separate and that while the Church must preach the message of the Gospel and try to live it authentically, the State has the task of enacting laws for all its citizens.
  • Liturgical celebrations that use rituals and language that are easily understood, inclusive and accessible to all.
  • Strengthening relationships with our fellow Christians and other faiths.
  • Full acceptance that the Spirit speaks through all people, including those of faiths other than Christian and those of no religious faith, so that the breath of the Spirit will flow more freely.

Those sound like worthy aims to me, although the accompanying editorial in the Irish Catholic opines,

What appears to be unusual about this new priests’ representative group is that it doesn’t concern itself with championing the everyday worries of priests such as heavy workloads, pay and pension reductions, bullying, poor management and in many cases, lack of communication from bishops among other concerns. Indeed, with the continued emphasis of some bishops on the role of the laity, priests may well feel increasingly isolated and forgotten. Instead, it offers a list of policies that it would like implemented and many, though noble objectives, seem somewhat aloof from current concerns.

I think it is out of touch to say that the issues with which this group are occupied are ‘aloof from current concerns’. Catholics throughout Ireland are asking questions around those issues, and I think many of them would welcome knowing that some of their clergy are doing the same.

In a related matter, the Irish Times has started a series on the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which opened yesterday with an editorial by James Mackey, a visiting professor in the School of Religions, Theology and Ecumenics in Trinity College Dublin.

Photo of Ballydesmond, Co. Cork, sourced on flickr photo-sharing by Kman999)

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