The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) is disappointed, frustrated and angry that, after six years of attempting to engage the Irish bishops in a respectful and mutual consideration of issues central to the health and well-being of the Irish Catholic Church, the bishops have pulled the plug on any future engagement with the ACP.
While their letter to the ACP (October 24, 2017) states that they ‘are committed to working with priests at every level’ it is quite clear that the bishops are attempting to substitute other more amenable and less forthright channels of communication with priests.
The ACP protests vigorously against this attempted sidelining of our influence and the diminishment of our role. We believe it is unconscionable and irresponsible, in present circumstances, to still the voice of an association that represents over a third of Irish priests (1000-plus) who are prepared to name important and difficult truths at a critical time for the Irish Church.
It is clear, from the upbeat and optimistic language employed by the bishops in their comments in relation to the current ad limina visits to Rome, that a public relations gloss on the condition of the Irish Church, rather than a truthful presentation of our difficulties, is being employed.
An example of this PR tone is the Irish Catholic article (January 12, 2017) by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh on the bishops’ intentions during their Roman visit. In it he states: ‘We will be able to discuss the seeds of renewal and new growth in catechesis, lay involvement, intentional discipleship and pastoral outreach that are emerging all over the country . . . I, and my fellow bishops, will be able to share with them (Curial officials) the resilience of our priests and religious under increased pressure and workload . . .’
The sad and difficult truth is that Archbishop Martin’s words bear little relationship to the realities of Irish Church life today and pretending that they do is self-serving and irresponsible. The comment on the ‘resilience’ of Irish priests in struggling to cope in a situation spiralling out of control is the equivalent of praising the ‘resilience’ of a very sick patient while refusing to consider obvious measures to relieve his/her condition.
If Archbishop Martin’s comment represents the thrust of the bishops’ reports, it will constitute a blatant refusal to name important truths and a failure to accept responsibility for taking the necessary decisions to arrest the decline of the Irish Church.
While the ACP voice may be sidelined by the bishops it will not be stilled.