For some time now the membership of the Association of Catholic Priests has been concerned with the issue of the appointment of bishops in Ireland. At our AGM last year the following resolution was passed:
The ACP expresses its grave disquiet at some of the policies presently being pursued in relation to the appointment of bishops in Ireland: the lack of any credible process of consultation; the preference in the main for candidates drawn from a particular mind-set; the apparently haphazard policy of appointments to distant dioceses that pays little regard to the traditions and heritage of a diocese; and not least the choice of candidates who seem to be out of sync with the realities of life in Ireland today and uncomfortable with the openness of Pope Francis to change and reform the Church.
At a recent meeting, the Leadership of the ACP discussed the on-going concern of our members, and our regret that the Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Browne, refuses to meet us, though the issue at hand is of compelling concern not just to our own membership – we represent over 30% of Irish priests – but to the vast majority of Irish priests.
In less than five years since his appointment in November 2011, Archbishop Brown has played a central role in the appointment of ten bishops – Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Cashel, Cloyne, Derry, Elphin, Kerry, Kildare, Killaloe, Limerick and Waterford – and is at present in the process of appointing six more: Clonfert, Cork, Galway, Meath, Ossory and Raphoe. That’s 16 (or 60%) of the 26 dioceses in Ireland.
The ACP believes that, at this most critical juncture for the Catholic Church in Ireland, the policies being pursued by Archbishop Browne in the choice of bishops are, in the main, inadequate to the needs of our time, at odds with the expectations of people and priests and out of sync with the new church dispensation, ushered in by the election of Pope Francis over three years ago and the changed perspective of his renewed commitment to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
The ACP is reluctant to call for Archbishop Brown’s removal as Apostolic Nuncio though it is instructive that his appointment was a central part of Rome’s response to the problems of the Irish Church as indicated by the report of the Apostolic Investigation. That report and the Vatican response to it was widely interpreted as an opportunity of disciplining the Irish Church but its attitude and values are now clearly out of tune with a Church regaining confidence and credibility under the watch of Pope Francis.
The appointment of ‘Francis’ bishops is a vital building block in the reconstruction, even possibly survival of the Catholic Church in Ireland. All involved in the appointment of bishops in Ireland, including Archbishop Brown, need to honour the new dispensation, otherwise bishops will become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.