ACI Meeting in Belfast

Today, Saturday 21st, I spoke at a four hour gathering of the Northern branch of the ACI. It was organised by Martin Murray, with help from a number of other people, and in my view it was a great success.

The North of Ireland has not been fertile ground for the ACP, with only a handful of members between the dioceses of Down & Connor, Dromore and Derry. So I would have considered that Martin and his group have an uphill struggle to stir up support for the reform movement up there. Consequently I went up without any great expectations. But I was very pleasantly surprised at what occurred. We had two sessions;  in the first one I spoke on what I considered were the main reforms needed in our Church today, and what hope had we that Pope Francis might bring some of them about. In the second session I talked about the development of the reform movement around the world, and in particular what was happening in Europe and the U.S.

Each sesssion was followed by lively discussion from the floor. Over the past two years I have lost count of the number of meetings like this that I had addressed, here in Ireland, in England and in the States. In each case, after my talk, I invite people to speak from the floor, encourageing them to give their own opinions rather than asking questions. I would find it hard to think of any gathering where the discussion was a good as what we had today. People spoke with extraordinary openness and sincerity about their faith, their relationship with the Church, and with God. Everyone was listened to with great respect, and there was a good flow to the discussion, each speaker following on from what went before. There was no grandstanding, and nobody using the occasion to get on their own hobby-horse.

I learned a lot about Down and Connor diocese. In the past I had heard positive things about the listening process that went on up there, but the people today spoke about how it had eventually run in to the ground, like these exercises have tended to do in other dioceses. The people who spoke about it were tired of too much talk without any real action, and they wondered was that a ploy by Church authorities to give the impression of openness, while continuing to stymie any efforts at real change. The problems of elderly and tired priests is the same as the rest of the country, and clustering is being seen for what it is — an effort to preserve the old clerical system, which eventually turns into an oppressive structure for both priests and people. We discussed the future of Eucharist, and I told them of some of the developments I had witnessed in the U.S.

I drove home this evening, having had dinner with some friends whom I hadn’t met in a good few years, and I felt really uplifted by the day. ¬†Praise the Lord!!