Bishops’ Letter to the Association of Catholic Priests

The ACP is now six years in existence. During that time we have made many efforts to get some real dialogue with the Irish bishops. That culminated in a meeting last May at which the ACP delegation raised some serious and urgent issues about the Irish Church, and looked for a process of continual dialogue in order to meet the challenges facing us.

Below is the response:

Dear Brendan,

Thank you for your letter, dated August 18th.

As bishops we found the exchange of views at the meeting positive. We reported back to the Episcopal Conference on our engagement during the June meeting and this was well received. We returned to the issues again at our October meeting.

The current challenging situation for the future life and mission of the Church in this country requires that all of us work together. As regards the voice of priests, the bishops emphasised that the strategic role of the diocesan Councils of Priests is particularly important. The Bishops’ Conference therefore renewed its commitment to meeting twice yearly with the chairpersons of Councils of Priests from around the country.

Concerning a National Synod, the bishops are anxious to learn from the experiences in recent years of local consultations and listening exercises at diocesan level. In a future bishops’ meeting, the bishops will hear from Bishop Leahy about the lessons learned from the recent Synod in Limerick.

Regarding the care of priests, specifically safeguarding issues, the new standards document, and the associated guidance published this summer, give genuine hope for creating a ‘one-Church’ approach that can win the confidence of all. This matter was also raised and discussed at the recent National Safeguarding Conference in Tullamore.

The bishops are committed to the ongoing implementation and discussion of Laudato Si at diocesan and national level. There has been some sharing of good practice in relation to diocesan initiatives and the bishops have set aside a dedicated time to focus on this in the early New Year. It will also form a key element of the catechesis in preparation for the World Meeting of Families to take place in Dublin in 2018.

Overall the Bishops are committed to working with priests at every level in ensuring that we are all wholeheartedly proclaiming the Gospel and serving the People of God.

With every good wish and blessing.

Yours Sincerely,

+Ray Browne. (bishop of Kerry)

This is clearly a ‘sugar-coated push off for the ACP. They will talk to the chairpersons of Priests Councils, but clearly not to the ACP. It would appear to be the end of any possibility of dialogue. Would there be any point in looking for a further meeting? I don’t think so.

As regards some of the issues our delegation raised:
The response to the need for a National Synod, and the lack of any real response to Laudato Si, is a classic example of ‘kicking the can down the road”. There is no sense of urgency at all.
The letter reduces “the care of priests’ to the matter of ‘Safeguarding’. Can they not see that the situation of Irish priests is drastic and urgent.

My reaction to the letter, on first reading it, was that it is a classic illustration of why the Irish Church is in the mess that it is, and why it is hard to be in any way hopeful for the future.