Getting to Know the Association of Catholics in Ireland – Q&A with Martin Murray, Part I

imageLast week, I wrote about the launch of the Association of Catholics in Ireland, a new lay-led organisation that has adopted the motto, “Following Christ, Changing Church.” (You can view its objectives on its website). The event also was  reported on in the Irish Times, as well as the Irish Independent.

Martin Murray, a member of the steering group, has kindly agreed to answer some questions about the ACI. Murray is also involved with the international Voice of the Faithful movement and the ecumenical churches forum in Carrickfergus.

Murray stressed that he is speaking in a personal capacity, rather than responding officially for the ACI.

I will post Murray’s responses to my questions over the coming days.

Getting to Know the Association of Catholics in Ireland – Q&A with Martin Murray

Can you explain how the ACI got its start?

The idea for an Association of Catholics in Ireland first surfaced on the fringes of a meeting of Catholic clergy and laity gathered to prepare for an unofficial event which had as its theme ‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Church’. This seminal event, sponsored by the new Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland (ACP) was held in the Regency Hotel in north Dublin on 7th May 2012 and was attended by well over 1000 clergy and laity. It was here that an announcement was first made, proposing a meeting of those interested in forming an umbrella group for reform minded lay Catholics.

Just under a month later, on the 30th May 2012 around 175 people responded to this call, by attending a meeting in All Hallows College, Dublin. That meeting endorsed the setting up of an ad-hoc steering group to work on a statement of objectives for a new Association.
In November 2012, again in the Regency Hotel, Dublin around 300 gathered to give the steering group an endorsement for its statement of objectives and for the proposed name, the ‘Association of Catholics in Ireland’ (ACI). It was further mandated to develop a website; plan towards an official launch; and provide for the election of a formal committee. The official launch and unveiling of the new website took place in the Liffey Valley Clarion Hotel, Dublin on 1st June 2013.

Why do you think such an association is needed?

The yawning gap in the Catholic Church has always been any type of official forum for lay Catholics to contribute to internal discussion and debate on matters of belief, practice and church organisation. This means there are no structures in place to allow lay Catholics to contribute in any significant way to the decision making processes in the church. Existing canon law does allow for synodal type gatherings and pastoral councils at various levels. However pastoral councils (for the most part, unelected) are strictly consultative, and the option for synods lies in a state of willful disuse. The reality is that under Canon 129 of church law, laity are explicitly excluded from any of the major decision-making processes within the church. Despite the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on the primacy of baptism, Canon 129 restricts decision-making power to the ordained clergy.

‘Co-responsibility’ between clergy and laity is currently the rallying call for renewal after decades of despondency and crisis. However to date, there is little or no evidence that this amounts to anything more than an increased level of ‘lay involvement’ (an unfortunate, but much used term) in an otherwise, male, celibate, clerical church and using this term does nothing to mitigate the strictures of Canon 129. In other words, there may well be more laity on the shop floor or behind the reception desk, but the manager’s office out back, or the boardroom upstairs is still out of bounds, other than to receive the latest clerical directive. This is more particularly the case if you happen to be female.

This is not to say that efforts at renewal are not happening. The best of the International Eucharist Congress hosted in Dublin in June 2012 and currently the ‘Living Church’ initiative in Down and Connor with its ambitious ‘Congress’ scheduled for the Waterfront Hall, Belfast (Sept 2013) are good examples of what is possible when the creativity and energy of clergy and laity working together on a level playing field is given its head. However, these large scale one-off events and any hierarchically led exercises at listening are only able to include and hear what is already acceptable to the institutional church.

The type of change that is needed if the church is to have a future and a relevance in the lives of current and future generations requires much more. Along side efforts at renewal there needs to be a serious agenda for reform. Unfortunately, discussion of such matters is actively discouraged. Priests and bishops who have attempted to engage with such topics find themselves sanctioned and threatened with excommunication. However, globally the conversation has started. It may be on the fringes, but it isn’t going to go away. The ACI can play a part in ensuring that the voices of those advocating change can be joined with those of reform minded Catholics worldwide, and begin to be heard as the voice of the Spirit for out times. As its statement of objectives says:

“The ACI is committed to the renewal of the Catholic faith in the changed and changing circumstances of the 21st Century and to the reform of the institutional church which, at this time, is experiencing conflict, crisis, and lack of credibility.”

You can read its full Statement of Objectives here:

In the coming days, Murray will address questions such as:

Does the ACI have a relationship with the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP)?

Has your group any interactions with the leadership of the Catholic Church in Ireland (bishops, archbishops, etc)?

What has motivated you personally to get involved?

For the disillusioned Catholic out there, what hope can the ACI offer?

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