The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) is organising a gathering to generate discussion about an Assembly in the Irish Catholic Church. It is set for 7 May – Bank Holiday Monday – from 10.30 am-4.30 pm in the Regency Hotel in Dublin. The ACP website describes it as:
… a first effort at bringing people together to discuss the current state of the Church in Ireland; and hopefully to be the beginning of a process that will continue at all levels in the Church.
The idea of an Assembly has been floating around for some time.
I believe I’ve heard it suggested publicly by the likes of Enda McDonagh and Brian D’Arcy; and Gerry O’Hanlon mentions it specifically in his book, A New Vision for the Catholic Church, which I reviewed previously on Slugger O’Toole.
The ACP has been promoting the event on its website, extending an open invitation for all to attend. Today, the ACP website features an article by Brendan Hoban, which first appeared in the Western People. Hoban, one of the main organisers, writes:
The Priests’ Association decided to facilitate this albeit short conference in the hope that a momentum towards a national assembly might be created and a national conversation begin to take place about the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland. That decision came out of a realisation that the Catholic Church in Ireland seems shell-shocked by the events of recent years and almost incapable of addressing key issues and that energy, movement, change will only come if lay people begin to take ownership of their Church, as the Second Vatican Council recommended a half century ago. It’s becoming clearer by the day that the kind of change we need in the Catholic Church will not come from bishops or priests. We clergy are an ageing and tired body, demonstrably incapable of taking on the key issues or facilitating the kind of fundamental change that will address the present critical situation.
The ACP is taking seriously the idea that lay people should ‘take ownership of their Church,’ promising that 7 of the 10 speakers on the day will be drawn from the laity. Indeed, Hoban asks if there is not an awakening of the laity, will there be ‘no Church’ left in 20 years time?:
In 2032 will there be no priests, no Masses, no Church? My own belief is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is made up mainly of two very distinct groupings: the clergy, who lack (for very obvious reasons) the energy and the drive to come to terms with the huge problems facing the Irish Church; and the lay people (apart from the cheerleaders who favour going back to the nineteenth century) who have become progressively more radicalised by a clear understanding of what the issues are and what needs to happen. Twenty years ago Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich spoke at a synod in Rome about the need for the Irish Church to awaken ‘the sleeping-giant of the laity’. The hope on May 7th would be that we might give them a prod in that direction. Do come along. It will be interesting.
Personally, while I welcome this event, I would have liked to have seen a specific invitation for Protestants in Ireland to participate in it.
I see all Christian churches on this island as one, believe that the crisis in the Catholic Church hurts all of us, and think that we can all come up with better ways to live out our faith if we do it together.
Of course, that could be because I’m a Protestant and I work for the Irish School of Ecumenics, but I also think that the Spirit moving behind the scenes in Vatican II was (is?) an ecumenical one.
I doubt that interested Protestants would be turned away from the event, though again on a personal level, it clashes with the Belfast City Marathon – which I’m already committed to support as an ambassador for the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice and a Board Member of Athletics Northern Ireland.