Hundreds of priests and laity gather to discuss future of church


THE CONFERENCE room at the Regency Hotel on Dublin’s Swords Road has a capacity of 735. It is where an event the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) entitles “Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church” is to take place from today.

The room may not be big enough this morning. Aimed at laity and clergy alike, it is expected to be “a sellout”, as one priest said at the weekend. Bishops, too, have been invited.

There are 815 priest members of the association alone. But, following recent disclosures of the censuring of Irish priests by Rome in the BBC This World documentary last week, which detailed Cardinal Seán Brady’s inquiries into serial paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth, what was expected to be a well-attended event now looks like being overcrowded.

That one of those priests censured by Rome is Fr Tony Flannery of the ACP leadership team will serve as just another incentive for restive Catholics to attend this gathering on what is also a bank holiday Monday.

Announcing details of the event last February, the association said it was “meant to be 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”.

Today also, lay groups and individuals will meet to consider setting up a lay umbrella group to complement the work of the ACP.

It is anticipated that, following the morning session, a statement may include “a call for a new model of church” and a call on “lay groups to work together to make this model a reality”. It is expected to ask “that this process continue towards a full assembly of the Irish church”. This will be followed by a general forum which, it is intended, will shape the final document for publication this evening.

This morning’s session, “Naming the Reality”, will be opened by Fr Brendan Hoban of the ACP leadership team and chaired by Fr Gerry O’Hanlon. There will be a reflection by Brendan Butler of the We Are Church group, with short addresses from lay Catholics Joe Mulvanney, Emer Dolphin, Garry Keogh and Phil Dunne.

The second session, “The Vision”, begins at noon and will be chaired by Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran. Following a reflection by Samantha Andrews there will be short addresses from lay Catholics Cathy Molloy, Aoife McGrath and Tony Butler.

The final session, “How to Get from the Reality to the Vision”, beginning at 2.30pm, will be chaired by Pádraig Ó Céidigh of Aer Arann. Following a reflection by poet John F Deane there will be an address by Fr Adrian Egan, rector of the Redemptorist community in Limerick. At the end of each session the discussion will be thrown open to the floor. At the end of the third session, Fr Hoban will sum up.

The ACP began with an informal meeting of nine priests in Athlone on June 23rd, 2010. Those in attendance represented priests in dioceses, religious congregations and missionary societies. Three of the priests – Fr Brendan Hoban, Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Seán McDonagh – were asked to draft a set of guidelines for a proposed association.

Their guideline proposals included “the importance of looking seriously at the ministry, government and sexual teaching of the church” and “a concern for social justice and God’s creation”.

A statement in the September 2010 Furrow magazine contained a more detailed statement of what the association would be about. It was signed by 72 diocesan and religious congregation priests.

More than 300 priests attended the inaugural meeting in September 2010.

The ACP has a very active website