Issues outlined at priests' gathering


CHALLENGING THE role of women in the church and the treatment of priests falsely accused of abuse are among the objectives which were outlined at the inaugural meeting of the Association of Irish Priests yesterday.

Some 300 priests turned out for the meeting of the association which aims to provide a “voice” for clergy. Organisers had expected between 50 to 70 priests to attend the meeting at the parish centre in Portlaoise, Co Laois and had to change venue to accommodate the interest.

The high turnout showed that the association had “touched a nerve” and that there was a “voice needed” by the Irish clergy, one of the founders, Fr Brendan Hoban, said. The association will be very proactive and will have spokesmen on issues that arise in the church and society, Fr Hoban said.

He outlined the aims and objectives which he said are based on the teachings of the second Vatican council. The role of women in the church is “in need of a change”, Fr Hoban said.

The organisation will campaign for the rights of priests who have been wrongly accused of child sexual abuse and have not been supported by their diocese and priests who have been left in “limbo situations” where their right to natural justice is denied, he said.

Other issues which the association will highlight are the involvement of lay people in the church and the opposition among priests to a new English translation of the Mass. It will also campaign for a church which is not governed by a clerical elite but recognised the equality of all members.

The association will be seeking discussions with Apostolic visitors from the Vatican that are due to visit Ireland.

The low morale among priests was also addressed. “Authority is diminishing, vocations are in freefall, practice is declining, the age level of priests is increasing all the time and priests find themselves under growing pressure,” Fr Hoban said.

“At the moment priests feel they have no voice and feel they are not understood.”

Clergy hopeful of real change

MANY OF the clergy at yesterday’s inaugural meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests were hopeful of the change it could bring to the church.

Fr Abe Kennedy, a school chaplain in Portumna, Co Galway, wanted the association to address the anti-clergy feeling which he said was a huge block to the work of priests.

Chris Fox of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Dublin described clerical abuse as a “shadow” over all priests. He also hoped the organisation could tackle the lack of donations, take an honest look at celibacy and the involvement of lay people and women in the church.

Fr Bill Cosgrave of Ferns also hoped that the new organisation could advocate for the involvement of lay people and women.

Fr Pat O’Brien parish priest at Caherlistrane, Co Galway, hoped the organisation could bring the real challenges of society and the church into the open and deal with issues such as women’s ordination and celibacy. However, he was disappointed at the lack of younger priests at the meeting.

Owen O’Sullivan, a Capuchin in Gurranebraher, Cork, wanted to see structural change to make the church more “inclusive, participatory and accountable”, he said.

Getting back to helping the needy and the poor rather than being concerned with titles and authority was one of the main issues which struck Eamon Aylward, executive secretary of the Irish Missionary Union.