Bishops’ letter to Catholic priests’ group criticised

Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference missive described as ‘a sugar-coated push-off’

Association of Catholic Priests co-founder Fr Tony Flannery  has criticised a letter sent by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Association of Catholic Priests co-founder Fr Tony Flannery has criticised a letter sent by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A letter sent by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has been described as “a sugar-coated push-off” that “would appear to be the end of any possibility of dialogue” between the organisations.

The ACP claims to represent one-third of Irish priests.

Last May, representatives of the bishops met an ACP delegation for the first time in two years.

During the meeting, the ACP called for a national synod to address “the critical situation facing the Catholic Church in Ireland”, as well as a new emphasis on bishops, priests and laity working together.

It had also called for greater support from the bishops for priests, who were subject to “huge mental and physical pressure”, particularly when faced with false abuse allegations.

In a recent letter to the ACP by Bishop of Kerry Ray Browne, written on behalf of his fellow bishops, the bishop said that, “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.”

He said the May meeting with the ACP, which had been “positive”, was discussed at meetings of the Episcopal Conference last June and again in October, as well as at the Tullamore Safeguarding Conference last month.

As regards a national synod, the bishops “will hear from Bishop [of Limerick Brendan] Leahy about the lessons learned from the recent synod in Limerick”, he said.

When it came to the care of priests, specifically safeguarding issues, he said: “The new standards document, and the associated guidance published this summer . . . [gave] genuine hope for creating a ‘one-church’ approach that can win the confidence of all.

“The current challenging situation for the future life and mission of the church in this country requires that all of us work together . . . 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.”

‘Kicking the can down the road’

Fr Tony Flannery, co-founder of the ACP, described the letter as “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”.

He said it was “a classic example of kicking the can down the road”, with “no sense of urgency at all”.

He said the letter reduced “the care of priests to the matter of ‘safeguarding’. Can they not see that the situation of Irish priests is drastic and urgent?”

The letter was “clearly a sugar-coated push-off for the ACP.

“They [the bishops] 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,” he said.