Priests must stop calling bishops “spineless nerds and sycophantic half-wits”, the former Abbot of Glenstal Mark Patrick Hederman has said.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Athlone, he said most bishops were “not all as bad as painted by your leadership” and accused priests of adopting the wrong approach.
“If the ACP is trying to change things and to galvanize the bishops of this country into positive action, then even the most junior politician and unseasoned diplomat would tell them that they are going about it the wrong way.
“Calling the bishops spineless nerds and sycophantic half-wits is not going to encourage them to adopt your point of view.”
Defending bishops, he said: “In fact, for the most part, many of their flock would hold that they are more pleasant, less pompous, and more approachable that others from the past”.
Separately, the meeting on Tuesday heard a confidential helpline for priests may need to be set up.
The event heard depression was “very common” amongst priests and concerns were expressed about the number of priests dying by suicide.
Redemptorist priest Fr Gerry O’Connor presented a summary of matters raised at seven regional meetings of the ACP throughout Ireland over the past year, which took place in 19 dioceses out of the 26 and which were attended by a total of 253 priests.
He told the approximately 250 priests in attendance at the Athlone meeting that it was clear from those regional meetings that “priests need to learn to say ‘I need help’,” and also “to say a respectful ‘No’.”
There was, he said, “no tangible Church vision for the future” while priests themselves “have enormous grief about disappearing faith communities.”
The relationship between bishops and priests had become “damaged and soured” with some priests feeling “bullied.”
A major concern of priests was how those of their number who faced abuse allegations were being treated by church authorities.
Fr Tim Hazelwood, who was himself falsely accused, said “there was no consistency in how [ACCUSED]priests are treated.” Guidelines were not being applied correctly and he cited three recent cases as examples.
He also raised concern about funeral rights for priests out of ministry which can mean currently that there is no death notice placed in the papers and no concelebrated funeral Mass, he said.
The report from the ACP regional meetings stated that in this context, “priests statutory rights are being denied”, he said. It was also “unjust that a priest is asked to stand down on the basis of an anonymous accusation.”
A presentation was made on behalf of the ACP to solicitor Robert Dore for his “untold” work on behalf of priests, and on a pro bono basis.
Making the presentation, Fr Tony Flannery, said that “without Robert we would never have been able to establish there was such a thing as a false allegation.”
Mr Gore received a standing ovation from all the priests present.