Umbrella group aims to speak for Catholics

A new lay organisation which wants to articulate the views and opinions of mainstream Irish Catholics is being established.

The Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) will function as an umbrella group for a number of existing lay Catholic organisations, including local parish groups, and is hoping to attract thousands of members.

Whether it will be a standalone association with strong links to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) or whether the ACP will join together with the new organisation will be up for discussion at the ACP’s annual general meeting in Dublin this weekend.

Noel McCann of ACI said there had been a realisation that there were a number of lay groups which shared the same objectives but were not linked in any way.

“We see our organisation as being the common thread, that the different groups around the country who will join the organisation will share that common interest in seeing the teachings of Vatican II implemented,” he said.

“We hope that by creating a critical mass of people in terms of numbers, we will get a voice at the table and be sufficiently strong to be able to articulate our views in a way that we will be listened to.

“We realise the Church does not take to criticism or challenge very lightly. But people are concerned about the future of the Church and want to do something to ensure there is a Church to hand on to their children and grandchildren.”

ACI hopes to start form-ally enrolling groups shortly, to have meetings around the country after Christmas, and have its first annual general meeting in May.

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry will open the ACP conference with a speech questioning whether the Church is alienating Catholics by advocating a type of Church that Jesus rejected in his own life.

“What seems to bring out the passion of the Church these days is issues like divorce, abortion, and gay relationships,” Fr McVerry said.

“This is what brings it to life. Our Church has often preached a God of the law. You were identified as a good Catholic by your adherence to a variety of laws and regulations: Going to Mass on Sunday, not getting a divorce, not using condoms, not using contraceptives, opposing gay relationships and so on.

“Your relationship to God was defined by your observance of laws — if you do as you are supposed to do, then God is pleased with you and will reward you with a place in heaven. If you do not do as you are supposed to do, then God will be angry and punish you, possibly with a place in hell.

“But Jesus did not preach a God of the law who rewards the just and punishes or excludes the sinner.

“He preached a God of compassion who rewards the just and reaches out to, and forgives, the sinner.

“Is this why today the message of the Church, which is supposed to be the continuation of the message of Jesus, is seen by so many ordinary people as irrelevant to their lives?”

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