Priests’ group urge reform in open letter to bishops

The Association of Catholic Priests (APC) has written an open letter to the bishops, urging them to convene a national assembly to address the crisis facing Catholicism in Ireland and to consider reforms.

Stressing “what we can’t afford to do is do nothing”, the APC, which represents 1,000 priests, says “it is clear to everyone, now, that we are at crisis point, entering a post-Catholic Ireland”.

In the open letter, posted on its website, the association says it believes the ‘key question’ is: will the Catholic Church become a culturally irrelevant minority, or can it take the road of renewal and reform that Pope Francis is pointing out, with space for open debate and consultation?

Will we take this path of synodality, which, he writes, God expects of the Church in the third millennium. In these critical times, we cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to the plea of Pope Francis.

The organisation says the downward momentum is obvious and “requires an immediate focus of resources and personnel on fundamental issues, as well as a level of seriousness that demands more than a formal ‘ticking of a box’.”

The letter, written by Fr Brendan Hoban, on behalf of the APC leadership, emphasises: “Unless we are prepared, as a Church, to face up to the compelling need to make difficult decisions, using the ‘synodal’ approach Pope Francis employs and recommends, then we will have missed the tide of the present moment, and our Church will become more and more peripheral in the lives of more and more Catholics and less and less credible in our society.”

The association urges the bishops “to convene a national assembly to discuss the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland”, adding that “all groups should be represented, included the disaffected and the young.

“In preparation for such a national event, individual dioceses could convene diocesan and parish assemblies. This is not a time for wringing our hands in frustration or sitting on our hands in despair.”

Since his election, Pope Francis has been championing synodal governance for the Church. He has revived the World Synod of Bishops and wants to move power out of Rome to national and regional bishops’ conferences. That’s one reason why he is being so strongly opposed at high levels in the Vatican.

A national assembly or synod, would be the ecclesiastical equivalent of a citizens’ assembly, though on a larger and more representative scale. The bishops may fear what it might recommend.

In an article in the current issue of The Furrow, written after the papal visit, and entitled ‘What Now?’, Fr Patrick Hannon, emeritus professor of moral theology at Maynooth, says the visit, “in all its variegated light and shadow, was a kairos”.

He goes on to say, “perhaps we should think of our time, the time in which we live, the infancy of a millennium, as the Kairos”.

Kairos is a Greek word, meaning the “right, critical, or opportune moment”.

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