Dublin, Ireland, Dec 3, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Irish organization Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has written an open letter to the country’s bishops, requesting a national assembly to discuss potential reforms to the Church.
“It is clear to everyone, now, that we are at crisis point, entering a post-Catholic Ireland,” reads the November letter, which also served as a recap of the August papal visit to the country. The letter was written by Fr. Brendan Hoban, on behalf of the leadership of the association.
“In these critical times we cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to the plea of Pope Francis” for a more synodal Church, wrote Hoban.
The ACP represents about 1,000 priests, who do not have to live or work in Ireland. Their constitution places a special emphasis on “the primacy of the individual conscience” and “re-structuring of the governing system of the Church” to create “a culture of consultation and transparency, particularly in the appointment of Church leaders.”
The letter expressed regret that the papal visit had been “dominated” by a focus on sexual abuse. Hours before the papal Mass in Dublin, former Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Vigano released an explosive letter calling for Pope Francis’ resignation over his handling of the crisis surrounding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
Pope Francis also used the occasion of his trip to issue another apology for the various Church scandals in Ireland, including those related to the running of care homes for unwed mothers.
The letter highlighted “the lack of engagement of so many Catholics with the visit,” calling it proof that the Church is becoming a “culturally irrelevant minority” in the country. To combat this, the ACP has called for the Church to “take the road of renewal and reform” suggested by Pope Francis. This road will include “space for open debate and consultation.”
In order to do this, the letter suggests using the “synodal” approach favored by Pope Francis to “face up to the compelling need to make difficult decisions.” Failure to do this, the letter explains, means that the Irish Church will have “missed the tide of the present moment” and the Church’s influence in society will continue to flounder.
During the recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, in October, there was an increased discussion of the concept of synodality and how the Church might function in a more collaborative manner.
According to Hoban the bishops of Ireland should “convene a national assembly” including lay people, to discuss the “reform and renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland.” The letter suggests that dioceses could convene their own assemblies in preparation for the national event.
Speaking in October, Dr. Jessica Murdoch, associate professor of fundamental and dogmatic theology at Villanova University, told CNA that synodality is a rich concept with a long history in the Church.
“Synodality as a concept really just means collegiality. It is the way in which the different parts of the Church come together as the mystical Body of Christ,” she said, while warning that the term was prone to misinterpretation.
“The risk is that in coming together we get a flattening of the Church, with every member of the body acting like it is the same,” Murdoch told CNA.
“There is an immense richness in the diversity of charisms in the Church, and each part has its own proper role. But when everyone is trying to do everyone else’s job, not only do we lose that richness the body cannot function properly.”
“A wrong understanding of synodality flattens the divinely instituted hierarchical order into a majoritarian mass. The collective wisdom and perspective of the bishops, and of others in the Church, can certainly be an important tool, but it has definite limits,” Murdoch added.
The Association of Catholic Priests was founded in 2010. In 2013, one of its founders, Fr Tony Flannery, was banned from public ministry by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his views on the nature of the sacramental priesthood and for questioning the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. Flannery seemed to flout this restriction in January, 2017, saying a pubic Mass in front of a crowd of 800 in County Galway, Ireland.