ACI to Irish Conference of Bishops – Urgent

Sep 24, 2020 | 5 comments

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly
Episcopal Secretary
The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference
Columba Centre
Co. Kildare

15th September, 2020

Dear Archbishop O’Reilly,

These are very difficult times for the Irish Catholic Church and have been greatly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the submission of the Association of Catholics to the ICBC on 1 October 2019, the participation and contribution of the laity has been crucial in the reopening of the churches and the continuation of essential parish services.

The recognition of the contribution of the laity and the right of access to structures enabling participation of the people of God in the work of the Church becomes increasingly important on a daily basis.

  • “The pandemic has given us, as a faith community, a look into the future and an insight into our precarious position as church. This crisis is a moment of opportunity to stop and engage in reflection ‘before God and with God’ and to continue the reform that Pope Francis knows is necessary. If we fail to respond then those who seek might just move on and leave us in our empty churches.”
    Bishop Michael Router, Archdiocese of Armagh, The Irish Times 1/9/2020.•
  • “The Catholic Church in Ireland is living through a vocations ‘pandemic’ which will see more new bishops ordained this year than new priests. Priests are ‘blue in the face’ talking about the vocations crisis and it is now time to stop ‘wishing that we could go back to the way things were in the past’. That Church is gone. That institution is no longer relevant for the vast majority, nor does it fit into the contemporary culture where we need to be present. What is needed is a debate on the wider issues such as ‘how can we supply ministry when it is no longer possible to provide clergy’.
    Fr. Paddy Byrne PP Abbeyleix & Ballyroan, The Tablet 18.8.2020.
  • “The pandemic, in many aspects of Catholic life, has brought into sight a range of difficult decisions, that heretofore were casually placed on the back boiler by the ‘It’ll-do-in-my-time’ brigade. We are now left with leading questions for Catholics: what will the Catholic Church in Ireland be like after the pandemic? And what do we need to do now to prepare for it?”
    Fr. Brendan Hoban, The Western People 1.9.2020
  • The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland has declared that given the difficulties and many rules involved in opening churches for Mass and keeping congregations safe, this is an unbearable responsibility for too many priests. In some cases the ACP says that priests are being ‘manipulated’ and ‘bullied’ into assuming a responsibility that is simply unfair. Instead, it argues, this responsibility should be given to Parish Pastoral Councils or ‘a designated Parish Committee’. 18.6.2020
  • “Dublin Diocese has announced that it is looking for one third of its 82 lay staff to take redundancies. Among those asked to consider redundancy are parish pastoral workers. Apart from streamed Mass, the Church as we know it had essentially been cocooned. Some lucky parishes had parish pastoral workers, laity, who also tried to keep the parishes alive with online ministry to the most vulnerable while the churches were out of service along with many older clergy. The parishes were closed, but the parishes were very much alive and open because of the lay people and able clergy in the church and elsewhere keeping them going. We mightn’t like it but it’s the stark truth and drastic times are ahead for the Dublin Diocese. The past three months have offered a glimpse into the future. It’s time for a Diocesan Synod to be held while there still is a diocese. Laity and clergy need to stand up and make their voices heard.”
    The Irish Catholic 9.7.2020

If ever there was a time for the People of God to be allowed to play their rightful part in the church and for the structures, called for in Lumen Gentium 37, be set up to enable them do so, it is now. A parish pastoral council is a minimum requirement to organise and carry out a limited Mass schedule under the pandemic regulations. Our organisation, the Association of Catholics in Ireland, carried out a pilot research study which suggested that less than one fifth of parishes had effective working PPCs. A copy of this study has been given to the ICBC. In parishes without PPCs, public worship is being made possible by a small number of dedicated people.

Last October we made a submission on the Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church, through you, to the Episcopal Conference and met with Bishops McKeown and Cullinane at Maynooth.

We have not received an acknowledgement of the submission, nor have reports of the Episcopal meetings contained reference to its contents.

In view of the dramatically changed situation since last October, we request that the October 2020 meeting of the ICBC consider:

  1. Carry out research to establish the situation in every parish to inform future strategy for the renewal of our church in Ireland.
  2. Organise Diocesan Assemblies which would have the critical objective of identifying how real and meaningful lay representation at parish and diocesan level can be most effectively achieved.
  3. Establish in every parish a new model of parish pastoral council which obliges both clergy and lay members appointed/elected to be accountable to the broader parish community.
  4. Set up Diocesan Pastoral Councils in each diocese, whose members are accountable to the broader diocesan community.
  5. Train and support parish pastoral workers in each parish.
  6. Establish technology training and support service to parishes in each Diocese to enhance communications and outreach.

A copy of the ACI submission of 1 Oct 2019 is attached for your information.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) Anthony Neville

Chair, Association of Catholics in Ireland

ACI Submission to Irish Bishops’ Conference 1st Oct, 2019


  1. AIDAN

    A comprehensive, very relevant and tactful letter. Well done Anthony. I trust it meets with success.

  2. Mark maguire

    It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be pastors and teachers, some to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4:11-12

    In all honesty and also in humility we all, clergy and laity should place ourselves in the presence of our Lord as individuals, heart to heart and ask ourselves this question:

    “Where does my fidelity belong? Is it 100% to you Lord who has entrusted your Church, Our Church to the succession of Simon Peter, Pope Francis to lead under the guidance of the Holy spirit, your Spirit to shine your light as a beacon of hope for all to see in modern day culture /society?”

    All must be open and Faithful to Jesus in trusting Pope Francis who is guided by the Holy spirit. Christ’s Spirit. For it is not Pope Francis’s plan nor our plan but God’s plan.

    • soconaill

      You ask the right question for us, Mark. What indeed has top priority for us just now – when leaving-it-all to the ordained priest to shoulder responsibility has obviously failed as a missionary model?


    Mark, because Jesus the Christ appointed Peter and his successors to lead His Church, doesn’t necessarily mean that all leadership roles in the Church below the rank of Peter have to be occupied by a cleric. Since Peter was a married man one could ask if it is then necessary for his successors to be celibate clerics.

    Parish clergy are not trained as financial experts, building experts, experts on the management of primary and secondary schools, experts in people management, experts on community building etc. etc. so why do so many parish clergy feel they must be the ones to fill all these leadership roles, especially when some lay members of the parish may have that qualification, expertise and experience or are willing to obtain it.

    Not only does the current model of clerical leadership disempower, ostracise and frustrate many laity, it also limits what is being done in parishes to what parish priests feel they have the time, energy and interest in doing, which may be a far cry from what parishes needs, especially in a time of seriously declining vocations to the diocesan priesthood and lay membership of the Church.

    • Mark maguire

      Aidan, I couldn’t agree more with you. I was using the above piece of scripture as an example of a theological foundation for collaboration as a model of ministry. Collaborative ministry is the identification, release and union of all the gifts in the Christian community. The goal of collaboration is the extent that it furthers the reign of God. 100% of people of God are both gifted and called.


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