Promising in 1964 church structures through which lay people could communicate their pastoral needs – and if necessary their conscientious criticism – to their pastors, Article 37 of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium (see farthest below) was never implemented in Ireland. The disastrous scandals the Irish church has suffered since 1994 were therefore a result of organisational inertia since 1964 as well as the ‘cover up’ of clerical sexual abuse – and this problem lies at the root of the Irish church’s current deep crisis of priestly manpower also.
ACI is therefore committed to the full honouring of Lumen Gentium 37, and began a campaign in that cause in 2019. Below, with latest news at the top, and earliest steps at the base, is a dated list of steps taken so far.
With the Covid 19 pandemic now in 2020 accentuating a church crisis that was already ominous beforehand, ACI’s approach to the Irish Bishops’ Conference in October 2019 has been proven prophetic and timely. Facing the additional danger of a viral pandemic, we reminded the conference of our submissions in 2019 – and awaited a response.
When two bishops responded kindly in late October we took time to be sure that we could publish their letters without giving offence, and then did so on December 4th 2020. Our considered view of the prospects for a reversal of decline and for significant renewal were published at the same time.
- 10/03/2021 ACI welcomed the announcement by the Irish Bishops Conference of a synodal journey towards a national synodal assembly within five years. This had followed an earlier online meeting of some Irish bishops with Cardinal Mario Grech, General Secretary for the Rome Synod, to be centred on Synodality, in 2022. Cardinal Grech’s letter to Ireland’s bishops promoting this process in Ireland (Feb 3rd) supported so many of ACI’s own priorities and conclusions that we have a renewed sense of our own relevance. This earlier interview with Cardinal Grech, stressing a renewed emphasis on the centrality of the family in the role of faith formation, is also a vital asset for ACI.
- 04/12/2020 Following a response by two bishops to our 2019 Submissions the ACI Steering Group has concluded that the measures outlined by the bishops to address the challenges of co-responsibility, mission and synodality are unlikely in themselves to reverse the decline of the Catholic church in Ireland. All committed lay people need to be actively and prayerfully seeking a co-responsible role in renewal – not simply waiting for a co-responsible church to arrive by a process they are unable to influence themselves.
- 20/10/2020 In our continuing wait for the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference to move decisively toward lay co-responsibility in the Irish church, we find hope in the insight of the recently appointed Secretary of the Vatican Synod of bishops, Bishop Mario Grech:: “It is not the family that is subsidiary to the Church, but it is the Church that should be subsidiary to the family.” We look forward to the acceptance of this principle by the Irish Bishops Conference and the action needed to turn clerical rhetoric on the role of parents and the ‘domestic church’ into a vital programme of renewal at parish level.
- 24/09/2020 In the midst of a health crisis impacting especially on a gravely weakened clergy, ACI reminds Irish Conference of Bishops of our appeal in 2020 for the decisive action needed to overcome the obstacles to the full, committed collaboration of lay people in managing the crisis and then, renewing our church.
- 27/11/2019 A full report on ACI’s exploratory pilot study of lay involvement in the Irish church is now available. Our Press Release provides a link to this and calls upon the Irish Bishops Conference to determine, by an all-island survey, the full picture of lay co-responsibility in the Irish Church.
- 01/10/2019 Six members of the ACI steering group met with Bishop A Cullinan (of Waterford and Lismore) and D McKeown of Derry at the Columba Centre, Maynooth for a brief discussion of this endeavour. Click here for a report on this. Although the two bishops acknowledged the importance of the issue of lay involvement they could give us no assurance that the problem could be solved simply on the authority of bishops, leaving us with a sense of an Irish church in genuine crisis on this issue.
- 10/09/2019 To explain this campaign to the Irish Bishops’ Conference the steering group wrote to its episcopal secretary, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, enclosing documents relating to the realisation of the importance of the common priesthood of the people of God in renewing the church. These can be viewed here.
- 08/2019 Concerned by a preliminary overview of the returns from ACI members of answers to an ACI questionnaire on lay involvement in the life of Irish parishes, and especially by the situation in his own parish of St John’s, Coleraine, Diocese of Derry – ACI steering group member Sean O’Conaill produced a short video on this in August 2019, ‘The Laity Have the Right …‘, now published on YouTube. The ACI steering group then decided to make this video the centre-point of a plan to hold a brief Convocation at Maynooth College on October 1st, 2019 – to emphasise to the coinciding Autumn meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference the crucial need to honour Vatican II intentions for the laity – and especially the right of the Irish laity to ‘institutions’ established for the purpose of proper communication between people and clergy, as affirmed by Article 37 of the Vatican II document ‘Lumen Gentium‘.
Lumen Gentium Article 37 (1964)
Like all Christians, the laity have the right to receive in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially that of the word of God and the sacraments from the pastors.
To the latter the laity should disclose their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ.
By reason of the knowledge, competence or pre‑eminence which they have the laity are empowered ‑ indeed sometimes obliged ‑ to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church.
…through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose …