Meeting of members of the Steering Group of the Association of Catholics in Ireland
with Dr. D. McKeown, Bishop of Derry and Dr. A. Cullinan, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore
Re Lumen Gentium Article 37, on 1st October 2019.
A delegation consisting of six members of the ACI Steering Group met with Bishop McKeown and Bishop Cullinan at the Columba Centre, Maynooth College, on Tuesday 1st October 2019.
The meeting coincided with the Autumn meeting of the ICBC and was requested by the ACI to emphasise the urgent need for the recognition and full implementation of the rights and structures envisioned in Lumen Gentium 37. The request focused in particular on the establishment and effective working of Parish Pastoral Councils in fulfilling their role of enabling active and meaningful lay involvement in the life of the parish and diocese.
Summary of Discussion
- The meeting, which lasted approximately thirty minutes, opened with a statement by the Steering Group Chairperson, Anthony Neville, outlining the background to the ACI request for the full implementation of Lumen Gentium 37.
- Sean O’Conaill then described the specific circumstances prevailing in the parish of St. John’s in Coleraine where the absence of a Parish Pastoral Council precluded parishioners from participating in and supporting Bishop McKeown’s Diocesan Pastoral Plan, ‘God is Love’, launched in 2018. Sean referred to his short video, ‘The Laity Have a Right‘, which vividly illustrates the vacuum created in St. John’s Parish, Coleraine, as a result of the Parish Priest’s decision to stand down the Pastoral Council in June 2018 and the failure to establish a new council since June 2018.
- Reference was then made to the Exploratory Pilot Study on ‘Lay Involvement’ recently conducted by the ACI across thirty-six parishes throughout the country [North and South of the Border] and how the initial findings in this study indicate that in some cases Parish Pastoral Councils are either not established at all or are not working as intended to provide an appropriate means through which the baptised lay faithful can effectively contribute to the spiritual life and development of the parish. The delegation advised the bishops that the findings of the Exploratory Pilot Study are being analysed at present and that a copy of the final report on the study will be forwarded to the ICBC in due course.
- A question was raised by the ACI delegation as to whether the Parish Pastoral Council model as originally envisaged after Vatican II is an appropriate one to deal with the extremely changed and challenging circumstances the church is operating in at present time. Is it time for a new and more radical approach to encourage the desired level of lay engagement in the life of the parish and the diocese?
The bishops extended a most cordial welcome to the ACI delegation and engaged fully in the discussion on the issues raised. While acknowledging the reality of the obstacles in the way of achieving the ideal level of lay participation there was broad agreement on the part of the bishops with the points made by the ACI delegation and an acceptance that the building of any new model of church in the future will require real and effective engagement by the lay faithful if this effort is to succeed. As it is far from clear at this stage how exactly, and by what agency, the rights of laity as summarised in Lumen Gentium 37 are to be secured – and the brief Oct 1st 2019 meeting did not permit an extended discussion of that question – we hope that this issue will be recognised and remembered as a priority item on the agenda for future discussion of reform.
[A report on ACI’s Exploratory Pilot Study of Lay Involvement in Parish Activity – based on returns relating to thirty six parishes across the Irish Church – is available here.]
Well done to the ACI delegation meeting with the bishops.
As a former member and supporter of parish pastoral councils, one observation I would make is that, no matter how widespread, important, dynamic, or effective the parish pastoral councils are, until they organically link with the higher(wider) diocesan and national structures, then there will be no real lay penetration of the very real clerical glass ceiling.
A first practical step in moving beyond this would be the establishment in every diocese, of an ANNUAL CONFERENCE for parish pastoral councils INCLUDING their clerical members. The remit of these councils would be (1) provide an opportunity for theological and pastoral envisioning and updating,(2) the ELECTION of a diocesan pastoral council from among the lay pastoral council delegates at the conference.
(3) give due recognition to the office of pastoral council members who are there exercising a ministry in their own right and not just ‘helping’ the priest with his.
A diocesan pastoral council elected from already trusted parishioners would give parishioners generally a sense of ownership of the council and would provide the bishop with a new connection with lay leadership within his diocese and a channel to hear the real life concerns of parishioners on the ground.
As of now, the meetings most if not all bishops have with pastoral council lay leadership in parishes is none. And the only regular connection with parishioners in general is meeting with children on confirmation day. Not quite the synodality envised by Lumen Gentium Article 37.
I acknowledge that the likelihood of such a development in the near future is unlikely as the tight grip of clericalism on the structures of the church will not allow for free lay voices (with no careers at stake) into the corridors of power.
It can however allow for the fish to do cartwheels if they wish in their parish goldfish bowls. The ocean of the wider, global church is out of bounds – for now.
Martin your clear piece sums up the current unsatisfactory situation where interaction by bishops with parishes is visible only at the level of Confirmation ceremony appearances with encouraging words to children and their parents while many Parish Priests ignore the model of Parish pastoral councils.An urgent diocesan council of councils which work into a full national synod version is imperative, accompanied by the beginning of the end to clericalism replaced by a real sharing of the decision making process among all the baptised both lay and ordained.
It is unacceptable that in the largest diocese in the country, Dublin, with 199 parishes, some are without parish pastoral councils, many without effective functioning ppcs and there is no diocesean pastoral council, despite it being talked about for many years.
Pascal and Anthony – I couldn’t agree more. A few years of a mandatory annual conference of pastoral councils in a diocese would soon have parishioners in parishes without a pastoral council asking their priest why their parish isn’t on board and being left behind.