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 nearing completion and will be published here soon. This too will be forwarded to the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference – trusting in the interest of the ICBC in this vital question, and in whether pastoral councils, as currently constituted and empowered in canon law, can be relied upon to ensure the level of lay involvement and open dialogue envisaged by Lumen Gentium Article 37 in 1964.]