Following a cup of tea an opening prayer was said remembering those who died, were injured and suffered trauma in Paris and Brussels. We also remembered our member Kevin O’Flaherty who died recently.
The Isolation of Priests.
This proved to be an interesting and important topic for our meeting with a wide ranging discussion on the causes, realities and possible ways forward in this aspect of Catholic life today. We were fortunate to have representatives of all the People of God at the meeting – lay, religious and priests.
A number of causes were identified including:
The transition from the seminary on ordination of the diocesan priest involves leaving colleagues and friends and communal living to often living on one’s own particularly later in life. It was noted that this problem wasn’t necessarily helped by the recommendation of the 2011 Apostolic Visitation that seminary buildings be exclusively for seminarians to ensure a well founded priestly identity.
The sensitivity of interacting too much and too closely with a small number of people in the parish, the gender boundaries and the continuing effect of the abuse scandals. It is sometimes easier for a priest to have a close friendships outside his parish.
The regular transfer of priests can make it more difficult to make long term social relationships.
The challenge for missionaries returning to a culture, practice and structure of church very different to that experienced abroad.
The dress of priests and religious has also undergone a significant change which reduced the general visability of clergy and religious in the community. It was recognised that dress does influence how people are perceived and in this there has been a general societal change.
The greater tendency for men, particularly as they get older, to become more aloof from society than women. The growth and success of the Men’s Sheds movement has highlighted this problem.
The position of the priest in Irish society has been transformed since many serving priests were ordained. The priest in the past had a much different status due their prominent functional role in many areas of community life. The church and state were also much closer aligned.
The average age of priests in Ireland today is 65.
Because the numbers are declining it has been necessary for many priests to continue to work in retirement and even then the workload for the average priest has increased significantly.
Funerals can be a particular challenge for individual priests as the number of funerals hasn’t decreased like other religious events – processions, confessions, number of masses, mass in the homes, benediction, etc.
Possible ways forward
The recognition by the laity of the priest’s danger of isolation. The invitation of clergy to homes again. Clergy are often either too busy or reluctant to take the initiative to make a visit.
The involvement of willing laity in religious ceremony. Prayer services, Communion distribution, funerals where necessary, administrative work, etc
The recognition that the priests, bishops and religious are also the People of God.
The breaking down of the barrier between altar and people during religious ceremony. Priests sometimes even read the Prayers of the Faithful.
It was agreed that the danger of priest’s isolation in the community has many causes. It reflects a chasm between priest, bishop and laity. Its resolution is the responsibility and requires initiatives by all the People of God.
The Lectio Divina series will continue on a monthly basis in the Portacabin with the next session on Thursday 7th April at 7.30 p.m.
Next meeting will be on Wednesday April 27th at 8.00 p.m.