Association of Catholics in Ireland: Starting a National Conversation Saturday 11 October

aci logoThe Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) is organising a meeting this Saturday, 11 October, titled ‘Starting a National Conversation.’ The conversation will focus on ‘The Church, the Family and Society in the 21st Century,’ picking up on themes currently being addressed at the Vatican’s Synod on Family Life (5-19 October).

The keynote speakers are Mark Patrick Hederman, the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, and Prof Siobhan Garrigan, the Loyola Chair of Catholic Theology at Trinity College Dublin.

The conversation will run from 10.30 am-4.00 pm at Dublin’s Regency Hotel. It builds on a similar event held in 2012, ‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church,’ which was organised by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). Attendance is free but registration is required as the event two years ago was oversubscribed.

It could be said that the meeting reflects something of a ferment among the grassroots in the Irish Catholic Church, as embodied by organisations such as ACI, ACP, We are Church, and the small group of women in Co. Clare whose activism recently convinced their Bishop to delay the introduction of the male-only permanent diaconate.

Writing in the Western People, Fr Brendan Hoban of the ACP observed that in the Irish Catholic Church, the laity often seem left out of the conversation. The failure to engage with the laity can even be contrasted to the ongoing synod in Rome, where 200 bishops are being joined by lay Catholics to debate abortion, contraception, homosexuality and divorce. But Ireland sent only an archbishop and a nun to the synod. Hoban wrote:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that at present we’re witnessing a civil war in the Catholic Church. And the first battle will be fought at the Synod on the Family from the 5-19 October. On the one side are those who, like Francis, recognise that the expected reforms emanating from the Second Vatican Council were deprived of oxygen during the last two pontificates, and that our Church needs a rediscovery of fundamental insights of that Council like collegiality, the rights of the baptised and not least the primacy of conscience. And on the other are those like Cardinal Raymond Burke who were more comfortable with the more authoritarian style of John Paul II and the focus on tradition that marked the approach of Benedict XVI – including a return to the Latin Mass and the Latinate form of the new Mass.

… As I understand it, Ireland will be represented at the synod in Rome by an archbishop and a nun. In a way no more needs to be said about the response of the Irish Church. While both may well be up to speed on the realities of marriage and family life in Ireland today, neither is married or has children so the signals are all wrong. Isn’t it inexpressibly sad for our Church that there was in Ireland no one the Irish bishops could find to trust who was married and had children?

Those organising and attending Saturday’s conversation at the Regency Hotel may be heartened that the voice of the laity seems to have been heeded in Killaloe Diocese on the issue of the male-only permanent diaconate. A core group of six women organised a protest meeting attended by about 200 people, where it was pointed out that inviting only men to the permanent diaconate meant usurping much work that was ‘mainly done at present by women.’

Further discussion on women and the permanent diaconate will take place at a separate event, ‘Can Women’s Voices be Heard in Pope Francis’ Church?’, also on Saturday 11 October, at the McWilliam Park Hotel in Claremorris from 2.00-4.30 pm. Admission is free.

Kathleen McDonnell will address the issue, ‘Why Women felt compelled to speak out in Killaloe Diocese’ and will be followed by well-known Jesuit priest, Gerry O’Hanlon, on the topic, ‘Is Pope Francis willing to nurture an inclusive Church?

The ACI and We Are Church have also set up a short online survey on the diaconate, which takes about 3 minutes to complete.

Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at