Our keynote speaker at the recent meeting of diocesan representatives of ACTA was Fr Daniel O’Leary. It was indeed an inspirational talk.

He has now written up that presentation for publication under the title “Courageous Conversations” for the Irish Journal ‘The Furrow’

As it is not yet in the public domain, we are not in a position to publish it through our ACTA network in full. However Daniel has given us permission to offer extracts that might give some flavour of the direction of his thought to all of us.

This I have done and Daniel is happy that this précis is circulated.
Having read the entire article I would urge everyone to read it in full when it is published. It is a powerful statement of our need to take our responsibility for belonging to the Church seriously.

Paper extracts follow.

Many feel deeply about the injustices of past dismissive and prejudiced decisions by various hierarchies, the unnecessary suffering put on so many of God’s People – and they do not want to be forever complicit in those decisions. There are, then, many people with much anger in them, even much rage. This is only too understandable. Jesus was often that way too. His anger was a very a fierce one, a very justifiable one – and a very human one.

Jesus showed no undue loyalty to his Jewish religion. He radically critiqued it and warned people against having an idolatrous relationship with it. It did not seem to assume for him the huge presence it does for us. Our allegiance is to the Lord of truth first, and then to his well-intentioned but flawed and sinful institution. How do we give witness to that allegiance? How can we be Church in the way we long for?

Pope Francis’ strategy is worth noting. In his immense courage and inner authority is he showing us a kind of Third Way? Is he dismantling the Roman Curia, not by attacking it verbally, but by doing things differently – e.g. appointing a team of eight Cardinals to share with. ‘Do not domesticate the Holy Spirit,’ he repeated; ‘It is pushing the Church; it is pushing us’. Only fools resist the Holy Spirit, he said, and only hypocrites (law-obsessed priests) deny that Spirit to the needy on the grounds of ecclesiastical regulations. He warned that ‘A self-referential Church with a spiritual worldliness, a stubborn self-assurance and a narcissistic theology will always be a bad leader’. Referring to the curse of clericalism he spoke of the peacock, so impressive from the front but not so captivating from the back! This is our Pope speaking!

What might a way forward look like? The best critique of the old and inadequate is the pursuit of the good; to make the new happen. The best way to make one’s point is to live the renewed way; to provide an example of the better option. Daniel Berrigan said ‘The best way to make the future different is to live the present differently’. To meet in love and mutual support, to develop a life-style and communication, to pursue the Gospel ideals, to grow a permanence and a commitment that is simply an example of how things could be done. This seems to be the Third Way that Pope Francis is setting about his call to action in his efforts to purify the institution, and to have courageous conversations with the Vatican Curia.

There is a lot of excitement and expectancy, possibility and power within the ACTA groups. Already a change in the meaning of ‘being Church’ is emerging through our welcoming, listening and mutual respecting, bringing much needed healing, sustaining and new life to many. And those hurting, needy, disillusioned people will continue to come to us, with others, when the word gets round. That might be the shape of a Third Way. Not dominated by, or confined to parish boundaries or clergy or splinter-lay-groups, the potential expansion of the vineyard is great. Patience and trust, transparency and openness, and a selfless commitment to the universal good will bring a huge harvest. Because bishops will trust us, not when we please and cosy up to them, but when we courageously speak the truth to them, clearly, honestly, professionally and compassionately.

There just is a need for a formation of all of us, maybe especially the priests, as many of the groups have articulated. In our ranks there are many people well-versed in theology, in the history of the Church, and well skilled and wise in dealings with all kinds of situations – domestic, parochial, inter-faith. To encourage and empower such people, the releasing of their gifts must be one of the first steps on our journey. It would not be the first time that the sensus fidelium, the graced common-sense of people, saved the Church. When it comes to modelling the Church we wish to create, we priests have so much to learn.

Courageous, creative, collaborative and compassionate formation for lay adults is one of the most requested ways forward at our diocesan ACTA meetings - a plea for respect, humility and trust, as our common baptism, priesthood and prophetic gifts are shared in mutual empowerment. A relevant theological underpinning is repeatedly requested for parishioners and priests, and the nourishment to grow spiritually while preparing for a deep commitment to a long haul – a vital nourishment too long denied to them.

These quotations are extracts from a 3,500 word paper and so inevitably tell only part of the story, but it is an encouraging story that asks all of us to recognise we are on a journey and at times that journey will have its difficulties, problems and pains.

He mentioned three working papers of the Bishops’ Conference that he felt were seminal to our discussions – The Easter People, The Sign we Give , On The Threshold and On the Way to Life

When the complete Paper in published, I will make sure that details are circulated.

In the meantime, may I express my thanks to Fr Daniel for being with us in Leeds and for giving his permission for me to circulate the extracts quoted above.

Chris McDonnell

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