Some personal reflections after the event
1. As there were so many other representatives from our group at Leeds and because I could see that some of them seemed to be taking detailed notes, I did not take any notes myself. These reflections are made almost a week after we got home. They are not a record of the event.
2. Inevitably in a movement that is still relatively new, there are teething troubles in developing a way of working and some will feel frustrated at what may seem slow progress. However, I think considerable progress has been made since the movement began with a letter in a weekly journal signed by seven people. The leaders of the movement are not professionals (in this role); they are committed and in some cases very busy people. The shadow side of their avoiding being prescriptive, over-directive and unduly centralising - which the movement itself is against, wanting more room at local levels for initiative and creativity matched more closely to people’s needs and priorities – is that there has been some drift and space for momentum from ‘below’.
3. As ever with ACTA, I was impressed by the level of spiritual maturity of people gathered.
4. My hope is that, in the long run, we do not need ACTA any more; I look forward to the day when it is redundant because it has succeeded in becoming mainstream, and done enough to ensure that a healthy climate for communication in the church has been developed, in terms of relationships, atmosphere and structures where there can be healthy, honest, respectful and reciprocal dialogue between laity, clergy, religious and laity. I suspect that we have yet to draw sufficiently on the potential role that religious can play in the movement and what the wider church can learn from best practice among many religious orders/congregations.
5. I was disappointed that the two main issues put forward by our group for discussion at the event did not get more explicit time and attention; I was expecting that what each group had proposed as key items would form much more of the agenda than turned out to be the case. I still feel that, having asked each group to identify what they wanted to be taken forward – and given that the notes we had received in advance indicated a very high degree of common feeling about many of the issues put forward – the issues themselves should have received direct attention. For example our two main issues, selection of bishops and addressing the lamentable translation of the missal, can only be addressed at national level, not at the diocesan level. Neither should be ducked.
6. By the end it was clear that the current arrangements for organising and coordinating the movement at national level are hit-and-miss at best and in need of overhauling. I do not attach blame here to any party; by the nature of the movement, some members might have resented being ‘driven’ more strongly and more efficiently by the core group, while others are currently frustrated at incoherence and amateurishness. There is a growing awareness that this should be addressed.
7. There is a clear need for a press officer; almost definitely this would have to be part-time. At the moment the movement’s message is not getting across to all the places it needs to be conveyed.
8. It is always good to find oneself surrounded by people who think much the same as oneself, especially if too often one’s experience is of being isolated, treated as ‘off-the-wall’, disloyal, over-critical, idealistic, or some other form of marginalisation. However, such comfort, though welcome (and often personally necessary for healing and rebuilding confidence), is also potentially dangerous in that – in talking strongly among ourselves (safe at last to do so), we may give insufficient attention to engaging in dialogue with those who differ from us, slip into being self-righteous, and restrict ourselves to a role on the edge of the church by confirming people’s prejudices about us.
9. Cracks in the firm line taken by the bishops during the past papacy of JPII and BXVI are beginning to show. It is vital that we encourage/invite/persuade some bishops to meet with us and to engage in dialogue; some will do so willingly and genuinely and with open hearts; some of the others will be shamed into doing so, especially when they see that some of their brother bishops are doing so (and not getting into trouble for it); others will be more ideologically resistant until forced to do so.
10. I suggested that, if the desire for dialogue (as described above) is at the heart of what we want (and this dialogue is in aid of the development of discipleship among all members of the church, discipleship that is mature, responsible, owned, confident, loving, honest and open), there seemed to be three dimensions to ACTA’s contribution. One is therapeutic/listening: people will need, for some time to come, safe spaces to sound off about the wounds they have experienced at the hands of the church and its leaders; with, we hope, new members, this will need to be an on-going aspect of the movement; only with this aspect secure can there be healing and progress. Second, there needs to be ongoing formation and education (theological and spiritual) if we are to tell a coherent and compelling story and help with re-envisaging how the church can be true to its mission; there is a need for information and deepening of our understanding. Third, there needs to attention given to the structural and political dimension of the church; current structures impede open communication and sharing of perspectives and promote the abuse of authority, thereby undermining how the Gospel is communicated within and beyond the church. Perhaps each group should have these three dimensions as standing items on their agenda – to keep the group’s work in balance?
11. For some people, ACTA’s name itself is a problem, for various reasons. For myself, I would prefer it if we were called A Call to Dialogue, but I am not crusading for this.
12. There is to be a full national meeting on Saturday 26th October, place still to be decided.
John Sullivan, 14th May 2013.