Bishops reject ACP’s call for married priests

Hierarchy defends new Roman Missal

By Paul Keenan and Mags Gargan

Irish Church leaders have rejected as “not feasible” a call from a group of priests to ordain married men and make celibacy optional. The Irish hierarchy also rejected a call from the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) that women should be ordained deacons.

The ACP, which represents between 20%-25% of Irish priests, described as “disappointing and disheartening” the bishops’ response.

However, theologian Dr John Murray described the ACP as “very much at loggerheads with key elements of Catholicism.

“Certain aspects of the Church are open for discussion, for example the appointment of bishops, but others are more central to the teachings of the Church and these are non-negotiable,” Dr Murray, a lecturer at Dublin’s Mater Dei Institute told The Irish Catholic.

ACP members met with representatives of the bishops’ conference last month and, as well as a call to drop mandatory celibacy and admit women to the permanent diaconate, the group criticised the translation of the Roman Missal and urged the bishops to ask the Pope to change this.

Now, in a written response signed by Raphoe Bishop Philip Boyce, the hierarchy accepted unease and unhappiness about the Missal, but also affirmed that the translation “expresses accurately the faith of the Church”.

Fr Gerard Alwill, one of the leaders of the ACP, told The Irish Catholic that he was disappointed with the response “which seems to indicate no change on any of the issues that we raised”.

Fr Alwill told The Irish Catholic that the ACP appreciated that “certain issues are outside of the control of the Irish bishops, such as ordaining women to the priesthood, but our point on the missal would be backed up by a recent survey that showed 80% of priests in Ireland would like some kind of review”.

He insisted that “the ACP doesn’t represent every priest in the country but when we speak on certain topics such as a priest’s workload because of declining numbers and clustering of parishes, we speak for a large number of priests”.

Bishop Boyce (pictured) says that the bishops are “keenly aware of the difficult situation” in relation to vocations. However, he insisted that priests must “play their part in promoting vocations, often by the simple posing of a question to someone they think suitable for the priesthood”.

The hierarchy reaffirmed the Church’s tradition that priestly celibacy is mandatory, dismissing the ACP suggestion on married priests as “not feasible”. The bishops also insisted that admission to the diaconate is “reserved to men”.

Dr Boyce acknowledged “general agreement” among the bishops that “the revised translation of the Roman Missal is not as easily proclaimed as the 1973 translation”. However, he insisted that it “is more faithful to the original Latin”.


“To change this translation would require the agreement of all 11 English-speaking Episcopal Conferences,” he said.

Fr Alwill said “a lot of priests are finding the new missal very difficult and I had hoped for a more positive response from the bishops”.

He said “the response from the bishops shows a lack of leadership or lack of imagination.”

Dr Murray believes that the bishops should be “more open and forthright with the ACP on what is acceptable and not acceptable [in terms of discussion and debate]…Bishops need to be forthright while acknowledging there are areas open to dialogue”.

He insisted that some of the issues raised by the ACP “are real”.

“It has to be acknowledged there is a genuine good faith and genuine concern on the part of the ACP, there is a vocations crisis,” Dr Murray said. However, he said “we have an issue of dissent which is not going away. It needs to be sorted, discussed.

“Silence will not sort it out,” Dr Murray said.

He said that Church leaders have to become more assertive in promoting the Church’s teaching. “Liberal approaches are evident in diminishing churches and elderly members. That leads to a question on the approach of the ACP, is it effective? Or will it water down the Faith and make it less attractive?” Dr Murray said.