IF YOU are a 'paid-up' member of a church does it ever cross your mind how appointments are made within the organisation? It's probably true to say that the majority of people who read this newspaper belong to one of the major Christian churches in Ireland. And I presume that the majority of people who read this column are Catholics.
So have you any idea how your parish priest is appointed? Have you any idea how your bishop is appointed? Do you think you should have a say? Do you feel you play an active and meaningful role in the church? Or should all that sort of 'stuff ' be left to the priests and bishops? Have you ever sat back and asked yourself what the word church means? These are some of the questions the new Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) is asking among its members.
The ACP held its first AGM two weeks ago in Dublin's Green Isle Hotel. Among those who spoke to the group was Monsignor Helmut Schüller, former vicar general of the diocese of Vienna, who is the leader of the Austrian Priests' Initiative. The Austrian priests are asking their bishops for a far more open and transparent church, where people and priests speak openly and honestly with one another. They are asking for a church which concentrates less on fear and more on trust in the Spirit and Word of God.
The Austrian priests have taken their case to Rome and at present there is type of stand-off between them and the Holy See. The Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, the Dominican Christoph Schönborn, has been critical of the group. But latest reports indicate that he is willing to sit down and talk to them.
The new ACP in Ireland has been set up in the context or background of all that has happened in the area of clerical child sex abuse. Priests have felt isolated and let down by church leadership. But there is also an underlying belief among many priests that church leadership is aloof from people and priests and indeed, after all the turmoil and talk, there is still a 'clerical elite' that rules from on high, far removed from the tone and spirit of what the Second Vatican Council intended.
Those of you who attend Mass will be aware that a new Missal is being introduced. On the first Sunday in Advent it will be fully in use in all dioceses in the country. The ACP at their AGM pointed out that the new Missal has been introduced with little or no consultation. They argue that a small conservative group within the Vatican has forced this new translation on us.
There certainly are many strange aspects to the new Missal. The Opening Prayer is now called the 'Collect' - a word that was used before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. A word that has no meaning for large numbers of people who attend Mass. So why use such a word? Many of the prayers have unwieldy sentences that are difficult to understand. And then there is the issue of exclusive language. Although the new Missal is supposed to be a considerable improvement on earlier translations as regards inclusive language, it is more than disappointing to find some changes, eg, 'for us men and our salvation' in the new version of the Nicene Creed.
Every baptised person is a member of the church and each one of us has a role to play in the church community. The mission of the church is to make God present in the world and surely that can only be done in the style and the language of the time.
Different groupings within the church might complain and fear that the church might be hijacked. But there is also always the worry that the church could so easily be hijacked by its own clerical class. As Christians we believe that the Spirit of God works in our church. Don't ever forget, the Spirit works in and through all of us. And we owe our loyalty to that Spirit of truth.