Priest Body Told to Shun the Clerical Mindset

By Patsy Mcgarry
Irish Times
September 14, 2010

CATHOLIC PRIESTS who gather to form a new association in Portlaoise tomorrow are advised that their first priority should be to challenge the clerical mindset. They should also beware of “slow death” by conformity.

Dublin priest Fr Alan Hilliard, based at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, said the new association should be organised around the five governance principles of the UN development programme.

These were “legitimacy and voice, direction, performance, accountability and fairness”.

They guided “how decisions are made, how respectful the organisation is towards its stakeholders and the levels of transparency, efficiency and effectiveness that permeate the organisation,” he told The Irish Times.

Fr Hilliard was convenor of a subcommittee of Dublin’s Council of Priests which in a 1996 survey of priests found that the greatest source of stress in their lives was the “general church leadership”.

Second was “clergy scandals” followed by “taking up new appointments” and “management of schools”. The image of the church and the media ranked fifth and sixth respectively, while celibacy ranked 11th.

The survey was conducted between February and June 1996.

It also found that the priests strongly believed there should be greater involvement of laity in the church with much more emphasis on involving women “in all aspects of responsibility” in the church.

Responding to the survey findings, then archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell said he would be “attending carefully” to what the priests saw “as desirable in the shaping of diocesan policy”.

June 1998 was set as a deadline for implementation of relevant measures following the survey’s findings.

Last December, following publication of the Murphy report, Fr Hilliard disclosed that he had unknowingly shared a parish house with a priest abuser, although the Dublin archdiocese was then well aware of the other priest’s history.

He recalled: “I was ordained in June, was appointed [to the parish] in August, he [abuser priest] moved in in November.”

Fr Hilliard was told nothing. Since he had found out about the other priest’s history he has wondered “what has kept me going”.

Yesterday Fr Hilliard said the challenge for the new priests’ association “is to be different”. It must “ensure that it breaks out of a clerical mindset before it sets about making plans for its future” and avoid falling “into a pattern of behaviour that replicates the inadequate structures that have created many of the problems we encounter today”.

An organisation “cannot set about making an impact unless it ‘values its values’ . . . Values are the means, as they determine not only what one does but how business is done”, he said.

The church had lost credibility “because the crisis in child abuse has revealed an organisation that appears to be out of touch with its core values”, he said.

Tomorrow’s meeting of priests provided “an opportunity to address issues that are of significance to the entire family of the church,” he said.


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