Memo of Trustees Conversation – 23/10/14

Present: Evleen Mann, Ursula Morrissey, Kathleen McGhee, Terry McGrath, Jane Palmer, Richard Sloan, John Udris, John Wilson.

Purpose of our meeting – focus.

Describe the present situation with regard to priests and consider how the Dympna Centre (43 years on) might usefully respond.

Initial thoughts – concern about priests caught up in issues of Safeguarding. Those on administrative leave, who do not have accompaniment, support, a place to live, legal representation. We noted the levels of fear and anxiety in so many priests and bishops.

We are aware too that there are great differences in safeguarding practice from diocese to diocese and that where procedures are followed blindly there is often a lack of respect for the person.

We wondered about the impact of all this on priests – from fears of accusations to a breakdown of trust, to a lack of safety for priests who in turn become ‘victims’ of poor safeguarding practice.

We tried to think more deeply about this bad situation. What is it saying about us, about the Church? More widely, the dignity of a man who is a priest is not valued or respected in too many areas. People have expectations and fantasies about ‘the priest’ that cannot be met and prevent a priest being seen as a man. An almost ritual purity/perfection is expected of the priest and the Church.

The Shadow or dak side of humanity is easily represented by sexuality. We wondered too about a culture of narcissism in which there is no compassion, no middle ground. It does not allow priests to be men but treats them as objects. Clerics are not allowed to be vulnerable.

Priests can so easily become an object of anger, disappointment, hatred even. Many priests, nonetheless, cope well and flourish especially if they have a sense of purpose, a faith life, good relationships and some recognition or affirmation of their work. Others can be isolated, criticised, unheard, and rejected.

What helps? A safe space in which to be heard, a forum. Confidentiality. Trust. Value the inner life. Prayer and the chance to talk with other priests about simple aspects of praying. The opposite of sin is faith. We could share faith more, when it is safe and we can trust.

What about Male Rites of Passage for seminarians? It is an occupational hazard that a priest forgets his humanity, suffers from a lack of rootedness that exists in the diocesan presbyterate and falls into overwork and over-commitment. Spiritual Direction helps those priests who find someone to accompany them. Many of our emerging pastoral structures e.g. one priest, three churches, do not consider the person and need to be re-thought. Not much use treating the casualties of system when the system could be done differently.

Dympna Centre today. If we were beginning now, what would we start? Over the past years our emphasis has shifted. We are more deliberately centred on the person and we work in a faith context. There is a simplicity about talking, listening, reflecting – person to person

The process is invariably one of going inward, prayer, faith. But the work has to be simplified, focused. Are we able to identify a key point that will give maximum leverage? What is the small, precious, contribution that will make all the difference to priests’ lives and work?

If you were starting today, you wouldn’t set up a counselling service. Rather facilitate people coming together in faith and trust.
Enable people to meet differently (not a business meeting) and create a forum where it is safe and people can listen.

There are also important questions for us to keep in mind:

– capacity, who are the workers? who will assure the succession? who makes up the clientele?
– what does invitation mean for the Dympna Centre? How is it formative? Where is the schooling?
– how are we preparing for a successor? Where is the pool from which we draw?
– how does anyone gain access? What are the pathways?

We are highlighting the importance of presence, faith presence, relating to one another, bringing people together
to experience presence to self, to one another and to God.

Have a pause. Choose a piece of Scripture.
Contemplate all we’ve said and heard today and ask God for light on it, so that we can discern the way.

Many thanks to everyone for a meeting together that brought life.

TMcG