Winter 2013 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference concludes in Maynooth

04 Dec 2013


The Winter General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded this evening in the Columba Centre of Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth in Co Kildare. The following issues were discussed by the bishops over their two day meeting.

· Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
· Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel)
· Trócaire – Philippines, Syria/Middle East and Global Gift campaign
· Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on pastoral challenges for the family
· Northern Ireland (i) Peace Process (ii) Father Alec Reid RIP
· (i) Towards Healing (i) Towards Peace – counselling and support services for survivors of abuse
· Colloquium between Bishops and Theologians
· (i) World Migrant and Refugee Sunday (ii) Conference entitled ‘Journeying together: A Migrant’s Voyage’
· (i) Inter Mirifica – the Decree on the Media of Social Communications (ii) The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium)
· Honouring the ministry of Irish missionaries who died for the faith
· Appointments and staff change


· Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

The call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for the feast of Christmas. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), we receive the gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The celebration of Advent should be an integral part of our preparation for the Feast of the birth of Our Saviour. During this season of Advent, bishops strongly encourage all Catholics to make time to avail of the gift of God’s love in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

· Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel)

Bishops warmly welcomed the publication on 26 November last of Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) which is Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation following the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation which took place in 2012.

The Holy Father opens the document with the words, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day”.

Bishops said that Evangelii Gaudium is an inescapable call to every member of the Church. It presents us with the task of renewing our understanding of what it means to be followers of Christ and calls us to be witnesses to his message in the world today. That task will require serious reflection and effort in every part of the Church: bishops, priests, religious, parishes, schools, families, groups, associations and individuals. The Bishops’ Conference is planning for a major national pastoral conference in September 2014 on theme of Share the Good News, the National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland.

Pope Francis describes how far-reaching the task is:
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (27).

“I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory” [33].

Bishops encouraged the faithful, priests and religious of Ireland to read, share with others at parish level and be open to the inspiration offered by Evangelii Gaudium which is available online via, in Veritas bookshops and on the Vatican website

· Trócaire – Philippines, Syria/Middle East and Global Gift campaign

Humanitarian crises
Bishops thanked the people of Ireland for their response to the special Church Collection for the Philippines and for Syria which took place across Ireland on 16 and 17 November last.

Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne and Chairman of Trócaire, said: “Millions of people in the Philippines and Syria are in desperate need of life-saving shelter, food, water and medicine. Working in partnership with local organisations in these countries, including missionaries and Caritas, the Catholic Church’s global humanitarian network, Trócaire is providing critical aid to survivors of these tragedies. Our partners have local knowledge and local understanding. In delivering vital aid in times of a crisis, Trócaire harnesses their immediate on-the-ground capacity to effectively deliver aid and support to those who need it most. People in the Philippines are very grateful for the support of the people of Ireland. Nothing will ever make them forget the nightmare they are living through, but at least our support can ease their suffering and help them rebuild their lives. This effort is only the beginning. While people’s immediate needs must be met, in the longer term, we must ensure that we are with the people of the Philippines through the rehabilitation process and that homes, schools, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure be rebuilt.”

Bishops expressed their deep gratitude to everyone who supported this emergency fund raising effort and urged people to continue to support this important initiate with their donations over the Advent and Christmas periods. Trócaire can be contacted on and on LoCall 1850 408 408 (ROI) or free phone 0800 912 1200 (NI).

Prayers for peace for our fellow Christians in the Holy Land
As we approach Christmas, the time when we celebrate the coming of Christ into our world, Bishops ask for prayers for peace for those in conflict anywhere in the world. Bishops prayed for, and extended solidarity to, our fellow Christians in the Holy Land. Bishops called upon the international community to assist in every way possible to achieve a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Bishops prayed for all Christians around the world who are persecuted and murdered because of their faith.

Global Gifts
Trócaire launched its range of ethical gifts for Christmas 2013, whose purpose is to help families in developing countries build a better future. At the launch of the Global Gifts campaign Mr Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire said, “As Advent begins, we remember in our thoughts, prayers and actions, all those who face injustice, oppression and poverty. Trócaire gifts are one way in which we strengthen people’s livelihoods, so that they have more secure incomes, sources of food and better futures. Trócaire would like to sincerely thank parishes and clergy nationwide for their long tradition of compassion for struggling families overseas at Christmas and for their tremendous support of Trócaire’s work throughout the year.”

· Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on pastoral challenges for the family

Bishops discussed the announcement by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, that in October 2014 an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on ‘Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation’ will be held in the Vatican.

Bishops encouraged the faithful to engage with the consultation which has been initiated by Pope Francis and to respond to the important questions raised on the theme of the family in the ‘Preparatory Document’ on the Vatican website. In recent weeks bishops have been consulting with clergy, Parish Pastoral Councils and other interested individuals and groups in their dioceses. Bishops noted that the questionnaire has a pastoral focus and is concerned about current and future pastoral practice. Bishops thanked those who have already returned their responses.

The preparatory document and accompanying questionnaire can be accessed via or directly on

· Northern Ireland (i) current state of the Peace Process (ii) Father Alec Reid RIP

As former US envoy to Northern Ireland Dr Richard Haass prepares to return for the final phase of his initiative on flags, parades and dealing with the past, bishops reflected on current challenges to the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. Bishops said:

“Fifteen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, it is disappointing and worrying that there are groups in our society who continue to reject the path of dialogue as a means of addressing contentious issues. It is our hope that the Haass initiative will result in a new commitment to peace and reconciliation, founded on principles of social justice.

“The principle of respect must be at the heart of any attempts to address the legacy of the conflict and put forward proposals for a new, shared future. This includes respect for identity, respect for shared space, respect for places of worship and, crucially, respect for human life.

“We cannot reflect on the events of recent weeks without expressing our strong conviction that violence and intimidation offer no hope for the future. Our communities cannot afford a return to conflict. Those areas worst affected by the violence in the past remain the most deprived neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland today. We appeal to political leaders to recognise the need to address the socio-economic inequalities that are a very real part of the legacy of the conflict and a significant threat to the sustainability of the Peace Process. Lasting peace is an objective worth investing in.

“If we limit ourselves, however, to addressing inequality, without embracing the challenge of reconciliation, our Peace Process will remain incomplete. Society cannot be satisfied with a process that results in equal, but divided, communities. The task of reconciliation requires us to develop a whole new language of understanding and forgiveness. It is our hope that the Haass initiative will make an important contribution to this process at the political level. These efforts need to be supported at all levels of society. We recognise, in particular, the responsibility of churches and faith communities to play an active role in shaping a new future for our society.”

Father Alec Reid RIP
Bishops prayed for the repose of the soul of the late Redemptorist priest Father Alec Reid. Bishops paid tribute to his ministry which was characterised by a commitment to compassion, bravery and ecumenical outreach. Father Reid’s vital pastoral work behind the scenes helped build peace and he did this through patient and delicate negotiation. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he encouraged others to move forward, inch by inch, problem by problem, thereby gradually overcoming any obstacles and setbacks. Father Reid reached out to all those who were hurting and suffering.

· (i) Towards Healing (i) Towards Peace – counselling and support services for survivors of abuse

Towards Healing counselling and support service
Mr James Nugent SC, Chairman, Mr Michael Lyons, CEO, Dr Melissa Darmody, Clinical Director and Ms Breda Flood, Finance Manager, represented the Towards Healing Counselling & Support Services, today, at the meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference. Towards Healing was established by the Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union in 2011, to provide counselling and related support services, such as restorative justice and advocacy, to survivors of clerical, institutional and religious abuse.

The delegation from Towards Healing updated the bishops on its delivery of service plan over the next four years, 2014 – 2017. Toward Healing plans to provide 31,600 counselling sessions during next year, rising to 37,100 sessions in 2017. Other services to be provided by Toward Healing include: group work, practical workshops, friendly call, restorative justice and advocacy. The total projected cost of the service over the next four years is €12m, to be funded by the dioceses and congregations of Ireland. The Toward Healing free phone line numbers are 1800 303416 within the Republic of Ireland and 0800 0963315 if calling within Northern Ireland and the UK.

Towards Peace
Ms Una Allen and Sister Mary Whyte presented a progress report to the bishops on the establishment of a new service called Towards Peace. Towards Peace will offer spiritual support for those whose faith in God and in the Church has been affected by their experience of sexual abuse.

In 2011 the bishops published their response to the victims of abuse in the Catholic Church in their document Towards Healing and Renewal. Three priorities were established by them: the provision of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church; Towards Healing, as a counselling service for victims and their families; and, Towards Peace, as a spiritual support service for those whose faith has been damaged. It is planned to launch Towards Peace in 2014.

· Colloquium between Bishops and Theologians

A Colloquium between bishops and theologians was recently held to mark the end of the Year of Faith. This event took place in Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth on 19 November and was hosted by the Irish Bishops’ Conference. Representatives from the Catholic third-level colleges from around the country and members of the Bishops’ Conference were invited to participate in the Colloquium. The keynote speakers were Dr Ethna Regan of Mater Dei and Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick. The principal documents that were referred to were On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1990) and Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria from the International Theological Commission (2012). Speaking after the event Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam and Chairman of the Theological Committee of the Bishops’ Conference, who co-chaired the Colloquium with Sister Geraldine Smyth OP of the Irish School of Ecumenics, said, “This was a very worthwhile undertaking with excellent papers followed by useful discussions. As an event for the Year of Faith it was a space for bishops and theologians to think deeper about their specific missions in promoting the faith that leads us ‘to put on the mind of Christ’.”

· (i) World Migrant and Refugee Sunday (ii) Upcoming conference entitled ‘Journeying together: A Migrant’s Voyage’

As we prepare to celebrate World Migrant and Refugee Sunday on 19 January, it is important that we remember in prayer all those who have travelled far from their homeland in search of a better life. The Bishops’ Council for Immigrants, and, the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants, have published a resource pack, to be sent to parishes this week, to assist the Church at local level to raise awareness of the challenges facing migrants. Parishes are encouraged to express solidarity with those who have been affected by migration, whether leaving our shores in the hope of making a new life overseas or joining us to begin their new lives in Ireland.

A conference entitled ‘Journeying together: A Migrant’s Voyage’ will be held in Dublin on the 19 February. It will bring together leading experts in the field of migration from across the globe to reflect on the challenges faced by migrants today.

Pope Francis, who has made the defence of the poor and vulnerable a cornerstone of his papacy, said in his 2014 message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees that there should be a change in attitude towards migrants. The Holy Father urges countries to welcome and respect migrants and not treat them as “pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”

Pope Francis continued, “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalisation – all typical of a ‘throwaway culture’ – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”

If you would like further information on the Conference or would like a copy of the Resource Pack, or if the Council for Immigrants and Council for Emigrants can be of any further assistance to you please contact our offices in Maynooth. (O1-5053009/01-5053154) or

· Marking the anniversary of the first documents published by the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago today: (i) Inter Mirifica – the Decree on the Media of Social Communications (ii) The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium)

Inter Mirifica
Fifty years ago today the Second Vatican Council published the Decree on the Media of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica. The publication of this document marked a milestone because for the first time the Universal Church defined what she understood ‘social communications’ to mean. It was timely for an Ecumenical Council to speak of social communications as tools for the fundamental mission of the Church. It made possible a relatively unhindered implementation of these tools of evangelisation in a rapidly-expanding and diversifying world of mass media. Today Inter Mirifica remains a seminal document for the Church’s mission.

Bishop Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick, offers a reflection on Inter Mirifica on the Catholic Bishops’ YouTube and Social Media pages. Since the publication of Inter Mirifica social communications officially became part of the Catholic Church’s programme of outreach and teaching. Every year the Holy Father offers a special message on ‘World Day of Social Communications’ which next year will be celebrated on Sunday 1 June 2014 on the theme: Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter.

Today, 4 December 2013, also marks the 50th anniversary of the first document of the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium). To mark this anniversary a special conference was held on 22 – 23 November last and hosted by the National Centre for Liturgy, in association with the Faculty of Theology of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The guest speaker at the recent conference was Fr J Michael Joncas, the liturgical scholar and composer from Saint Paul-Minneapolis.

Bishops expressed their thanks to all those who give their time and their talents to enhance the celebration of the liturgy in parish churches all around the country. They acknowledged in particular the work of the National Centre for Liturgy in supporting musicians, readers and all involved in pastoral liturgy throughout Ireland.

· Honouring the ministry of Irish missionaries who died for the faith

Bishops welcomed and acknowledged the seven priests of the Society of Columban (popularly known as ‘the Columbans’) who are included in a list of 84 modern day martyrs which the Korean Catholic Church is promoting for beatification.

Bishops thanked Mrs Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D Higgins, for her comments at the inaugural awards ceremony in Dublin City Hall on 27 November last, when she paid tribute to the selfless work of Irish Catholic missionaries around the world in education, medicine and development work. Mrs Higgins said Ireland can be “truly proud” and spoke of the “great and well-earned reputation” of Irish missionaries who have served overseas”.

Bishops asked the faithful to remember in their prayers the following Columban priests were died for the faith in Korea:
– Father Anthony Collier was born in Clogherhead, Co Louth on 20 June 1913. He joined the Columbans in 1931 and was ordained priest in 1938. Father Collier was martyred on 27 June 1950.
– Father James McGinn was born in Bute, Montana, USA of Irish parents of 15 November 1911. He joined the Columbans in 1929 and was ordained a priest in 1935. Father McGinn was martyred on 4 July 1950.
– Father Patrick Reilly was born in Drumraney, Co Westmeath on 21 October 1915. He joined the Columbans in 1934 and was ordained a priest in 1940. Father Reilly was martyred on 29 August 1950.
– Monsignor Patrick Brennan was born in Chicago on 13 March 1901 to Irish emigrant parents. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1928 and joined the Columbans in 1936. Monsignor Brennan was martyred on 24 September 1950.
– Father Thomas Cusack was born in Ballycotton, Liscannor, Co Clare, on 23 October 1910. He joined the Columbans in 1928 and was ordained a priest in 1934. Father Cusack was martyred on 24 September 1950.
– Father John O’Brien was born in Donamon, Co Roscommon on 1 December 1918. He joined the Columbans in 1936 and was ordained a priest in 1942. Father O’Brien was martyred on 24 September 1950.
– Father Francis Canavan was born in Headford, Co Galway, on 15 February 1915. He joined the Columbans in 1934 and was ordained a priest in 1940. Father Canavan was martyred on 6 December 1950.

· Appointments and staff change

Bishops welcomed new member to the Episcopal Conference: Bishop Francis Duffy, Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnoise. Bishop also welcomed Monsignor Nicholas O’Mahony, the Diocesan Administrator for the Diocese of Waterford & Lismore.

On behalf of members of the Episcopal Conference and staff, Cardinal Seán Brady, expressed gratitude to Father Timothy Bartlett, a priest of the Diocese of Down & Connor, for his valuable and enormous contribution to the Episcopal Conference over ten years in his role as Assistant to the Office of the President. Father Tim’s work involved supporting the pastoral work of the Conference in: protecting human life, child safeguarding, communications, public affairs and liaison with government and public authorities North and South, social justice/poverty issues, care for the environment, marriage and family, and in Catholic education. Bishops paid warm tribute to Father Tim, thanked him for his vital support and wished him well in his future ministry.


For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444