A new lay organisation seeking liberal reform in the Catholic Church agreed a statement of objectives at its first general meeting at the weekend committing it “to the pursuit of a reform and renewal agenda in the Irish Catholic Church based on the letter and the spirit of Vatican II”.
About 300 people attended the meeting of the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI), which also agreed to set up a website and governance structures, with elections to be held at an AGM next year, when there will be a formal launch of the organisation.
The objectives, which include a re-evaluation of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, are broadly similar to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), whose annual meeting preceded the ACI meeting at the weekend.
Its statement of objectives also said the ACI believed “the spirit is present in the voices of all the baptised” and in “the consequent right of all the baptised to have their voices heard in the formation of Church teaching and to participate fully in the life of the Church, including decision-making” at all levels.
The group wants to bring about what it describes as a “renewed understanding of the primacy of the individual conscience” and the “full participation of women in every aspect of the Church”.
Another key aim is listed as bringing about “a recognition of the wisdom of God’s people in the shaping of Catholic teaching, especially in the areas of sexuality, ecumenism and ecology”.
Speaking at the meeting, steering committee member Tom Curran said “we have a very close relationship with the ACP, and it is from them that we have emerged”.
While the two organisations remain separate, Mr Curran said they would be working closely with the priests association “to try to bring about reform and renew the Church in Ireland”.
Committee member Noel McCann said their intention was to build a coalition of people to represent groups and individuals across the country.
“We are a main-stream organisation and won’t allow ourselves be marginalised,” he said.
Patricia Higgins, also on the committee, said “the Church is essential for leading a fulfilling life and for creating a world that is just”.
She described the statement of objectives as “a rallying call to people who want change”.
In open discussion, Rosemary Hogan said she could sense “a great spirit of hope, enthusiasm and passion for the Church” at the meeting.
She was also “glad to see the word ‘ecology’ mentioned in the objectives”.
Des Gilroy said he felt such an association was “needed more than ever before” and likened the Church to a “ship that is sinking fast”.
Gerry O’Hanlon said he thought the association was “a terrific sign of hope for our Church”.
However, Patrick Boyle described the ACI objectives as “a farce” and accused the organisation of “misleading the people” by spreading “falsehoods and confusion”.
He told the steering committee: “You’re outside the Church.”
After several interruptions he was escorted from the hotel, sprinkling holy water on those in attendance.