VOTFI adopts a ‘Holding Pattern’
Depleted energies; the illness of some key members; career commitments; the frustration of our early strategy of seeking to persuade Irish bishops to accept genuine collaboration; a feeling among some that VOTF’s platform is too narrow anyway and that their energies would be better directed into e.g. We are Church or ACI: all these played their part in forcing VOTFI to reduce its public profile from 2011 onward, and to adopt a ‘holding pattern’.
No member felt able to ‘front’ the group, i.e. to engage directly with media as a spokesperson as the occasion arose. This made it pointless also to make public statements, as media will not pay attention unless the organisation concerned can provide a leading member to represent it at the appropriate time.
So, VOTFI had no choice but to revert to its original embryonic form – a network of survivors and their supporters, communicating mostly online through the email discussion group ‘Meeting_Votfi’. This we still do.
Despite our meeting with four bishops in 2010 – aimed at forwarding the cause of the pastoral care of abuse survivors who still feel drawn to Catholic faith and practice – a credible pastoral outreach to survivors has still to emerge from the clerical church in Ireland. This is solely down to a deep-seated clericalism, one of whose characteristics is an inability on the part of the Irish hierarchy to engage in equal partnership with unordained Catholics. All survivors known to us have had a similar experience – of being invited to early meetings on the issue of pastoral care – and then ignored while something is supposedly happening off-stage to forward their hopes. We will believe it when we see it!
So we have welcomed the arrival of the Association of Catholic Priests in 2010, and its ‘offspring’ the Association of Catholics in Ireland. The latter aimed originally at being a top-level organisation to facilitate collaboration between all Irish reform-minded organisations. However, it then evolved into a reform movement in its own right, with some members drawn from no other group. VOTFI’s Martin Murray represented us on the ACI steering group during its early crucial formative months. We hope to see the ACP and ACI build a new alliance aimed at ending the deadly grip of clericalism on the Irish church.
We Irish members of VOTF issued only one statement to media in 2011, on the report by the Dublin Commission on the diocese of Cloyne. Bryan Maguire fielded questions on this.
After this we settled into a watchful rest, maintaining contact through our online discussion group. Later, in Dec 2011, on the publication of an NBSCCC review of child safeguarding in six Irish dioceses, Dan Bartley, President of VOTF US, issued a statement on our behalf, seeing little hope of Irish bishops fully implementing all guidelines until they became subject to sanctions for failing to do so. We now see that statement as prophetic, as trust in our bishops cannot be fully restored until they become accountable to their people.
Meanwhile individual VOTFI members have been busy in other related fields:
Margaret Kennedy completed her progress on a PhD – on the subject of the exploitation by some clergy of their relationships with women who come seeking spiritual help. Though challenged in health she still maintains a connection with the organisation MACSAS.
Bryan Maguire and Irene O’Beirne-Maguire work full-time and give much of their limited free time to the family-oriented Catholic mission organisation Cana Ireland.
Sean O’Conaill continues to write for Irish Catholic media, on the continuing crisis of the Catholic Church. He is also active in the Association of Catholics in Ireland. His work can be found here.
Sean Walsh, although ailing, is also continuing to write. His Easter plays are a feature of that season in Dublin. You will find him here.
Meanwhile we all stay in touch, especially through the email discussion group meeting_votfi. All VOTFI members are welcome to join this – to pool insight into the developing situation.
We also maintain close contact with former members who opted to leave us in search of a wider platform. For example, Mary Cunningham, Mary Vallely and Jo O’Sullivan are now active in the ACI.
And Marie Collins is as usual striking out on her own creative path as a member of the papal commission on child abuse in the church. We wish her every success in this, especially in her efforts to impose real accountability on erring bishops.
It is still too early to say that real change is on the way in Catholic Ireland – despite the welcome changes in Rome from March 2013.
In the meantime this website remains a record of what we tried to do, and of the profoundly dispiriting reaction of the Irish Church leadership overall. Their failure to take on board the need for an entirely different relationship, based upon the equal dignity of all baptised Catholics, maintains an impenetrable barrier to renewal and reform.