Association of priests writes to bishops asking for arbitration boards to deal with complaints

An association founded to defend the rights of priests has written to all Catholic bishops in the country asking them to set up arbitration commissions to settle the treatment of priests by certain bishops.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) believes that their proposal will lead to “a simpler, fairer, more efficient and less stressful procedure” in the event of difficulties.

In their letter to the bishops, the priests call for arbitration commissions in each of the four provinces of the Irish Church which would deal with the difficult questions “responsibly, sensibly and agreeably”.

In January the association, which represents more than 1,000 Irish priests, criticized the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore for his treatment of a recently laicised priest, calling it “inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable”.

The popular priest, Fr Richard Geoghegan, had served at Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary and appeared on hotelier and TV personality Francis Brennan’s show. Grand tour of Vietnam in 2017 where he entertained the public with his impersonation of singer Shirley Bassey.

However, the performance sparked a backlash among conservative Catholics, with one blog demanding Bishop Phonsie Cullinan remove him from the priesthood.

According to the ACP, the secularization of Father Geoghegan has left him, at 54 after 28 years of service in the diocese, without income, without housing and “dependent on a derisory financial settlement”.

However, Bishop Cullinan said Fr Geoghegan left “of his own free will.”

According to the ACP, the new process proposed by the priests would involve a “respectful dialogue” between the bishop and the priest, supported, if necessary, by professional experts in the relevant disciplines.

the Irish Independent understands that these would include mediators, canon lawyers, therapists, and at least one woman in each panel.

Last November, the ACP issued a statement highlighting complaints it had received from priests, who were not members of the group, revealing their difficulties with the way some bishops were treating them.

“With most bishops, there is a respectful engagement with their priests, whatever their concerns and difficulties. But there are a small number of bishops and archbishops who consistently account for the vast majority of complaints received from priests and who must be held accountable,” the ACP said.

Complaints centered on gay priests who have been denied permission to work in parishes, priests who worry about demands on their mental or physical health and who are not allowed to retire before age of 75, and bishops making derogatory comments about the personal appearance of certain priests and ministry.

The ACP seeks to have issues dealt with at the local level, rather than the bishops sending them back to Rome.

They said their experience as an association of priests was that in many cases a satisfactory compromise could have been found if there was “a structure that facilitated fair, balanced and reasonable engagement on the issue”.

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