Cardinal Brady and the Catholic Church: Can Opinion Polls Prompt Better Communication Between Clerics and Lay?

Cardinal Sean BradyIf we didn’t already know it, another Irish Times opinion poll has confirmed that people in Ireland are not impressed with the way the Catholic Church, and in particular Cardinal Sean Brady, has conducted itself of late.

The front page of Monday’s Irish Times had a bold headline proclaiming that ‘Three quarters of Irish adults polled say Cardinal Brady should quit.’ But as I’ve said before, the Catholic Church is not a democracy and the chief function of polls like this seems to be to expose the huge gulf that currently exists between the upper level leadership of the church and the people of Ireland.

Cardinal Brady and other top figures in the Irish hierarchy responded to the poll on Monday, acknowledging that the poll reflected people’s anger with the church as a whole as well as Brady’s handling of the abuse crisis.

Brady, however, appeared to remain resolute in his conviction that he is the man to lead the Irish Catholic Church forward, telling the Irish Times that,

But I am also aware that I enjoy a lot of support and prayer and help at this time and that is what keeps me going, doing the work that I’ve got to do and promoting the renewal called for in the Pope’s letter …

Another striking feature of the poll was that the younger generation – people between 25-34 – were the least supportive of Cardinal Brady and the most likely to say that the church had not handled the Murphy Report well.

I have a hard time envisioning renewal in a church in which the younger generation – that critical 25-34 age group – are so alienated from church leadership and church institutions. This is a generation that has grown up with instant opinion polling and probably has some expectation that their views will be taken on board by organisations in which they are actually going to invest their time, energy and spirit.

I’m not saying that the Irish Catholic Church – or any church, or any government for that matter – should let itself be ruled by opinion polls.

But if there haven’t already been enough wake up calls, this latest poll should be yet another reminder that clerical/lay collaboration and communication isn’t everything that it could be in the Irish Catholic Church. Indeed, it’s not everything that it should be if the Irish Catholic Church is to experience a genuine, broad-based renewal.

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