The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, sparked controversy this weekend when the content of an interview that is scheduled to be broadcast Monday on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week was revealed. In it Williams proclaimed that the Catholic Church in Ireland had lost all credibility.
In what served as an apt demonstration of the Irish Catholic Church’s loss of credibility, protesters picketed Easter Mass today at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral.
Over the course of the weekend, church leaders in Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, have said how hurt they were by Williams’ remarks. Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said yesterday that he had received a phone call from Williams, who had apologised, saying that he ‘he did not mean to offend or criticise the Irish Church.’
In his response to Williams’ original remarks, Martin had said,
“Archbishop Williams’ comments will be for [faithful Irish Catholics] immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further.”
It is probably true that Williams’ comments are not going to make Irish Catholics feel better about themselves or their church. But what Williams said was merely a drop in the bucket, I think, when it comes to causing Irish Catholics to be disheartened.
This was apparent today in Dublin, where Martin was saying Easter mass at the Pro Cathedral. The Irish Times reports that,
Easter Sunday Mass at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral was briefly interrupted as protesters placed children’s shoes on the altar to represent the victims of clerical sex abuse.
About five people walked to the steps of the altar where one man shouted “shame” at Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who was celebrating the packed Mass.
Protesters who were interviewed by the Irish Times said they were ‘verbally abused’ by parishioners as they walked up the aisle to place the shoes on the altar. One of the protesters, Rachael Moran from Dublin, said,
“We’re just a collection of Irish people who’ve had enough. I am beyond disgusted that there are hundreds and hundreds of people in that church, it just really goes to show how warped the Irish mindset is.”
Unlike Moran, I don’t think that attending Easter Mass necessarily means that you condone clerical sexual abuse, or even that you support the institutions of the Catholic Church in Ireland. I also feel for Archbishop Martin, who seems to be bearing a great deal of the brunt of the scandals. Martin is one of the few in positions of high authority in the Irish Catholic Church who has not been accused of covering up abuse.
Today in mass, Martin even ‘called for the sins of the church to be exposed to the spotlight of the media.’
But I can sympathsise with the protesters and their legitimate concerns that no one in the church seems to be caring for the victims and survivors of clerical sex abuse. On Good Friday I reviewed Fr Enda McDonagh’s book, which contains what I think are some compelling suggestions for how the church might begin to do this in a meaningful way.
Even so, like the protesters, I am concerned that authentic change hasn’t yet begun to happen.
Though I am not Catholic, I attended mass today, not at the Pro Cathedral but in Belfast. The priest who delivered the homily confessed that this has been the most difficult Lent he has ever experienced.
Naming the scandals and incompetence of the Irish Catholic Church as part of that dark experience, he also talked about the earthquake in Haiti, and seeing his friends lose jobs and struggle to pay bills.
The priest told us that at times he prayed, and it seemed as if God was not there at all. When he had heard several weeks ago that he would be delivering the homily on Easter Sunday, he wondered how he could ever speak to us about the risen Christ without feeling like a fraud.
At this stage my husband turned to me and whispered, ‘Do you think this guy will last?’ He’s a young Irish priest – he looks like he could be in his early 30s – and one of the last times we heard him preach he had told the congregation about the website devoted to leaving the Catholic Church – countmeout.ie!
But I think this young priest articulated uncannily well what many must feel today when they reflect on God or on the church in Ireland. I consider it a strength, rather than a weakness, for a priest to be able to admit his doubts and talk openly about experiences of darkness.
The priest wasn’t coming to us with glib answers about what Christ and his resurrection means, or exhorting us to just have more faith. To me this demonstrates a humility that has not been apparent in many of the leaders of the Catholic Church. It’s only from a place of humility that Irish priests will ever be able to be reconciled with the ‘disheartened’ people of whom Archbishop Martin speaks.