Unlike the Vatican, Irish Times columnist John Waters doesn’t accuse the media of a deliberate smear campaign against the Pope or the Catholic Church. But in an article headlined ‘Has Christ no role in resolving this crisis?’ in yesterday’s paper, Waters claims that,
Media coverage of clerical sex abuse ignores that most Irish are believers who want their church to survive.
Waters goes on to say that the Irish media is working with the underlying assumption that people in Ireland don’t really take Christ, or Christianity, all that seriously. In the media’s zeal to condemn the institutional church, Waters observes that,
If any thought is given to the grief of Catholics, it is treated, implicitly, as a residual cultural oddity with no concrete relevance to the crisis.
There are still a great many Irish people – perhaps a majority – who continue to hold to Christian beliefs. One might therefore expect occasional items to adopt their point of view – if only to ask how Christians might be dealing with the crisis, or to examine the prospects for a genuine process of healing and recovery within Irish Catholicism.
Waters may have a point. Although some media attention is given to the views of victims, including victims who remain Catholic, I struggle to think of sensitive and in-depth print, audio or television coverage of how practicing Catholics think Irish Catholicism might heal or recover.
(An exception to this is the BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence special with William Crawley, broadcast 21 February, 2010, ‘Crisis in the Catholic Church.’)
Waters also notes a rather superficial deference to Christ in media discourses,
Christ is about the only one connected to the Irish Catholic Church who has not been called on to resign.
But any comfort to be taken by Christians from such an observation must be short-lived. For, really, any implicit exoneration of Jesus occurs not because of a desire to rehabilitate the Christian proposal, but because there is almost no substantial degree of real belief in Christ remaining in the upper crust – which is to say the media-driven layer – of our culture. What the apparent persisting deference towards Christ betrays is not a genuine openness towards Him, but simply indicates that almost nobody takes Christianity seriously. The Christian proposal has been laid so thinly on our collective consciousness that we do not believe in it other than as a nice story, a useful moral programme and ultimately a shared sentimentality. The presence or idea of Christ may console individuals in their private spaces, but His influence is not regarded by the collective conversation as offering any possibilities for resolving anything.
But there are some exceptions to Waters’ terse assessment that no one regards Christ’s ‘influence’ as a viable public resource.
In an interview on last night’s Late, Late Show on RTE, Fr Brian D’Arcy, the outspoken Fermanagh-based priest, once again critiqued the institutional Catholic Church. Yet he offered some ways of bringing Christ into the ‘collective conversation.’
At one point, presenter Ryan Tubridy said to D’Arcy that he didn’t seem himself on the night, referring to D’Arcy’s obvious pain as he tried to come to terms with the way the Irish Catholic Church has been handling the scandals.
D’Arcy is one of the few official church representatives that I have seen (if, given his dissenting views, ‘official’ can be applied to him), that looked and sounded genuinely grieved at the hurt that the Irish Catholic Church has inflicted on people.
D’Arcy admitted that the institutional church in Ireland is broken. He seemed frustrated that church institutions are, as he sees it, actively preventing people from following Jesus.
Yet he spoke of God as a living and vibrant presence, saying that we should start by listening to the people – not the bishops – because the Holy Spirit will speak through the people first.
We have reached a point where Irish Catholics are unlikely to look to their institutional church and its leaders for healing or recovery. It’s here that I think D’Arcy invites us to see Christ entering the conversation.
Jesus had an ambiguous – if not downright hostile – relationship with the religious and political institutions of his day. The Holy Spirit worked through Jesus outside of, or despite, those institutions.
Each in their own way, D’Arcy and Waters ask, not just ‘what would Jesus do?’, but also,
What is the Holy Spirit saying through the Catholics of Ireland?