Today is the final in the Question and Answer series with Martin Murray, a member of the steering group of the new Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI). Previous posts have covered the establishment of the ACI and its relationship with church hierarchy. While Murray has been keen to stress that his responses to the questions are his own and not necessarily representative of the ACI, today’s post is even more personal as he explains his motivation for getting involved and reflects on how hope might be restored in the church.
I was particularly taken by Murray’s statement that, ‘I now see reform as a ministry within the church.’ I think that’s something that people at all the so-called ‘levels’ of the church must increasingly embrace if there is to be renewal. The point is brought home further through Fr Martin Magill’s reflections, posted on this blog earlier in the week, on the ‘lives of quiet desperation’ led by an overburdened clergy. I think many of those burdens could be eased considerably by reforms and the enthusiastic participation of more laypeople in a wider range of ministries associated with their churches.
Getting to Know the Association of Catholics in Ireland – Q & A with Martin Murray, Part 3
What has motivated you personally to get involved?
I am old enough to have experienced some of the hopefulness that was generated in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Getting involved in church as a young man in my mid twenties, I developed an interest in renewal and discovered within myself a passion for ecumenism. While change seemed to be slow in coming I was happy to hang in there, convinced that things would happen eventually.
But what initially felt like standing still has become for me a recognition of a blatant, centrally-lead, reversal of direction, undermining my hopes for a progressive Church that had Christian unity high on its list of priorities. More specifically, what has motivated me to get involved in the Catholic reform movement would be any or all of the following (in no particular order):
- a rowing back from the reforms promised by the Second Vatican Council, including liturgical reforms. (often referred to as a reform of the reform).
- a hijacking of collegiality and a misappropriation of authority by the Vatican curia.
- a closing down of meaningful theological exploration and a heavy handed approach by the Vatican in its dealing with theologians and clergy considered to be out of step with current church orthodoxy.
- clericalism and the shortcomings in seminary training that undergirds it.
- two decades or more of abuse scandals and a culture of cover up in the church.
- a declared preference for a smaller more exclusive church (unworthy of the title Catholic).
- a creeping tide of fundamentalism, not least among the young and recently ordained clergy.
- an artificial shortage of priests (with married clergy excluded from ministry).
- a growing awareness of injustice towards women who feel called to play a fuller role in the church.
- declining church attendance.
Of these it was probably witnessing the encroachment of fundamentalism that tipped me over into the movement for reform. Silence felt like complicity. Now, after 30 years of active contribution to parish life (which continues), I feel I have some entitlement to share my views. Over the last year my journey has been one of contributing to online discussion on the ACP website ( www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie ) , attending the historic Regency Hotel gathering last year, joining Voice of the Faithful in Ireland (VOTFI) and more recently in helping to launch the ACI ( www.acireland.ie ).
The ACI provides a forum where I can contribute to new conversations within the Catholic Church and a place where I can engage constructively in the struggle for change. There is some optimism with the arrival of Pope Francis. While it is still early days, many hope he will be a reforming pope. If that does happen to be the case, he will encounter much opposition and it would be unrealistic to expect him to deliver it on his own. Widespread support at a grass-roots level will be needed. I now see reform as a ministry within the church. Maybe not a popular one, but one to which I hope more and more Catholics will lend their weight. Change is required, but wishful thinking on its own, will not make it happen.
For the Disillusioned Catholic out there, what hope can the ACI Offer?
It is recognised that there are disillusioned Catholics for whom concern has turned to despair. Many have abandoned church practice or are going elsewhere. For them the church is not connecting with their life experience and is no longer relevant. They feel the Church has not been able to hear them or value their concerns. Instead the fall-off in church attendance has been blamed on factors external to the church, such as secularism, individualism, consumerism, relativism etc.
Yet such people have something valuable to say. Everyone should have the opportunity to express what they actually believe rather than what they are expected to believe. This is particularly true in the context of a society which is post-modern, post-Christendom, where information is open, everything is questioned, and authority has to be earned.
I know personally how difficult it is for Catholics to speak out, embedded as we are in a church culture that is traditionally conservative. It takes a certain level of courage. But in light of the a growing concerns, many Catholics, fearing for the future of the church, not least for their children, are beginning to find their voice. Silence for them, is no longer the virtue it used to be. The ACI can provide a safe and supportive space for re-engagement, in a way allows them to be true to themselves, while at the same time contributing to the imagining and shaping of the future church.
Such re-engagement should not be considered futile. Borrowing from words attributed to Gandhi, we need to “be the change we wish to see” in the church and in the world.