Bishops of the Irish Catholic Church are in Rome, and will meet the Pope on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the state of the Irish Catholic Church and its response to clerical sexual abuse. So What? Will what happens in Rome really matter to Catholics on this island?
The Irish Times reports that Bishop Joseph Duffy, the Chairman of the Communications Commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, told a press conference today that
he and his fellow bishops would “be keeping survivors (of abuse) at the top of the list of priorities” in addressing the Pope and the Curial Cardinals. Each bishop had been invited “to account directly to the Holy Father,” he said, and referred to “the failure of all of us, including bishops, for not doing what we were expected to do.”
These remarks follow rumours of yet another disturbing development among some within the Irish Catholic leadership. In late January, an appeal by retired Dublin auxiliary bishop Dr Dermot O’Mahony was published in the Irish Catholic, recommending that priests question the findings of the Murphy Report. This was echoed by retired Dublin priest Fr Padraign McCarthy in the latest issue of The Furrow.
Catholic lay activist Brendan Butler, speaking to the Irish Independent, interprets this as a personal attack on Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – and even an attempt to oust him.
"It seems there is now a systematic move within the hierarchy to oust Archbishop Martin because he wholeheartedly accepted the findings of the Murphy report."
On the other hand, some clerics critiqued the Irish Catholic Church last week. On Tuesday I wrote about Fr Derek Smyth, a psychotherapist and a priest in Foxrock parish, Co. Dublin, whose article in the Irish Times was a scathing analysis of ‘clerical culture’. Smyth said that an appropriate response to the scandals would be for all the priests of his generation to resign – not just the bishops who covered up the abuse.
Also writing in The Furrow, Fr Gerry O’Hanlon, a former Jesuit provincial, recommended a national synod of the Catholic Church in Ireland. He said,
“It will not do any more for priests, bishops, cardinals, the pope to simply tell us what to think, what to do. People rightly want to have a say.”
“Now would also seem to be a good time to call into question the reality that certain narrow grounds of orthodoxy are a sine qua non of Episcopal appointments at present, and to call for more transparent, representative and accountable local, including lay, participation in the appointment of bishops.”
What are lay Catholics and other members of the general public making of all this?
On the one hand, it seems there are at least some within the hierarchy still desperately grasping for the power and authority once vested in the Irish Catholic Church, blinded by the clerical culture that Smyth diagnosed.
On the other hand, those like O’Hanlon urge more lay involvement, and a move towards a more genuinely participative church at all levels.
The results of my School’s survey of laypeople in Ireland indicated that Irish Catholics are already much less interested in (and obedient to) the views of their clerical leaders. In fact, Irish Catholics were less likely than people from the three largest Protestant denominations to say that they were influenced by their local, national, and international leaders.
In light of this, the question I ask again is ‘so what?’ Will any fine words from the Pope or the bishops really make a difference? I suspect that there will be a lot of words, but little that is meaningful in terms of practical action to help the victims or ritual practices (such as public repentance or penance) to heal their wounds. I hope I’m wrong about this, but sadly I am not expecting something radical or prophetic to emerge from these meetings.
Further, is O’Hanlon’s call for more lay involvement a case of spotting a trend that is already developing and getting the institutions of the church in on the act before the leadership realises that its people have moved on without them? I certainly don’t want to sound like I am criticizing O’Hanlon here, not least because I agree with him.
But the defining question for the Irish Catholic Church in this century may very well be: does it have the resources – among its laypeople – to move on and build a new Irish spirituality? If the Irish Catholic Church is to survive that is what must happen, regardless of what occurs over the next two days in Rome.
(Photo of the Pope from the BBC website)