Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s claim last week that Irish Catholics are ‘theologically illiterate’ has prompted a predictable round of finger-pointing.
Many who have reacted to Martin’s statement blame the Catholic Church itself. For example, Michael Clifford in the Tribune blames the intellectually stifling climate created by the Irish Catholic Church,
For decades, any form of debate was stifled. Anybody within – or without – the church who voiced opinions or ideas conflicting with the world view of the hierarchy was given short shrift. Debate was not encouraged. As for the theological illiteracy of the flock, how else could it be in an institution which placed very little emphasis on debate, theological or otherwise?
Vincent Browne, writing in today’s Irish Times, also blames the Catholic Church and the education system that it spawned. Browne asks how Ireland’s Catholic schools could have produced a ruling class that has proved so morally bankrupt, greedy and individualistic? He says,
Just think of the thousands of lawyers, accountants, bankers, stockbrokers and others who must have colluded in criminality over the last decade or so, in fraudulent accounting, in fraudulent trading, in fraudulent preference, in insider dealing. And such is our public culture that not one of them has been charged with a crime and, very probably, not one of them will go to jail. Many of them have made fortunes and many of them have retained fortunes.
These people didn’t come from nowhere. They came out of our schools, most of them Catholic schools and they came out not just theologically illiterate but socially illiterate as well. Most of them are without any sense of being part of a society; they have no sense or little sense of being social beings, of having responsibilities to others. No sense of sharing or wanting to share. Instead they have a highly individuated sense of themselves, out for their own advancement and enrichment and, if society suffered as a consequence, nothing to do with them.
If ‘theological illiteracy’ is failing to see how the teachings of Jesus just don’t fit with the recent social and economic behaviour of Ireland’s ruling classes, then Browne has a good point.
Then there are those like Monica Dolan, a letter writer to the Irish Times, who detects a rank hypocrisy in Martin’s remarks:
Dr Diarmuid Martin states that many Irish Catholics are theologically illiterate … theology being primarily the study of God.
When you look at the response to the scandal of child sex abuse by the Vatican, the permanent top of the class in theology – maybe we illiterates are better off.
Indeed, it is people from the ‘top of the class in theology’ who have condescendingly declared that Jennifer Sleeman from Co. Cork – who has called for a boycott of mass on September 26th – doesn’t understand what she is doing.
I think that Mrs. Sleeman understands deeply what she is doing, and that’s what makes her call to action powerful and poignant.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, I haven’t heard anyone arguing that Irish Catholics are particularly theologically literate! But as the ‘blame’ for Irish Catholics’ theological illiteracy gets shifted about, it strikes me that Martin’s comment could be interpreted as a call to action.
Can it be read as a healthy challenge to Irish Catholics (not just the hierarchy, but the people in the pews) to spend more time exploring their faith and spirituality?
A theologically literate laity is more likely to interrogate Church teachings than either:
- accept them as givens, or
- ignore them.
That might make life even more awkward and difficult for the hierarchy.
But I think that’s a price that must be paid for a healthy, thriving, Irish Church.