By now most Irish Catholics and others living on this island have some idea of the content of the Pope’s pastoral letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland. They know that the Pope has said that he is sorry (sort of), that most victims of abuse are disappointed and angry by the content of the letter, and that it has done little to abate public outcry after a week in which a new scandal or cover-up seemed to emerge every day.
A family member who attended mass today said that their parish priest didn’t even read the full text of the letter, dismissing it as a lot of ‘waffle’ and concluding that the Pope ‘has let us down badly.’ He directed parishioners to the website where the full text of the letter can be found, and then got on with the business of the mass.
The Pope’s letter did not say that the bishops who have handled the abuse scandals so disastrously should resign. Speaking today on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence, the editor of the Irish Catholic magazine, Garry O’Sullivan called for the mass resignation of those bishops.
Every bishop in office before 1995 would have to consider their position – those who failed to alert the gardai to what was happening across Ireland. Rather than doing nothing wrong, they did nothing right.
The full content of the Sunday World is not available online. The print edition features Fr D’Arcy’s column, as well as a two-page spread in which he is interviewed by Richard Sullivan. Echoing a growing chorus, including theologian Hans Kung, Fr D’Arcy calls on the church to consider its position on celibacy:
Celibacy is a central characteristic in all this. … to attach it as a consequence of life as a priest is totally wrong and in its own way very damaging.
… You can bet your bottom dollar if a bishop had a child and someone came and told him that Father X had buggered a child or raped a child I can tell you that if the bishop had thought of his own child he would have acted differently.
But those in power at the very top of the Catholic Church don’t seem to have ears to hear what faithful laypeople and priests like Fr D’Arcy are saying to them. A remarkable passage in this week’s Time Magazine sums it up this way,
Indeed, the Vatican has mounted an aggressive campaign to portray the scandals as an attempt to besmirch the Pope and discredit the church as a whole. "Over recent days some people have sought, with considerable persistence … [to] personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a written commentary. Another senior official goes further. "They want to involve the Pope at all costs," he tells TIME. "It’s a desire to destroy the church, and this is an operation that has been well planned. They don’t like the church’s teachings on moral questions and sexuality, and this is how they think they can strike."
Who "they" are is uncertain. Like conspiracy theorists of every stripe, the Vatican doesn’t name its enemies.
To me, this just reinforces the impression that the leaders at the highest levels of the Catholic Church are out of touch with their people. There is no secular conspiracy out there that has concocted these stories of abuse and their subsequent cover-up. For this the Church must take responsibility.
And faithful Catholics across Ireland, hurt by this latest letter, are not the Church’s enemies. In fact, they are the ones that must be counted on to renew the church in Ireland.
Fr D’Arcy says as much in the conclusion of his column,
So who can Catholics trust now? We have to look for new solutions starting with the faithful, the wide ranging and gifted people who have remained loyal.
We have to build the Church from the bottom up rather than from Rome down.