This from our friend in Ireland, Patrick Mitchel, a professor and leader. He has no desire to bash the Catholic Church, but he’s as grim as many. Let me say that this is a serious, serious issue, and while I want the proper procedures to be followed in the Vatican and beyond, the focus here must, must, must be on the victims of abuse and proper justice for the perpetrators of sexual violence.
Here are Patrick’s words:
So what is the future of Catholicism in Ireland?
And this raises the question of ‘How can reform come to any church?’
[and again let me say here I am not wanting to ‘bash’ the Catholic Church when it is ‘down’. Nor am I implying that evangelical or Protestant churches have everything right – far from it. I believe the gospel is good news and that churches need to be good news – whatever brand they are]
Cardinal Brady also spoke of the desperate need for a ‘new beginning’ and mentioned at least four sources of that renewal:
- Listening to the word of God
- Listening to the Spirit
- Humbly dealing with the enormous hurt caused by those who have abused and the ‘hopelessly inadequate response of the Church to that abuse.
- A ‘sincere, wholehearted and truthful acknowledgement of our sinfulness.’
[Revealingly, he openly asked whether there would be a place for ‘those who have made mistakes in their past to have a part in shaping the future?’ and added that he would be ‘reflecting carefully’ over Easter. I may be wrong of course but I suspect he will resign.]
Few can argue with those four sources of renewal. The challenge is acting on them in an authentic way – a way that will bring structural and spiritual change.
In regard to 3 and 4 it is deeply ironic that a Church which champions confession as a sacrament has not only been determinedly resistant to confession of sin but has systematically hidden the truth at the expense of vulnerable and hurt people under its care. It has been a painful process watching the Church’s leaders largely failing [with the exception of Archbishop Dairmuid Martin] to grasp the depth of the need for transparency, confession, honesty and radical action to match words.
In regard to 1 and 2, I have to wonder what Cardinal Brady means by listening to the Word and the Spirit. In my humble opinion, there are profound theological and spiritual reasons for the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland – mixed in with the end of Christendom that is impacting the West as a whole.
Too often the Word has been sidelined by tradition, ritualism and sacramentalism. Too often the Spirit has been marginalised by hierarchy, human power and institutionalism.
Hans Kung asks why does the Pope not overturn the practice of enforced celibacy given its unbiblical foundation, its huge unpopularity and its probable link to child sex abuse by clergy.
I would go further and say that if the Catholic Church is to listen to the Word and the Spirit, this will mean nothing less than a new reformation.
A reformation where Jesus the Word and the Holy Spirit are given their rightful and central place of supreme authority.
A reformation that sublimates the magisterium and papal power under the Word of God.
A reformation that follows the Spirit’s emphasis on equality and giftedness in the body of Christ and thus undermines the unaccountable power of the priesthood & hierarchy.
A reformation that reconfigures the relationship between church and gospel so that the latter is clearly articulated, taught and lived out in a community of faith