What Kevin says below about Ireland is occurring in the USA as well. Kevin Hargaden works for http://www.maynoothcommunitychurch.ie a small church in the suburbs of Dublin and is preparing for ordination with the http://www.presbyterianireland.org Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He blogs at http://www.hargaden.com/kevinCreideamh and is a board member of the http://www.ibi.ie IBI.
Ray D’Arcy is a well-known and well-respected radio presenter in Ireland whose morning program has a daily listenership of almost a quarter of a million people. At about 9.15 in the morning on Friday April 20th he claimed live on air that the Catholic church had “in many ways f**ked up this country”. The comments were made, not in direct response to the series of shocking government reports unveiling decades of extensive physical and sexual abuse in schools and institutions run by the Catholic Church but during a reflection on a debate the previous day in the Irish parliament. While discussing proposed legislation that would permit abortion in the case of a risk to the life of the mother, a rural member of parliament, Michelle Mulherin, described “fornication” as the primary cause of unwanted pregnancies. D’Arcy’s comment was made in direct reference to this speech by Mulherin. D’Arcy apologised twice for the improper language he used but stood by the sentiment of his words.
Where do we see this in the USA? What “witness” is there against the church?
The Irish Catholic Church responded by demanding an apology. Martin Long, the spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office declared D’Arcy’s comments to be “grossly offensive and factually inaccurate”.
When D’Arcy began his show the following Monday he simply said “There’ll be no apology and no retraction. Good morning.” He then played “Graceland” by Paul Simon.
This little fracas raises a host of interesting thoughts. Some have argued it reveals a coarsening in Irish society so that harsh and aggressive language about our perceived foes has become tolerable. Others have been struck by how the incident reveals how low the Catholic Church has sunk in the perception of the public. While a remarkable 84% of Irish citizens still declare themselves Catholic, the reputation of the church is in tatters. Not too long ago it would have been unimaginable that a public personality could speak this way about the church.
Yet there are two less obvious reflections that can also be drawn from D’Arcy’s run-in with the Catholic authorities. The first applies to the role of the media in the public square and the second applies to the way churches should respond to attacks.
D’Arcy broadcasts on Today FM, a station owned by the billionaire magnate Denis O’Brien. O’Brien was a key figure in various corruption scandals that shook Irish society through the 1990’s. Ireland is currently suffering through the worst recession in its history, which was largely created by the reckless financial conduct of financial buccaneers like O’Brien. Yet there is remarkably little comment from the media about the extent to which the economic leaders of our society messed up the country. Why do those journalists who now raise their voices against the past abuses of a presently weakened church hierarchy remain silent when it comes to the baron-classes?
For Christians, the squabble is surely a good opportunity to reflect on how the church responds to criticism. In the PR battle, D’Arcy used the fact that he had the microphone to his advantage. The impression is that he was able to brush off the call to apologise because the call was trivial and whinging in the first place. How much more effective would it have been had the Catholic Church responded by asking D’Arcy to go for lunch with the Archbishop of Dublin to discuss the way things had gone wrong and how the church could contribute to a more constructive future? Christianity certainly faces increased hostility from the Irish media but arguably the hostility is historically justified. Whether in Ireland, the US or any other western nation, how (if at all?) do Christians stand up for themselves?