Category Archives: Fear of Assembly

‘Holy Sacrifice?’

Without question our Irish Catholic chapels – especially the smallest – are both holy sanctuaries and places of sacrifice.

That is, they are places set aside for the sacrifice of time… for contemplation… of a life given totally to others, in love.  The life of Jesus.

And places for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the celebration of that greatest gift ever given, and of the gifts that we now make of ourselves. 

And places of celebration of the other lives that loved him, the life of Mary, the Mother of God, of Joseph. The lives and holy deaths of the Saints.

Places of proof that such a life is not only possible but historically verified in all the lives that have followed, in hopeful imitation, over so many generations.

Of that life that did not ever end, that rose from death, that is alive still in the memory and bodies of local people who came with their own sacrifices of penitence and self-giving.

Places for the shedding of whatever in us that is unholy, selfish, dark – and therefore places of penitence, forgiveness, light, generosity, restoration and renewal.

For the shedding of tears over centuries and centuries – wrenched by miseries that only the angels have total record of …

And places of sacred bonding in marriage, of sacred parting in the mystery of death.

And places of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, weekly Mass – the rites of passage from womb to tomb – in stubborn hope of the eternity that children trust to in their own innocence and wisdom.

These churches memorialise those who designed and built them with love – with that letting go of the little wealth they could donate, for the sake of that dream of eternity.

What could it mean that such places – and especially the smallest – could now be under threat of closure, of the dying of the sanctuary lamp, of shuttering, of decay or transfer to another usage?

What better source of meaning has replaced the Creed that built these Holy Places?

None whatever! Merely the novelty of meaninglessness, the entrancement of a commerce that glories in novelty, illusion, unreality – the endless screenings of stories of superheroism that deny human vulnerability and the facticity of death.

If our chapels are in danger of closure, that is not because the Trinity are absent but simply because our pastors are temporarily without passion for the Creed and the Gospel , and cannot convey to us why Holy Sacrifice is still the only trustable path to the future.

We must now therefore make holy sacrifice of a different kind – in our own vigilance and prayer and study – to keep these places safe and holy for a better time, for a renewed Eucharistic ministry. 

For, built in confidence in the power of Holy Sacrifice, they belong to the future, to the Omega, the Christ, the One who is coming – who must find them clean and warm, lit and welcoming.

They must not be sacrificed to the dark, grasping, confused and baffled present.

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When will Ireland hear the whistle?

Today we learn from the Tablet that Pope Francis has again explained to a bishop facing a manpower crisis  “that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome … that  local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions”.   And that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and … should then bring up … suggestions for reform in Rome”.

The Pope was speaking to Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Brazilian rainforest.

And the topic of conversation?    “The issue of the ordination of “proven” married men – viri probati.” 

Click here for the full Tablet article.

This is not the first clear signal from Rome to the Irish Bishops’ Conference to start thinking for itself.  Surely also there is a need for a European bishops’ conference – to seek consensus on solutions to their own critical manpower crisis.

That crisis deepens another – the crisis of morale.  And the morale of the Irish church generally is very seriously challenged by the apparent reluctance of Irish bishops to hear and respond to the clear call to their own spirit of courage and initiative.  And not just on this particular issue.

So when will our bishops begin to show that they are not deliberately deaf?

 

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Why are we waiting?

colourJust how many trumpet blasts do our Irish Catholic Bishops need?

First , last March we got a new pope who admitted straightaway that he too is a sinner  – i.e. fallible.  Numb silence followed that in Ireland, as though deep shock had overtaken his Irish episcopal hearers.

Then we had a call from Rome for something unheard of since 1965 – feedback from the people of God on family issues.  Most Irish bishops again reacted with apparent shock – and then scrambled to make a token response.  None asked to be personally advised by his own flock in a diocesan conference, in preparation for Vatican synods on the family this year and next.  A parlous fear of assembly still ruled the Irish church.

Then in November 2013 Francis issued his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, including this:

“I dream of a ‘missionary option’,  that is a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, way of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can suitably be channelled for evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. “  (Evangelii Gaudium § 27)

If this wasn’t an invitation to Irish church leaders to do their own dreaming about reawakening and renewal, what on earth are they waiting for?

Yet so far, even by Easter 2014, there was no similar exhortation from any Irish bishop.

So, why are we waiting still, and what are we waiting for?

It couldn’t be for this 77 year old Argentinian’s age to catch up with him, could it?

So, as our bishops still seem to be heading away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, let us pray for the Lord to take them in hand, walk with them – and make their hearts burn strongly enough to blow away the mountain of ash that keeps them so torpid.  And send them racing back to us with something more like excitement than disillusionment – as well as eagerness for that elementary particle whose absence erodes their authority day after day:  dialogue with the people of God.

It’s surely time for a new Pentecost in the Irish Church, and time is running out for the current generation of Irish bishops to prove that they can lead it.

Sean O’Conaill 03/05/2014

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Can Pope Francis restore faith in the Irish Church?

Sean O’Conaill  April 2014

One year on from his election Pope Francis has already changed the image of the papacy, and modelled an entirely different style of leadership from that of his two predecessors.  Reflecting the amiability and simplicity of his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, he may even be setting out to respond to the same challenge that the Italian friar heard from Jesus:  to ‘rebuild my church’.

However,  Pope Francis is now in his late seventies – and many younger bishops appointed by his predecessors may well be wondering if this new wind from Rome will last long enough to oblige them to amend their own way of going.

So far no Irish bishop has become quite so accessible, so open, so eager to meet people and hear their stories and grievances.   Where Francis could meet with an atheist editor in Italy – and allow their exchange to be published – no Irish bishop will formally and openly meet with the leaders of the reformist Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).  Where Francis could call a synod on the family, no Irish bishop yet shows any sign of responding to the call Francis makes to all bishops in Evangelii Gaudium 31 – ‘to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law’.

For example, not even Archbishop Martin of Dublin has projected the holding of a diocesan synod – something his predecessor had done in his final years in office.

And no Irish bishop has shown any sign of taking up another suggestion offered by Evangelii Gaudium – the pope’s advice to every bishop to be willing at times to be led by his own people.

FOA – fear of assembly – still grips Ireland’s bench of bishops in a vice – that fear of ‘stirring up a hornets’ nest’ by, for example, arranging regular open diocesan forums to respond to the missionary challenge issued from the heart of the church.

There can be no missionary revival led by men gripped more by fear than the confidence shown by the pope.  Where is the Irish bishop who will call all of his people to read and discuss Evangelii Gaudium and to feed back to him their vision of the future church, in a truly ‘developed’ diocesan synod?

And where is the Irish bishop who will commit himself to regular interface with a diocesan pastoral council – to respond, for example,  to questions such as those that arise out of Ian Elliott’s concerns for the integrity, independence and strength of the NBSCCC?

If co-responsibility is the challenge of the moment, no Irish bishop has yet risen to that challenge – or responded to the Pope’s clearly given invitation to all national bishops’ conferences to freely consider the particular needs of their own societies, and to be proactive in finding solutions – even at the cost of making mistakes.

Here’s Pope Francis again: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”  (Evangelii Gaudium 27)

What are Irish bishops dreaming of these times?  Why can’t they tell us?  And listen to our dreams too?  Which of them will show the same confidence in the Irish people of God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us?

And when will they ever change the closeted style of their quarterly meetings in Maynooth – those funereal huddles to prepare statements so guarded that they merely add to the mountain of verbal ash that buries the embers of the Irish faith.

They speak now of St Columbanus and his impending 1400th anniversary.  They need to pray for his courage in venturing into another unknown land awaiting the Gospel – and step out, unguarded, onto the island of Ireland.

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Craggy Island Revisited

Sean O’Conaill © Doctrine and Life 2000

The Father Ted TV show hit Catholic Ireland at a psychologically interesting moment. Bishop Eamonn Casey’s flight from Ireland in 1992 had begun a spate of clerical sex revelations deeply damaging to a clerical church whose foundations had been built largely upon lay sexual guilt, and had thus been thought secure for all eternity.

But if our faith depended upon the sexual irreproachability of a clerical elite, what was it exactly that we had believed in? A God who disempowers himself, or a clerical apparatus that had been doing the very opposite for over two centuries?

This question still hangs in the air here, as good people struggle to separate in their minds an ecclesiastical system that has let them down from a God who promises never to do so. At first furious at a comedy show that poked fun at the upholders of sacred truth, many staunch Catholics then began to grin ruefully in recognition at some of the most awful pathologies of ‘Catholic Ireland’ – especially the priest’s housekeeper whose hairnet is as permanent as her wheedling ‘ah go on’ insistence upon the cup of tea. (The latter becomes a kind of lukewarm and very extreme unction that will heal all ills, available at all hours – even to the crack of doom.)

It seems that only laughter can save us now – a laughter that will put us all on the same level again. Clerics, too, are people, in the end – worthy of the same respect as any child of God. Many have found the grace to join in the joke. Some may even be able to weep a bit also – in relief at the fact that they do not need to climb back onto the social and spiritual pedestal the poverty and illiteracy of Ireland had put them on in penal times, as the only educated leadership we had.

Sadly, however, our conference of bishops cannot see much to laugh at. Instead they are looking – to the secular world – for cement with which to repair the pedestal. Our largest newspaper conglomerate is being threatened with legal action by four bishops, each representing one of the four provinces of Ireland, for overstepping the limits of fair comment. The article at issue was one that complimented Gay Byrne, recently retired doyen of our top TV talk show, for revealing to the Irish people that bishops, being human, can err in fairly scandalous ways, sometimes in spheres of morality over which they have for generations inveighed with great self-righteousness.

This was common knowledge. And for a variety of other reasons the last thing the hierarchical Catholic Church in Ireland should be setting out to preserve in the present situation is its own dignity.

That hierarchy goes on interminably about ‘dignity’ – as though the latter was a vast resource that can enrich everyone. In fact dignity relates to the balance of human relationships, and is thus always a scarce resource. There is never more than enough to go round equally. Those who have a lot of it, such as media magnates and bishops, beggar those who have none – and Ireland still has a lot of the latter. Lay Catholics in Ireland are tumbling to this in droves – and wondering why the Irish church still has absolutely no apparatus for redressing internally the inequality of dignity and power that has forced the victims of clerical abuse also to seek redress from the secular state.

The reason this puzzles many people is that in many other areas our bishops denounce secularism per se – although clerical child abuse – and the manner in which it has been handled by the episcopacy – is now the most powerful secularising force on the island. It completely destroys the argument for a clerical monopoly of church administration – because this is clearly seen as the root cause of the victims’ frequent alienation from the church into which they have been baptised.

Arising out of this there is a growing perception of another void – the absence of permanent formal means of upward communication and representation through which lay people can be listened to. Although canon law allows for the establishment of synods at diocesan and national level, there is absolutely no movement from the church leadership towards setting these up. The last time the Irish national Conference of Priests debated the possibility of an Irish church assembly, in September 1998, they judged that the laity were not then ready, and might not be ready for another twenty years.

If this is true it raises fundamental questions about Catholic education in Ireland. The products of our Catholic schools can become brain surgeons, airline pilots, computer software and hardware designers, academics, EC commissioners, UN commissioners, and even heads of state – but remain – it is claimed – incompetent to participate in the development of their church – even though the hierarchy proclaims the ‘Catholic ethos’ of these schools. Is this incompetence the deliberate intention of up to fourteen years of Catholic education in Ireland, including thousands of hours of RE?

The truth is that Irish people learn very quickly when they need to. They will never have the slightest incentive to think deeply about the problem of living their faith as long as they are treated as intellectually disabled children whose highest aptitude is that of flag wavers in a cast of thousands for papal visits.

Another cause for deep concern is that despite a series of cataclysmic public relations disasters that have shaken Irish Catholicism to its roots over the past eight years, there has been absolutely no serious attempt to measure the effects of this upon the morale of Catholics generally by the church’s leaders. What information we have we owe – once more – to the secular media, or Andrew Greeley. Wondering at first when effective leadership might eventually emerge at the summit we now ask ‘What leadership?’ A way of being church, constructed over 150 years by upwardly mobile ecclesiastics contemptuous of democracy, is now plainly dead – but there hasn’t even been a wake.

That’s why we are laughing more freely at Fr Ted these days – because it provides the banana skin that every small boy wants to throw under the feet of the self-important. So long as our bishops can’t join in the joke, so long will they remain unable to understand what is happening on this island.

It is, I believe, precisely the process that Jesus Christ came to accomplish – the equalisation of human dignity. At some stage this process must destroy the religious pyramid of esteem that every religious elite in history has built. That pyramid preserves itself – as did the Temple pyramid in Jesus’ time – by declaring itself the only source of wisdom and salvation. But laughter is another kind of grace, and in Ireland today it is as free as Jordan water.

‘The faith’ is dying, the pessimists say – as though faith was a kind of abstract bundle of Greekified and Latinated truths that only bishop-theologians fully understand. In fact gospel faith was simply trust – in a man who did not believe that religious leadership could only be accomplished from a position of eminence and power. Far from setting out to build a pyramid through which he could dominate, Jesus made himself deliberately approachable and vulnerable, and it is that truth that draws those without dignity to him. An ecclesiastical leadership that sets out to do the opposite cannot image, and can only confuse, that truth. The hierarchical church has lost the trust of many good people in Ireland – and its inability to understand and deal with this is testing the patience of even the staunchest.

The very staunchest used to be the womenfolk of Ireland – those mothers who raised their sons to be priests and insisted upon family observance and nightly Rosary. We know enough history now to be sure that not one of those sexually active but prayerful women ever even became ‘Blessed’, let alone ‘Saint’ – and that the reason for this is that the scales for such promotion are tipped heavily in favour of people who are male, celibate, prudish and ordained. The Papal declaration that the ban on female ordination has the status of an infallible teaching – perpetuating forever the humiliation of those who once raised Ireland’s priests – must be reckoned the most astonishing example of foot-shooting in the history of Irish Catholicism.

This female disillusionment with a male chauvinist Catholic leadership is part of the demoralisation that challenges many women religious. It guarantees the disappearance of their communities forever, at a time when the country in which they grew up is disappearing before their eyes – in a tide of covetousness, crime and addiction. In these circumstances the bullying pursuit by the CDF of dissenting women religious seems gratuitously vindictive, and the final straw. Had the Curia deliberately set out to destroy the tradition of religious and priestly vocation in Ireland it could not have been more effective.

And that is why our Catholic schools are failing also as nurseries of faith. Dedicated teachers present an irreproachable image of a compassionate God who descends to eye-level, while simultaneously having to defend an ecclesiastical system that turns its shepherds into remote and elevated princes of the Church. Those shepherds (with a few outstanding exceptions), prove – without words – that the God of the text books must stay there, because his human life of openness, simplicity and personal approachability cannot be lived by themselves.

True, the hierarchy does try to engage with the rampant covetousness of Ireland’s entrepreneurial revolution, calling for a juster society and basic humanity in dealing with the flood of refugees from Eastern Europe. However, the bishops need to realise, and urgently, that you cannot challenge the hubris of secularism while clinging on to the vestiges of the power and status inherited from the cosy patronage of yesterday’s secular regimes. Today’s secular regime is dismissive of what the bishops say, because it knows that the days when the bishops had clout with the people are over. The bishops need to discover urgently why this is – by engaging for the very first time in direct, serious consultation with those on whose behalf they presume to speak Their continuing failure to do this, when those people are their only source of revenue and recruitment, and are now voting with their feet in massive numbers, is a greater mystery than Arthur C Clarke has yet stumbled over in the jungles of Central America.

Everyone I talk to gives me the same analysis: top-down manipulation of Irish society by Irish Catholic bishops, for whatever cause, has had its day. Every twelve-year-old in Ireland knows today what most of our bishops apparently do not – that leadership by verbal exhortation and condemnation can easily be replaced by a recorded message.

Eight decades after toppling its Big House political system, Catholic Ireland still has an entrenched Big House ecclesiastical system – and the sheer absurdity, mindlessness and immorality of this becomes starker with every scandal that hits the news. The old triumphalist claim ‘the church is not a democracy’ seems to more and more people the very root of the problem, a clericalist excuse for a clerical closed shop that hurts people and then turns to the secular world to repair the damage. Contempt for administrative democracy in the church (unchangeable dogma is not the issue) is contempt for the creator of the Irish Catholic people, to whom the Trinity have given wisdom and grace in abundance.

It was compassion and humility that led Jesus to the cross – not an outraged sense of his own challenged dignity. As the Irish hierarchical church decays into a national facsimile of Craggy Island, and our churches fall into disuse, this penny too must eventually drop at its summit. Until then Father Ted’s exposure of the lunacy of the recent past will have to do us for grace instead.

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