Ireland's Catholics see signs of hope in Irish Church crisis
Do we want the Catholic Church in Ireland to reform itself and be a voice for the poor and lonely, feed the poor, and comfort the dying? Or do we just want to get the Church out of society? Many people want the first choice.
For example: Returning from Rome, the bishops have been criticized for not getting an apology from the Pope, yet the Vatican says he has apologized before. The Irish bishops were asked previously by some victims to stop apologizing, and as Dublin Archbishop Martin said on Ash Wednesday, “there comes a time when repeating the word apology may even be empty."
Yet even if they had it wouldn’t have been enough.
Renowned social activist priest Fr. Peter McVerry complained on RTE radio with Mary Wilson in reaction to Martin’s statement that the whole Church was too clerical, too corrupt and so on.
He’s right in much of what he says, but this is not the time to be talking about the worldwide reform of the Catholic Church. It’s a time for talking about the reform of the Irish Church, and by attacking the small steps that have been taken by the Irish bishops in Rome, the danger is that you kill off any hope that the leadership of the Irish bishops will emerge to take ahold of this crisis.
As Martin said, it is “going to be a long road of regret and repentance, addressing what happened in the past and what happens today and looking to the future.”
So for Irish people, there is a simple choice and we need to start discussing this.
Do we want the Catholic Church in Ireland to reform itself and go back to basics and be a voice for the poor and lonely, feed the poor, comfort the dying, and so on?
Or do we want to get rid of the Church, get it out of the schools, out of hospitals, and have done with it altogether — in some sense take a cue from Martin Luther’s book and nail our decision to the cardinal’s door?
What we can’t do is constantly berate the bishops for being poor leaders, the Pope for being too Popish, the Vatican for being too clerical and so on.
There is not going to be a wholesale reform of the Catholic Church any time soon, no matter how much we would like it.
There is the opportunity to be constructively critical in helping the bishops and the wider Church here in Ireland get it right, especially with progressive bishops like Martin at the helm. He called on victims not to “lose heart,” but assured them that the hierarchy has “begun something."
That "something" will involve a letter from the bishops read at all Masses on Sunday, a public act of penitence by the bishops during Lent, a listening process with ordinary Catholics in their dioceses, and a letter from the Pope before Easter.
It may not be enough, it isn’t enough, but it is a beginning — and that, despite the anger and betrayal felt by everyone, is a flicker of hope in what have been very dark days.
Garry O’Sullivan is Editor of The Irish Catholic
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