The Irish people should help choose Catholic bishops


Given the scale of what is happening in the Irish Catholic Church, the only meaningful departure would be that of the Pope himself.

As Cardinal Ratzinger he was probably the best informed man in the Vatican, being both Prefect of the powerful Congregation of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals. These offices mean that he was privy to the ever swelling tide of reports on clerical sex abuse which poured into the Vatican during his tenure in office from every diocese in the world.  

Even non-Catholics are free to access the vast accounts of clerical abuse, available on the web, like a vast open sewer.

But apparently the Pontiff has no intention of resigning. Instead, he intends to send Ireland a letter. Presumably it will be prepared by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, as were Pope John Paul II’s Irish speeches prepared by the then Bishop Daly.

If that letter ever does get sent, it will be the most unpopular, and ineffective, Papal missive to arrive in Ireland since the Papal Rescript of 1888 which the British-inspired Pope Leo X111 issued condemning the Plan of Campaign, which was a plan to help tenant farmers. 

Instead of arguments over whether or not a handful of bishops should be hung out to dry, the Irish public should be discussing how they, the people, who in the end pick up the tab for all that is happening in both Church and State, should be concentrating on developing a mechanism whereby the laity would henceforth have a say in the selection of future bishops.

I would strongly urge that our Government tell Rome that henceforth a small, but experienced, lay panel be appointed to vet any short list prepared to fill Episcopal vacancies. Ideally the panel should include a mother, preferably with some knowledge of psychiatry.

Secondly, as a direct  response to the arrogance and tardiness of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland dealing with the Murphy Inquiry,  that we close down our embassy to the Holy See and henceforth deal with the Vatican through our  embassy in Rome.

These are not matters of faith. The question of clerical sex abuse is one which has serious  financial, educational and emotional implications for an Irish society struggling to find a new economic and psychological identity for itself in the midst of chaos.

The money from the sale of the beautiful, but costly, Vatican embassy could go to restoring the Budget cuts in facilities available to blind persons for example. 

Let us consider the present situation. Bishops are appointed to a diocese whose inhabitants are expected to shoulder 100% of their Lordships upkeep and that of their retinue. They are also expected to give 100% of obedience to his pronouncements, but they are not even given one per cent of input into his selection.

While from time to time the Vatican may have a particular candidate of its own for a vacant See it is normally the Papal Nuncio who has the major say in the appointment of bishops. He tells Rome which of the shortlisted replacements for any vacant see is likely to be the most reliable in implementing the Vatican’s policies. His view totally outweighs the wishes of the priests of the diocese, and as for those of the laity…? Forget it.

Cardinal Desmond Connell, who played an inglorious role at the helm in Drumcondra while the gathering storm that led to the Murphy reports was building up, was appointed because he was a friend of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, not because of any reputation for his knowledge and involvement with the lives of the plain people of Dublin.                         

Similarly, the appointment of John Magee as Bishop of Cloyne, a post from which he has had to step aside, clearly owed more to his years as a papal secretary than to his services in Ireland.

We don’t know yet what the ongoing examination of the affairs of the diocese of Cloyne is going to throw up, but, to put it mildly, there is very little evidence  that the Cloyne Report is going to make better reading than the Murphy Report.  

The plain fact is that the present crisis has arisen because bishops, appointed solely by Rome, were formed, and operated in a culture in which the Vatican policy worldwide was: Pass the Parcel.

Under infectious diseases legislation, there are severe penalties for failing to report certain serious illnesses to the authorities. But at under the Pass the Parcel policy, what most of us would call an appalling disease, that of pedophilia, was covered up and the infectious one deliberately sent off to another parish to abuse trust and children in a manner which had, and has, lifelong consequences.