The Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, addressed the Association of Papal Knights on the 7th November 2014. I do not know if there were any Papal Lady Knights there to help lift his extremely depressed mood or to provide complementary female comfort, reflection and insight! His homily is available to read on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests. It was also reported on in the ‘Irish Catholic’ of November 13th 2014 under the apocalyptic headline that “the Church has lost the battle with Secularism” and whether the Church here in Ireland is finished. Bishop Neary struck a deeply pessimistic note about the future of the Catholic Church in the West and talked about “downsizing”, “death rattle”, as numbers and financial contributions drop in most parishes. Many adult Catholics have walked away and there are few young people. He said “a great struggle, social, political, intellectual and profoundly cultural has been fought and we have lost.” His final paragraph concluded that it is dark and that we find ourselves at a rather bewildering crossroads. He seemed unimpressed with Pope Francis whose joyful, pastoral leadership has lifted the spirits of many people. In fact, he seemed to favour the Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Emeritus Benedict line that we need to move to a much smaller church – a small clerical cult group utterly loyal to Rome and that the 99 smelly ewes and rams can get lost for themselves in an evil, godless, secular, western world! Bishop Neary talked about the dishonest, shady and calculating steward in the recent Gospel parable. I do not know whether he was advocating that model in order to deal with the crisis and please the Master? Bishop Neary gave no historical analysis or narrative as to what he thinks led us to this crisis. He produced no bold program of renewal or definite suggestions for reform of a clearly dysfunctional institution. I do not know whether there was any robust dialogue and healthy alternative viewpoints presented by the Knights to help Bishop Neary. I am aware that all the bishops are programmed into absolute obedience to a Roman Control Group and may now have difficulty in responding to Pope Francis’s invitation at the recent synod to speak honestly from their hearts about the complex truths, realities and developments at the root of the crisis for the Catholic Church.
There are a myriad of very important issues for the Catholic Church, Irish society, and the growth of the Kingdom of God, underlying the cry of desolation from Bishop Neary. All of us Irish Catholics are needed to contribute to a full response and a Sensus Fidelium / Common Sense of the People of God. All of us can write to Bishop Neary and can offer our valuable insights, suggestions and encouragement. Bishop Neary and the whole Irish Bishops Conference can promote a massive new program in 2015 (and the decades thereafter) in every diocese of honest, open dialogue leading to consensus and change (Yes, there has to be change in some clerical teaching and structures). At this point, I know that many good Irish Catholics would respond to me and say that it is foolish to continue banging our heads off a stone wall. I know that many adult Catholics over the past forty years have rightly walked away from clerical control and nonsense. They assert that the clerical system is closed and totally irreformable – that it has to be allowed to die by withdrawing any kind of support and giving the clerical system a wide berth over the coming decades. I hasten to clarify that those adult Catholics have not necessarily walked away from a loving God, a Risen Saviour and a Spirit of selfless love plus action for social justice. So – yes, while I accept that there are very strong arguments to say it could be an awful waste of time and energy for any of us to engage or respond to Bishop Neary, I am prepared to articulate elements of my response to the many issues he raised for whatever my views may be worth.
I am a west of Ireland man too, born in Coolaney Co Sligo, and happily settled in Dublin since the 1960s. I was ordained a priest in All Hallows in 1970. I married in 1977 and remain a practising Catholic parent in our local parish of St Attracta’s, Meadowbrook, Dundrum. I have been involved in various Catholic reform groups such as Leaven, Pobal and Basic over the last thirty years. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Association of Catholic Priests since it began some years ago. I am deeply grateful for the ministry of those priests and admire their courage and self-sacrifice for the good of the People of God. The Association of Catholics in Ireland is also doing good work in pursuit of reform. I am now an active member of We Are Church Ireland and support its five aims. Please check out our website (www.wearechurchireland.ie) and feel free to form a We Are Church group in your homes anywhere, based on the five aims and the invitation by Pope Francis for all of us to meet and talk honestly. Talk, share and pray together, lobby your pastors, speak the truth to power and act for justice in our Catholic Church and in Ireland. Like all Catholic parents, I value the fundamental Good News of our religion and desperately want this gospel treasure which sustained our parents and ourselves to be available and understandable to the next generation in language, concepts, action, systems and structures that make sense to people today imbued with the latest scientific, philosophical and theological consciousness. There is a mountain of work to be done by all of us to articulate in today’s language, consciousness and parish community the fundamental Jesus Christ encounter and to jettison burdens of outdated clerical teachings plus medieval systems. The task of aggiornamento / updating / renewal /reform is immense. I believe it is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.
A. First I will try and make some clarification of terms used in the homily and subsequent Irish Catholic reporting. In all debates the word ‘Church’ is often used. However, the word has various meanings. We need to be exact when we use it. It could mean the male clerical control group / the magisterium who have all the answers and who alone can preach / minister / govern / consecrate / formulate and approve ritual and liturgy. The word Church could also mean all Catholics / all Christians / the People of God baptised as priests, prophets and kings. For instance, in a report that the Church has lost the battle with Secularism or that the Church in Ireland is finished, do you mean the People of God or do you mean a clerical caste / control group? We, the People of God, were not at war with anybody. We object to clerics regularly lambasting God’s one beautiful world in which we live, move and have our being as secular, godless, relativist and worst of all, modern. Maybe the statement meant the clerical caste has lost power over Irish Catholic people and was deeply annoyed that the sheep had walked away from control and domination. Maybe the clerics are displeased that the People of God today have moved on from Roman Empire Christendom and way past Middle Ages to a modern world which values liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy. Most Irish Catholics today are proud citizens of a Republic and consider that liberty, equality, fraternity and democracy are indeed Gospel values and values of the early Church community before it became damaged by the macho, patriarchal values of Roman Empire Christendom. When clerics and various Catholic institutes regularly denounce the “secular agenda”, are they hitting at the majority of Irish Catholics who no longer agree with:
(a) clerical teaching on artificial contraception,
(b) official clerical teaching on homosexuality,
(c) mandatory celibacy,
(d) refusal to grant equality to women in governance and ministry,
(e) Roman imperial right to control excellent Catholic religious women in the US who have proven themselves as credible witnesses to Jesus?
When the clerics lambast the secular agenda, are they attacking the majority of Irish Catholics who are not terribly impressed with Rome as a monarchy and Roman contempt for democracy / collegiality as well as transparency and accountability? When Boko Haram - a fundamentalist Islamist group in Africa – asserts that Western education is bad, what do they mean? When the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai and tried to stop her from getting education and equality, what threat did they see or what was their rationale? When some clerics denounce Secularism and Western values and sneer at Europe / the West, where are they coming from and what threat do they see? When we read of the prevalence of the violence toward women in Irish Catholic homes we cry out in despair. We are, indeed, as Bishop Neary says at a “bewildering crossroads”. I think that the vast majority of Irish Catholic people are beginning to rise up and are demanding that we jettison outdated sexism, patriarchy and homophobia in our Catholic Church and in Ireland and find new ways to encounter / bear witness to the Risen Christ in our homes, parishes and Ireland. I am uncomfortable with the secular / sacred divide. We, human beings, are in the flesh in one world among the galaxies amid an ever-expanding universe. Not secular / not spiritual / not godless – One World / God’s Wonderful World – for us to cherish, protect and celebrate. Maybe, God in all her glory, is no longer confined within the constructs of the past. The Spirit is slowly moving everywhere and love will counteract hate and all manner of things will be well.
B. Secondly, I give this short historical outline and narrative as a partial understanding of where we have come from as a Catholic Church to this “bewildering crossroads”. The East West Schism of 1054 and the Reformation in the 16th Century ruptured the Christian Church. This scandal of disunity still undermines the work of evangelisation. Among the complex causes at the root of the tragedies were imperial refusals to share power, patriarchal refusal to admit wrongdoing and macho refusal to dialogue / listen and admit that change is fundamental and that the Church is always in need of reform. Those same causes and root problems have remained in the Roman Control Group in our Catholic Church. The Declaration of Papal Infallibility in the late 1800s really compounded the problems in a fast changing world. Other massive historical events over the past three hundred years e.g. the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, American Independence and Bill of Rights, Irish Independence, world wars, holocaust, atomic bomb, civil rights and apartheid struggles, scientific advances and feminism – all led to significant changes in the world and in the understanding and consciousness of people everywhere. Pope John XXIII realised 55 years ago that reform / renewal / aggiornamento / updating was badly needed in our Catholic Church and that all Christians must reunite and work together as a matter of urgency. Vatican II (1962 – 65) was a wonderful attempt to move to the two objectives of aggiornamento and reunion. Huge resources should have been expended by the majority of bishops (2000+) in educating adult Catholics in the Vatican II documents and promulgating the new approach. Tragically, this did not happen in most countries. The minority group on all the Vatican II documents (150+) were centred mainly in Rome and it appears they actively connived to neutralise the thrust of Vatican II and fiercely resisted the fleshing out of collegiality or a more democratic system of governance in our Church for bishops, priests and lay people in various countries with differing pastoral needs.
The Humanae Vitae encyclical on artificial contraception was promulgated in 1968 against the wholesome advice of the vast majority of the Papal Commission which had deliberated for years. Paul VI, hamstrung by Papal Infallibility, burdened by narrow, limited and negative thinking about sexuality and heavily influenced by the minority Roman Control Group, reasserted the traditional clerical teaching. This was a momentous decision since it appears that a vast majority of lay Catholic people rejected the teaching. I hasten to add that those good people did not reject the fundamental Good News of Jesus in a loving God, Risen Saviour and Spirit of selfless love and action for justice. Unfortunately the clerical thinking on contraception was foisted on people with tragic consequences for catechesis in homes, parish community, good authority and reception of the crucial sacrament of Penance. The minority clerical teaching was rammed through by men possibly suffering psycho-sexually under the unjust abuse of enforced celibacy. This event in 1968 was the start of lay people walking away from clerical placement of burdens on their shoulders. This was a start of lay rejection of some clerical teaching especially when they pontificate on issues of sexuality and gender against the common sense of lay married experts.
The cruel abuse and injustice of mandatory clerical celibacy was reaffirmed in the early 1970s with some tragic consequences in terms of child abuse and cover up by bishops. It has also led to the emerging crisis of priest shortage with unfair burdens now laid on priests together with the immoral deprivation of Eucharist to Catholic people world-wide. The obvious injustice of the sexist refusal by a patriarchal “old boys club” to ordain women and allow them their rightful equal place in governance, teaching, liturgy and ministry in our Church, is in my opinion the key most important factor in the tragic decline that rightly bothers Bishop Neary as per his recent homily. Sadly, those men then compound the problem by blaming Jesus for their sexism thus making it more difficult to evangelise. Jesus walked with women and men. Jesus shared his Good News that we are all daughters and sons of God – that the Divine is deep within all human beings. It is deeply wrong for bishops and clerics to blame Jesus for their sexism and to state that Jesus is the reason the People of God is to be deprived forever of the genius, insights and talents of women in ministry, service, teaching and governance.
C. Thirdly – Dear Bishop Michael,
Thank you for your dedicated priestly ministry among us and for sharing your honest cry of desolation with us in your homily. You are in our prayers, thoughts and love. I have attempted in this lengthy epistle to communicate honestly with you. I accept that there are deeply Sorrowful Mysteries in our world and in all our lives. I can understand your angst in a deep and dark December. However, Jesus Christ is indeed risen and is walking with us all along the streets, down the valleys and over the mountains. I say there are lots of Joyful Mysteries for us to find together as a People of God and to celebrate. There are even more Glorious Mysteries along the roads ahead into eternity.
Michael, there are wonderful people and pastoral priests in every parish. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I say that there is tremendous potential in the Christian community to transform the world and build up the Kingdom of God. All those good people and priests are doing their best to live wholesome lives in the flesh / incarnate in God’s wonderful world of 2014. As Pope John XXIII said there is a huge need for updating / renewal / reform / reunion in the Christian Church. As Catholic people, we treasure the fundamental Good News of Jesus in terms of a loving God, a risen Saviour and a Spirit of love / sharing / justice / peace. We all desperately want that Good News to be available to all people in language, concepts, ritual, systems and action for justice that makes sense for people today. We know it is not possible to share the Good News successfully in terms of sexism, Roman monarchy, abuse of power, refusal to share power, homophobia and outdated, negative, narrow thinking about sexuality.
Michael, following on from Pope Francis’s invitation at the recent synod, you and all the Irish bishops are in a position to bring us all together in every parish and diocese over the coming year and decades. You are in a position to initiate open and honest dialogue and prayer leading to consensus and change. You and all the bishops are in a position to take much better care of your priests. They are labouring at the front line and are overburdened and possibly suffering low morale. Like Pope Francis, you need to free them to speak from their hearts. You need to listen to them, to care for them and to support them as they move forward with their very important pastoral care in every parish. You need to lead them and all of us along a path of substantial change, reform and renewal. Yes, Michael, there has to be serious change – otherwise everybody knows it is all useless talk and a waste of time and they will continue to walk away from the clerical system. All of us, priests and people are absolutely needed to contribute our truths and reach a good Sensus Fidelium. That broad truth will set us all free. As an Irish meitheal / community / People of God, we can do great work together to build up the Kingdom of God.
We all hope and pray that the 2015 Synod on the Family & Evangelisation next October will be beneficial for people everywhere. Hopefully, the final documents will be approved by an equal number of Synod Mothers – Yes – Synod Mothers and Fathers!!
ONWARD TO VATICAN III IN 2020!!
May the Lord bless and keep you.
Shalom / Slainte.
A very Happy Christmas to you and yours.
Joe Mulvaney, 10 Sycamore Drive, Dundrum, Dublin 16
5th December 2014