Recently, in his weekly column for the Western People, Fr Brendan Hoban took exception to an article by Laura Kennedy on January 1st 2015 in the Irish Times about her experience of attendance at Mass in Limerick. It was not a joyful or mystical encounter for her with God, parishioners or clergy!! Fr Hoban also took issue with the Irish Times for their support of Educate Together and the complex issue of handover of Catholic patron schools to groups with a secular or non-religious ethos. This past January 7th, an outbreak of primitive religious lunacy in Paris led to carnage and an ongoing debate about our freedom to question and openly debate any aspects of clerical teaching, traditions and rituals which appear irrational, medieval, outdated or non-essential within the various world religions to modern, healthy human beings in the 21st century. It was so sad and embarrassing this week for us Catholics to see Pope Francis, after a very impressive tour to Sri Lanka and the Philippines caught on the hook of having to defend a minority clerical teaching on contraception when the vast majority of healthy Catholic married experts on marriage (worldwide and even in the Philippines) have rejected that clerical teaching and dared to offend the presumably deeply held belief (but foreign ideology) of Pope Francis and the Roman Control group. Laura Kennedy’s search for meaningful positive experience within the Catholic Church and the debate now being embarked on in regard to Islam and other world religions is all interrelated and is of huge importance for the future of religion and society. Pope John XXIII got it right decades ago – there is a great need for aggiornamento/updating/reform in our Catholic religion (and, presumably, in all the great world religions). It is wrong to murder or restore the Inquisition. It is foolish to blame the rabbits or the media!!!
There are a multitude of autocratic regimes, despotic monarchies, patriarchal hierarchies and religious control groups that do not like modernity, democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, open discussion, transparency, humour and satire. Those groups would have killed, suppressed or censored media in the past. In the recent Paris tragedy, Middle Ages horror re-emerged and media people were murdered. In Saudi Arabia now, a man named Raif Badawi is subject to ongoing lashes because he sought to encourage debate on religion and politics. On a more civilized level, some control groups today resort to blaming messengers, journalists and the media instead of listening to the criticism and implementing reform or change if judged necessary by a majority consensus. Accordingly, I am very puzzled by the uncharacteristic “episcopal” outburst by Fr Hoban against the Irish Times in his weekly column published in the Western People, and as posted on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) on January 12th 2015. I am concerned that the “Blame the Media” virus is spreading even among excellent pastoral priests such as Brendan and a host of others in the ACP who continue to avail of media as natural allies in their ongoing trojan work for much-needed reform within the Roman Catholic Church. We know that there are very powerful fundamentalist Catholic forces opposed to Pope Francis and that they were not impressed with his Christmas criticism. So it may well be that Fr Hoban and the ACP are coming under intense clerical pressure to observe their vow of absolute obedience to bishops and to toe the Roman line, especially on issues of sexuality, gender, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and ordination of women, where, in truth, a huge gap has opened up between the official clerical teaching and the accepted consensus beliefs of a majority of lay Catholics plus good pastoral priests.
Fr Hoban entitled his thesis “To Read or Not Read a Publication that Belittles My Religion?”. He accused the Irish Times of an anti-Catholic ethos. I make three points in response;
- It would not appear to be a very smart commercial move for the Irish Times to be anti-Catholic in a country with a massive majority of baptised Roman Catholics unless the Irish Times has some insights into the thinking of those Catholics where there is a huge gap between official clerical teaching and the actual accepted beliefs of a majority of lay Catholics. The Irish Times may also suspect that the vast majority of Catholics treasure the simple core Good News of our religion in terms of a loving God, a risen Saviour and a Spirit of love/sharing/ justice/peace but are quite prepared to walk away from or jettison outdated clerical thinking, systems, structures, or other medieval accretions.
- I’m sure that many Irish bishops and ultra-orthodox Catholic Institutes opposed over the past years to Fr Hoban and the ACP have very much regarded them as belittling or damaging the fundamentalist Catholic religion as formulated pre-Vatican II and pre-Pope Francis!!!
- Most Irish Catholics today in the wake of the awful revelations about institutional and clerical abuse, subsequent episcopal cover-up and domestic abuse by patriarchs in Catholic homes are well aware that anybody in earlier decades who dared question those horrible realities were suppressed, shunned and reviled as belittling our Catholic religion and of being anti-Catholic.
Fr Hoban thought an opinion piece in the Irish Times by Laura Kennedy on January 1st 2015 on a one-off return to Mass attendance was “supercilious, unbalanced, insubstantial and prejudiced”. I was very surprised that he showed no understanding of her uncomfortable experience of outdated biblical readings, clerical ritual in Latin English and no opportunity for fellowship and dialogue. I was shocked that he wanted her to go away and informed her that she was not tied to the altar rails. I trust Fr Hoban was not echoing the pre-Pope Francis papal thinking that those smelly ewes and rams who dare to dialogue and question should get lost for themselves and leave the Church to be a small elite ultra-orthodox sect. Fr Hoban did not seem to take into account the Catholic programming through childhood and school which does amount to some ties and constraints. He did not seem to take into account the ambivalence felt by the multitude of Catholics who have walked away and their instinct that there is treasure hidden in their Catholic religion beneath some outdated nonsense. He did not seem to understand that the less than 100% celebrant could have been overburdened, suffering from low morale or unhappy with the new Latin English ritual imposed on all of us by Rome in 2011, against the wishes of Fr Hoban himself and stout, but futile, resistance by the ACP at that time. Fr Hoban is well aware of the damage that Roman imposition of the new English Missal has done to the celebration of our liturgy. I often find that some biblical readings are meaningless or alien and some rubbish sermons unchallenged and the whole thing medieval and embarrassing, especially when adult sons are present with us. I also often wonder what the other grey heads like mine are really thinking and mourn the fact that there is so little open, honest and robust dialogue/discussion in our parishes leading to consensus and change. I am also acutely aware from personal experience of the deep riches and joy in the celebration of Eucharist in an informal small group setting with opportunity for dialogue and questioning. There is much work to be done in terms of reform/renewal of Parish liturgy. Hopefully, then, Laura and many others will find their Parish liturgy experience uplifting, joyful and meaningful.
Like ourselves, the media are not angels and are not infallible. Yes – the media, like clerics, politicians and all powerful elites, need to be questioned and robust checks and balances need to be in place. Yes – the Irish Times should challenge all religious and political operatives. They have probably challenged the Catholic Church most since it is in a huge majority situation with control over much education and health and with no democratic structures or genuine opportunity for dialogue leading to consensus and change. Yes – there are limitations on all our freedoms if we are to live together and build up the Kingdom of God. But, there is an overwhelming need for good-humoured but robust dialogue and debate without anybody getting up in arms and taking offence at everything. There has been too much Inquisition and suppression and taking offence. Good pastoral priests, nuns and theologians have been silenced and abused in our Church for too long for daring to ask questions and cause offence to monarchs. In the light of so much religion-fuelled violence, mayhem and lunacy throughout the course of history – and up through until today – it is probably no wonder that more and more people give it all a wide berth and seek to build a secular public world with religion as a very personal private matter.
All the male clerics, rabbis, mullahs, imams, etc. are human beings and very fallible sinners like us all. They all need to join with us in fraternity and democratic systems and share with us all in robust dialogue, leading to consensus, change and wisdom in a fast-changing world. All of us modern-day believers in Yahweh or Trinity or Allah or Meaning or Love or Justice or Peace, who adhere within the great religions and respect their power for good, need to talk and work together and respect each other in a 21st century Quest for the Living God and an appropriate Global Ethic.