Saturday, November 28, 2009

On the Dublin Report

I'm not sure what can fittingly be said about the Dublin Report. I guess that I'd suggest reading the report itself rather than relying on media accounts or analysis. It's a fair report. It lays blame justly without having an axe to grind. The details of the abuse - and the realisation that much of it could have been prevented had senior clergymen acted decisively and with spine is sickening.
A Humbler Church?
There have been calls for a 'humbler' Church. I'm a young man. I don't have any real memory of a time when the Church 'ran' everything in society, so some of those calls don't make a whole lot of sense to me. They seem to be aimed at the realities of an Ireland which is almost dead. Likewise, the cliché of rich senior prelates living the high-life and a culture of unquestioning obedience doesn't really relate to anything I've seen in modern Ireland. Yes, our Bishops may live in historic buildings, but the few bishops I know live very modestly behind those walls. I freely admit that no priest in Ireland is going to be living on the breadline, but many of the priests I know gave up very prestigious careers and livelihoods in the secular arena for a life which pays significantly less and brings its own demands and pressures. They're not asking applause for that. However, I think that they do, however, deserve the presumption of sincerity.
Whose humility?
If there needs to be a humbler Church, it seems to me that we need to strive for a holy humility. It sometimes seems to me that when people talk about a 'humbler Church', they really mean a Church who doesn't really believe in anything any more and a faith which doesn't make any moral demands. I sometimes suspect that what is being asked for is a Church which dispenses spirituality, affirmation and pretty ceremonies without upsetting anyone by actually preaching the Gospel. That's not the kind of humility we need. Reading about the abuse, one has to wonder whether the men who did had any kind of belief in Christ or judgement or perdition or charity or kindness?
I think we need to look towards the holy and zealous humility of St Francis of Assisi and St John Vianney. We clergy have a particular responsibility within the Church. We need to be humble before the teaching of the Church and do our best to teach it by word and example. We need to believe and preach more fervently. We need to cleave more firmly to the Truth who is Christ. Our humility can't be a going quietly into the night, but a growing submission to the demands of our priesthood. "Holiness rather than peace, " as Newman used to say. The unholiness uncovered by the Dublin Report can only be atoned for by a holy humility. That holy humility must also include a burning zeal for justice. The laxity which led senior clerics to hurt so many people by not dealing firmly and aggressively with abuse can never be repeated. We mustn't be afraid to hold ourselves to the highest standards of probity in all matters. We should not resent the idea of bishops having a bit of spine in dealing with priests who step out of line.
Continuing to be a Priest
Despite the report, I'm still happy to be a priest. Indeed, because it's a fair and just report, I'm somewhat relieved that it's finally out there. Anyone who's been following the news for the past few years would have known what kind of horrors were going to be published, and no one within the Church can object to an uncovering of the truth an a fair judgement. Having read the report, I know that what's in it has made it much more difficult to be a priest in Ireland. However, it's also made it so very clear how much the Church and the World need Christ. He is the only one who can bring healing, reconciliation, liberation and salvation. If I didn't believe that, I'd be as well off hanging up my collar. That's not to say that I can proffer Him as an easy answer. Using Him as a glib slogan is not an option. That path toward healing isn't going to be an easy one for our society and it's not at all clear how it's going to come about. It's going to place huge demands on all sincere Catholics, and on clergy in particular. There may be times when it may seem as though the game mightn't be worth the candle, but as we approach the end of one Church year and face into the hopeful penitence of Advent, we should remind ourselves that He is with us always, even until the end of time.

(Incidentally, Seraphic posts with her usual common sense and compassion.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Priest in Love?

There's been quite an amount of coverage of the case of an Irish priest who announced at Mass this weekend that he's leaving ministry because of "loving, beautiful and life-giving relationship" with a woman. Needless to say, the spin that the media are putting on it is aimed at abolishing clerical celibacy. The Irish Independent headlines its account with Church cheers as priest admits that he's in love. This is - I think - the only media account which speaks about cheering. I can believe a popular priest receiving a round of applause in recognition of his work following a decision to leave the ministy, but the thought of a congregation cheering him in such circumstances strikes me as grotesque and implausible.

Now, the priest in question has been lauded for his honesty. After all, he told his congregation that because celibacy was "integral to the priesthood" he could no longer remain a priest. Fair enough. Stepping down was a more honourable action than leading the kind of double-life which has brought shame and disgrace to the ministry.

However, this doesn't change the fact that this priest is having a relationship with a married mother of two. And so, whilst he did the right thing in resigning the ministry, the truly honourable thing would have been to admit peccavi - I have sinned - rather than talking about a "loving, beautiful and life-giving relationship". Now, my heart goes out to this man. He's fallen into an adulterous relationship, a situation of serious sin. Sin being what it is, he may well be able to justify this situation to himself. Romantic love can cloud the thinking part of our brains. He may well believe that this is something postive and good in his life. Our prayers should be with him. He deserves our pity.

Less deserving of our pity, however, are those who are trying to make him some kind of poster-boy argument in favour of abolishing priestly celibacy. He is no such thing. He's an unfortunate man who proved unfaithful to the promise he took at ordination, and who failed to respect the marriage vows of his new partner. Such sin isn't an argument in favour of anything. The fact that men and women commit adultery isn't an argument in favour of making marriage a more 'open' and less permanent relationship. Would we cheer and applaud a married clergyman who was unfaithful to his wife?

This is a sad, sad, situation. But this is a time for the Church to speak clearly about the meaning of marriage and celibacy. Fidelity to marriage vows and promises of celibacy have an especial value these days. Normally, I think that situations like Fr McKenna's should be passed over with a discreet and charitable silence. Self-righteousness is ugly and none of us are without our own sins. However, when his case is being used disingenuously to undermine the value of priestly celibacy, I think that it's only right to say bluntly what is really happening.