Archive for May 9th, 2012

In Ireland — A Call for an Open Church

Long active in Voice of the Faithful® in Ireland, Sean O’Conaill has this tag line at the bottom of his e-mails, “Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” from 2 Cor. 3:17. This Scripture must have been on Sean’s mind as he attended “Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church” with about 1,000 other Catholics at Dublin’s Regency Hotel on Monday. The Irish Association of Catholic Priests sponsored the event, and Sean called it an “epochal watershed in Ireland,” where speakers rallied attendees around a more accessible Church open to dialogue. Here’s how Sean described the event —

‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church’ was a watershed event in Irish Catholicism, especially because of the turnout. Brendan Hoban (well known Irish author, columnist and broadcaster) confirmed the figure of over 1000 at the end.

I watched one woman who must have been in her eighties, bent almost double, marching along the hotel corridor towards the conference centre. Her determination, against all the odds, embodied the spirit of the event.

What stays with me is the togetherness of people in anger at the silencing of any questioning of the church’s abysmal disciplinary status quo – as a supposedly credible response to the issue of Irish clerical child abuse. The fraudulence and opportunism of that stance, as well as its stupidity, is clearly infuriating many.

The opening ‘naming the reality’ session was a most poignant memorial to the Irish Catholic diaspora, those hurt and alienated by the arctic coldness and aridity of Roman authoritarianism.

But that mood was soon replaced by the inspirational impact of the ‘Vision’ session just before lunch: communion; dialogue; participation; Catholic social teaching; subsidiarity – and the exorcising of fear from the church. All these key buttons were expertly pressed. It was really heart-stopping to hear one vibrant young woman (Aoife McGrath) confidently owning the very best of Vatican II. Tony Butler’s detailing of the paltry wages of fear engendered by what is calling itself the magisterium was also especially telling. The efforts of a tiny minority of regimented authoritarian clones to revive that fear were blown away like mist.

The final session – moving from vision to reality – emphasised the pointlessness of waiting for that ‘authority’ to initiate reform, and the need to be active and courageous in our own space.

The idea of provincial conferences along the same lines was floated, and there is to be a meeting of reps of all reform-minded groups (including VOTFI, of course) in All Hallows on Wed May 30th to discuss the formation of an umbrella organisation.

The utter foolishness of the hierarchy, still ongoing, turned the event into a triumph for all who organised it. Ireland’s heroic fourteen-year-old in 1975, Brendan Boland (clergy sexual abuse survivor), is making all the cummerbunded ones look entirely contemptible. His statement that he cannot be healed while Cardinal Sean Brady remains primate seals the latter’s fate, whatever Rome might say.

So Cardinal Brady looks daily more like a squatter in Ara Coeli, the primate’s residence in Armagh. On Tuesday 8th May Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness turned the focus of odium and derision on the ‘authority’ that will not let him leave – the Vatican. Even if it changed its stance now, that ‘authority’ has no chance now of taking back the shot that has blown both of its feet off in Ireland

Two embodiments of church are clearly separating here – one hierarchical, authoritarian and bereft of dignity and honour, the other livid with just anger and bent on restoring some semblance of Catholic respectability. I could not have foreseen this prior to May 1st.

We spoke briefly to Tony Flannery OP (Irish priest silenced by the Vatican) afterwards , and we promised in a really heartfelt way to pray for one another. We came home entirely satisfied that Ireland has again changed utterly.

Apple blossom caught our attention at one point. The fruit that grows from that will be eaten by a completely changed Irish Catholic people. This spring is unusually chilly, but the sun has never shone more brightly on our many shades of green.

For other details on Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church, see “Ireland assembly of religious and laypeople calls for open church, re-evaluation” in National Catholic Reporter. NCR reports, in part, that “Fr. Gerry O’Hanlon, a former Jesuit provincial, said during the event that the clerical child sexual abuse crisis and its serious mishandling by church leaders has revealed wider and deeper fault lines in the national and universal church. He described the event as a ‘wonderful sign of hope’ for the future of the church in Ireland. He said the event was ‘trying to get a group together who really feel strongly about the crisis in the church and want to offer constructive hope and help. It’s about looking to a new church where the voice of the faithful, the voice of the laity, is heard more clearly as the Second Vatican Council wanted to happen.'”

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