Monday, January 25, 2010

Pope must answer people without any reservations

THIS is a crucial moment for the Irish hierarchy and Pope Benedict.

They must not meet in Rome next month without lay involvement, including representative survivors of abuse.

They must not meet if bishops attend who have been compromised by the Murphy report, or who would be likely to be so compromised by similar official reports into other dioceses outside Dublin.

And they must not meet without first assuring us that no "mental reservation" or other forms of deception will pollute their public statements.

Contacted last week to find out what is on the agenda and whether Cardinal Desmond Connell or lay Catholics have also been invited, the Vatican, would only say: "You will know everything, but in the future, not now".

At their meeting in December last, the Irish bishops said that "the report raises very important issues for the Church in Ireland, including the functioning of the Bishops' Conference, and, how the lay faithful can be more effectively involved in the life of the Church. We will give further detailed consideration to these issues."

But no lay representatives took part in the hierarchy's special session last Friday when bishops met to plan for their extraordinary meeting next month with Pope Benedict. Once again, the words "We are all the Church" rang hollow. Yet now is the moment, if ever, for lay involvement.

Critical lay voices need to be heard at next month's meeting in Rome, and they ought to include male and female survivors of sexual abuse, including Marie Collins and Andrew Madden.

Madden is one of many who have been deeply scandalised by the way in which members of the hierarchy covered up sex abuse crimes and deceived the public. He has ceased to practice as a Catholic. The time is now to involve such people in future planning and so acknowledge in concrete ways the scandal given and harm done by the hierarchy.

It will be appalling if bishops who have already offered their resignations to Rome take part in the meeting there next month, or if others who have also failed to do what they could or should over the years take part.

It seems very likely that some other bishops, whose roles have not been investigated, failed by act or omission in the same way that those who have resigned or offered to resign did. Such bishops have a moral responsibility to identify themselves and not wait for the State to name and shame them.

Andrew Madden, as well as Marie Collins, independently furnished the Murphy Commission with examples of how the hideous concept of "mental reservation" was deployed by the Archdiocese of Dublin in dealing with their complaints.

The Murphy report (paragraph 58.19-21) explained that, "Mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a churchman knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying."

An example given by Judge Murphy is where John calls to the parish priest to make a complaint about the behaviour of one of his curates.

The parish priest sees him coming but does not want to see him because he considers John to be a troublemaker. He sends another of his curates to answer the door. John asks the curate if the parish priest is in. The curate replies that he is not. This is clearly untrue but in the Church's view it is not a lie because, when the curate told John that the parish priest was not in, he mentally reserved to himself the words "to you".

Cardinal Connell explained the concept of mental reservation to the Murphy Commission as follows: "Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be -- permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying."

In this context, it was depressing last week to see the Media Liaison Office for the diocese of Down and Connor write to the Irish Times to deny that child molester Fr Brendan Smyth had been "a diocesan priest", only for it later to emerge that Smyth had ministered within that diocese in another capacity.

Cardinal Connell told the Murphy Commission, "It really is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily difficult matters that may arise in social relations where people may ask questions that you simply cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind of thing is liable to happen. So, mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying".

But there is no appropriate way for Pope Benedict to answer the Irish people that involves half-truths.

He must rise above the swamp in which the Irish hierarchy is sinking.

By calling the bishops to Rome en masse, he risks dragging himself into their mire and failing to find his way beyond that bog onto higher ground.

If Benedict ignores the laity in its broad scope, if he takes advice from bishops or cardinals who are themselves severely compromised, if he fails to clearly condemn "mental reservation" as inappropriate especially in the context of child abuse, he will not achieve the kind of new beginning that is urgently needed for the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond.
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SIC: II

1 comment:

Beth said...

So now we want people who have 'ceased to be Catholic' going to Rome to decide how to run the Church?
And as for 'mental reservation'...come on, what a load of rubbish.