Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alison O’Connor: Church tells the betrayed laity to get back in line

I've a sneaking suspicion that there are plans afoot in Rome to put a squeeze on us a la carte Catholics - those of us who can't quite decide whether we're in or out. 

We're the ones who believe they should be glad to have us at all; and who love a bouncy castle on Holy Communion Day. 

Will we soon be told to shape up or ship out?

Now there is no clear word, on this but the summary of the report from the 'Apolostic Visitation" published last week was most interesting in parts. 

It was not that it contained any great surprises in terms of clerical abuse and the rape of children. 

It was pretty much the same old same old there.

But what did surprise me was the fairly clear message regarding orthodoxy. 

In other words, we were reminded that the rules are the rules. 

It doesn't matter what the "background music" may be in our country with regard to sexual abuse, or the historical dominance of the church, which had such a negative effect on our society. 

The rules, we were reminded, must be adhered to -- religiously, as it were.

The most interesting line, for me, was the one where the "visitators" spoke of a "certain tendency" they had encountered. 

This tendency was not dominant, they said, but fairly widespread nonetheless among priests, religious and laity.

It was "to hold theological opinions at variance with the teachings of the Magisterium, this serious situation requires particular attention, directed principally towards improved theological formation. It must be stressed that dissent from the fundamental teachings of the church is not the authentic path towards renewal."

So there you have it. 

No ploughing your own furrow, guys, stick to the ol' magisterium. What a wonderful word. 

Encapsulates so much, doesn't it, and summons up images of majesty and obsequiousness in equal measures. 

A quick Google search says it is to do with the teaching authority of the church and that, in a nutshell, the Pope is the boss.

You, as an individual Irish Catholic, may be riding high in some parish somewhere on a wave of lay involvement with a dead-sound parish priest, but never, ever forget that neither you nor he has any say at all in the teachings of the church.

The signals being sent here are that it doesn't much matter what sort of rag order the Catholic Church in Ireland is in; or how much it hurt and offended people with its response to the rape of children; or how so many Catholics do want to remain in the church, but are trying to find their way after being so appallingly betrayed. 

Get back in line, is the implicit message.

It seems as if the Pope and those who surround him have concluded that the Catholic Church, at least in Europe and the US, is going to end up far smaller. 

It also seems - and it's hard to divine this as a casual Catholic, given that even senior theologians can have difficulty working out what the Vatican is thinking - as if the decision has been made that those who are left will be toeing a strictly orthodox line.

Now there is a certain element here that if you sign up for an organisation that has a clear set of rules, well then you abide by those rules.

Acknowledging that, you must also accept that in Ireland you were generally born, baptised and had other sacraments as a matter of course. 

It was automatically accepted you were a part of mother church.

There is also the element that only 18pc of Catholics in Dublin go to Mass regularly on a Sunday. 

Should those, who are the ones contributing to the collection plate each week be subsidising the sacramental Catholics who only turn up on special days, or the ones who turn immediately to the parish priest when there is a death in the family?

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has been addressing this issue for some time now, although in a rather more thoughtful and seemingly less dictatorial way than our recent Vatican visitors. 

In February, he spoke about the future of the Irish Catholic Church in a speech at the Mater Dei Institute in Dublin.

He said there were many who would wish an Irish church separate from Rome. 

He spoke of how people live out a sort of a cultural Catholicism: "In other words, what is called Catholicism is really a type of civil religion; a social spirituality without dogma, with blurred reference to a Jesus of one's own creation."

There were those, he said, who felt that the church in Ireland was on a suicide path created by its own internal culture and he went on to say that the challenge of faith in Ireland could only be addressed by "radical efforts of new evangelisation" but that this must have its own Irish characteristics.

Having said all of that, he may well be of a like mind to our "visitators" but just saying it to us in a nicer way. 

I am relieved to report, though, that he made no mention of the Magisterium.

Interestingly, he also said that for church and State the challenge was to find a mature interaction "which is neither that of being in bed together nor that of living as survivors of a hostile divorce, unable to converse".

Finally, it made me smile a little to see at the end of the visitation report that the Irish Catholic community was urged to "make its voice heard in the media and to establish a proper relationship with those active in this field, for the sake of making known the truth of the Gospel and the church's life".

Maybe they should ask Fianna Fail for that page from the Clar at its recent ard fheis, which contained media names, numbers and emails for the purposes of members complaining in the event of unfair treatment.