Monday, December 31, 2012

Churches can't see beyond the mass appeal of sex (Opinion)

A decree of decorum: churches move at a different pace. Photograph: Alan BetsonIsn’t it remarkable how so much discussion in our churches these days centres on sex?

Mention the words “Catholic Church” anywhere these days and the immediate thought is “child sex abuse”, and/or “contraception/homosexuality/divorce/ abortion”. 

Mention “Anglican” and what springs to mind is probably either “gay clergy” or “women bishops”.

Maybe it is this very public wrestling with such issues by a generally older, mainly male clergy and a greying laity that has turned young people away. 

Our churches appear dominated by thinking that is resolutely stuck in the mid-20th century.

Signs of the times 

The churches refuse to read the signs of the times. Who was it who said, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast’. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times”? Oh, it was that chap Jesus, wasn’t it?.

His, of course, was not an exhortation to become dedicated followers of fashion. Rather, it was encouragement to take on board the insights of the day.

So in a State which has had two outstanding women presidents we have not yet had a woman bishop and, worse, where the largest church is concerned, even the issue of women priests cannot be discussed.

This was why Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Brian D’Arcy, Fr Sean Fagan and Fr Owen O’Sullivan were silenced by Rome this year. All five took on board the insights of the day where women, celibacy, homosexuality and so on are concerned.

Woe unto them! Across the water it was just as absurd. There, with Queen Elizabeth as the titular head of the Church of England, it was decided last month that there could be no women bishops.

Here, though the way has been cleared for the Church of Ireland to have women bishops, it hasn’t happened. Indeed at its general synod last May the Church of Ireland reaffirmed its traditional teaching on marriage as “of one man with one woman” by a two-to-one majority. 

It was in fact a rejection of gay marriage and gay clergy and inspired by the civil partnership of the Dean of Leighlin, Tom Gordon, in July 2011. 

This, 20 years after the ban on homosexuality was lifted in Ireland. Our churches march to a different drum.

One-track minds 

Fine, there were other things going on in 2012. 

There was unease in Catholic Church circles at plans to divest it of some schools, and concern among Protestants at spending cuts in education. 

There was the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last June and the arrival of the new papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown.

But really it was sex, sex, sex and orthodoxy, starting with the publication in March of a summary of seven visitation reports on the Irish Catholic Church prepared for the Pope following the 2009 Murphy report.

In May there was another shocking TV documentary, this time dealing with Cardinal Seán Brady’s handling of a 1975 inquiry into abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth and, in September, yet another damning tranche of child protection reviews of Catholic institutions. Same old, same old.

The aftermath of the death of Savita Halappanavar in October led to four Catholic bishops taking to the streets on December 4th to protest against possible abortion legislation. 

Wondering why the Catholic faith is not being passed on in Ireland, the papal nuncio asked last month, “Could it be, for example, that filling every hour of every day with music or television or internet or video games or texting leads to a kind of spiritual insensitivity or numbness?”

To which the answer has to be “no”. 

Rather is it not, as Jesus himself indicated when he asked “why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” 

Our churches need to get into the log-removal business.