Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar rebuked the Taoiseach at the weekend after Enda Kenny hinted that Fine Gael might be prepared to enter government with Sinn Féin.
“In politics,” Mr Varadkar said, “you have to make compromises to get
things done but if you don’t have red lines, then you stand for
It got me thinking about whether or not there are – or should be –
red lines in the Church, boundaries outside of which Catholics shouldn’t
stray. Are there beliefs and practices so contradictory to what it
means to be a Catholic that people following these paths are no longer
Catholic in any real sense?
Pope Francis criticises what he describes as “vague theism” where
people “treat religion as a consumer product”. In this form of religion,
“personal satisfaction, ‘relaxation’ and ‘feeling good’” become the key
goals, according to the Pontiff.
Addressing the heads of religious orders at the weekend, Francis
expanded on the theme in the context of exploring why clerics leave the
priesthood. He said the primary factor is a “provisional” culture, which
leads to living an “à la carte” life which is “a slave to fashion”.
“It has also produces a powerful practical relativism, according to
which everything is judged in terms of a self-realisation which is often
extraneous to the values of the Gospel,” the Pope said.
That practical relativism which the Pope criticises manifests itself
in many ways. One way is the tendency to set aside core parts of
Christ’s teaching that one finds uncomfortable or difficult to live.
Fr Tony Flannery, currently out of ministry at the request of his
religious superiors due to his views at odds with Church teaching, was
on the radio at the weekend. He was describing the recent Mass he
celebrated to mark his 70th birthday, in defiance of his superiors.
“We had a ball,” Fr Flannery said of the liturgy. Speaking of the
congregation, he said that “a lot of them are people who don’t go to
Mass at all”.
“I said to the people at the beginning ‘look, I know people are here
who don’t go to Mass, some people who are here don’t even believe that
much’, but, I said, ‘if you can at all, come to Communion’,” Fr Flannery
said. According to Fr Flannery, everyone did. Presumably regardless of
whether or not they had any faith in the sacrament or not.
Tellingly in the interview, Fr Flannery said that he believed the
Church should be “open to people of all views and attitudes” before,
wait for it, going on to compare himself to Pope Francis.
authoritative papal biographer Austen Ivereigh points out in The Irish Catholic
this week, Fr Flannery is clearly not even remotely on the same page as
But, sure, why let that get in the way of a good yarn?
There can be little doubt that there is a lot of the ‘vague theism’
that Pope Francis so roundly condemns. It often tends to see faith more
as a fuzzy feeling of wellbeing or simply being together with a group of
somewhat like-minded people rather than a relationship with Christ.
It’s a deeply impoverished vision of faith that feeds neither mind
nor soul. Perhaps, this is the reason why so many young people find
nothing life-giving in this diminished presentation of a relationship
Perhaps this is why they come to the conclusion that all
Catholicism is about is vague feelings of wellness or being with
like-minded people, there’s more fun to be had in the pub or the gym.
Just perhaps, a faith that has content and a context, that is
challenging as well as comforting, exhilarating as well as giving rest,
might hold more appeal for jaded young people.