From the editor’s desk
Opportunity for Irish renewal23 June 2012
The Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress has given a boost to the beleaguered Irish Catholic Church, at least for those who attended it. The real success of the event will depend on whether this emerging sense of energy, recovery and renewal can be transmitted to the parishes and the wider population. There are grounds for optimism, but there is a long way to go.
If the opportunity is missed, this can only be because the ecclesiastic powers-that-be have failed to realise that there is still a structural problem in Irish Catholicism. Clericalism may have been refreshingly absent from the proceedings, and that is progress. But the culture of clericalism in the Irish Church undoubtedly exacerbated, or even partly caused, the crisis surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests. Ranks were closed, bishops colluded in cover-ups, those in the clerical brotherhood watched each other’s backs, and the reputation of the Church was given greater weight than the protection of children.
This was broadly the diagnosis reached in damning report after damning report, and nobody now seriously disputes it. But the malaise of clericalism is not just about culture; it is also about structure. What the Eucharistic Congress showed is that many Irish Catholics are ready for change, structurally as well as culturally. But right down to the grass roots, lay participation in the running of the Church must be taken very seriously if the laity is to feel any sense of ownership.
The church authorities must learn to trust them and respect them as the People of God. As disciplinary measures against certain priests in Ireland over their theological writing show, there is still a tendency to filter out voices which are uncongenial to an increasingly conservative and closed-minded regime in Rome. Yet these voices represent great swathes of Irish Catholic opinion. Suppressing them is not the way to rebuild confidence but to reinforce alienation. That is not the message of Vatican II nor of the Gospel.
The feeling among participants at the congress could be summed up as a recognition that the Christian faith they encountered in the course of the congress was at last the real thing, whereas the practice of religion in Ireland before the crisis broke was not – it was a religion of formality, habit, social conformity and national identity but not of spiritual depth and meaning. In his 2010 pastoral letter to the Church in Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI excoriated the Irish bishops for having lost touch with the Gospel. It is now more widely recognised that the bishops were not the only ones of whom this was true.
Yet it is far too soon to write off Irish Catholicism, as the British media sometimes does: the proportion of the Catholic population attending Mass is still one of the highest in Europe. The role of Catholicism in Irish national identity is being transformed, and it no longer features, alongside anti-Britishness, as a basic strand of what the nation stands for. The new relationship should be a healthier one, and this is important for the sake not just of the Church but of the nation. As the King James Bible puts it, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The discrediting of the Church has left something of a vacuum in the Irish national vision. It needs replenishing, and the 2012 Eucharistic Congress could be the starting point.
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In this week’s issue
‘Two concepts pulling in different directions’
Art and the spirit
Strictly not for turning
A question of conscience
Saving the children
Rough justice for minorities
Don’t look now
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Churches under-valued or over-estimating themselves?
Francis Davis, guest contributor
Hume knew Alan Hopes would one day be bishop
Fr Mark Woodruff, guest contributor
Anglican patrimony is becoming a reality
Don't get cynical about the impact of campaigns
Geoffrey Chongo, guest contributor
The Pope and the redemption of atheists
From creation to 're-creation'
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