Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland

A survey of recent tension felt by the Irish towards the Roman Catholic Church is in the Church Times including a recent report from the Diocese of Cloyne from the recent period 1996-2009. This included allegations against several priests which were ignored by the RC Church and the Vatican response described as "entirely unhelpful."  The Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny then excoriated the Vatican in a speech and the Papal Nuncio was subsequently recalled to Rome. In the speech, the Prime Minister said:

“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic — as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.
“And, in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, élitism — the narcissism — that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.
“Far from listening to evidence of humili ation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’, the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of the canon lawyer. This is not Rome. . . This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws, of rights and responsibilities; of proper civic order, where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version, of a particular kind of ‘morality’, will no longer be tolerated or ignored.”

The Pope's response of "surprise and disappointment" to these events occasioned this response from George Pitcher in the Guardian this past weekend, taking the Vatican to task for "repentance lite." He concludes:
It seems that there are some still in the Roman Catholic high command who have to take the first steps down that road to reconciliation over the monstrous child-abuse scandal.
Massimo Franco in the same newspaper last Friday opined that the Vatican has so far failed to take into account that the changed notion of sin now part of open contemporary culture now demands public accountability. The Vatican still operates in a culture of secrecy. The Tablet (an RC publication) wondered out loud if the ire of the Irish Prime Minister should have been directed against the Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee and called for a healing hand. 
The crucial piece of evidence in the Cloyne report was a letter sent in 1997, via the nuncio, from the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, newly headed by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos. It dismissed the so-called “framework document”, which had been agreed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference the previous year for dealing with child-abuse cases, as non-binding and not in accordance with canon law – looking at it, in Mr Kenny’s words, “through the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer”. The document committed the Irish bishops to report cases of alleged child abuse by clergy to the police. It was recognised that church processes for dealing with such cases were defective, in some cases leaving abusive priests to continue their abuse even after plausible allegations had been made against them.

Encouraged by Cardinal Castrillón’s intervention, Bishop Magee decided not to follow the framework document in his diocese, and as a result a number of cases were not reported to the police, as the framework document said they should have been. That was a direct failure of the duty of supervision that the Holy See has towards all diocesan bishops, who under the hierarchical system of government in the Catholic Church are only answerable upwards. This invites the suspicion that the system has become, in Mr Kenny’s word, dysfunctional.

The fatal mistake of the Holy See was to stand on the principle that one sovereign authority, the Irish state, had no right to investigate the affairs of another, the Holy See. It refused to cooperate with the government inquiry. Instead, in these particular circumstances it should have waived its privileges, humbly accepted that the 1997 letter had disastrous effects which its author presumably did not intend, and worked with the Irish Government and its inquiry to find explanations and solutions. Indeed, throughout the worldwide church crisis concerning child abuse by priests, the Vatican has been reluctant to admit that its policies and procedures might have been a contributing factor. It could, for instance, have ratified the Irish bishops’ framework document, making it part of local canon law. It chose not to do so, nor to explain why. That is an example of the high-handed attitude that justifies the Taoiseach’s anger.

On August 3rd, NCR reports that public support in Ireland for the Prime Minister's speech has been high while the Irish Echo notes that the PM is riding the wave of anti-Catholic sentiment in the media. Maureen Dowd in the NY Times spoke of the end of awe and the need for men in authority to be publically accountable. 
Most recently Savi Hensman writing for Ekklesia says:
In various denominations, attempts to play down scandals related to abuse have done more damage to these churches than open admission of fault and true penitence would have done. Numerous Irish people, many of them Roman Catholic, have been saddened and angered by the failure of the church at times faithfully to follow Christ, who told his followers "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10.14), and that “nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light” (Luke 8.17). In speaking out for them, and insisting that children should come first, Enda Kenny was perhaps exercising his responsibility not only as Prime Minister of a democracy but also as a lay Christian, steeped in a tradition that includes not only piety but also prophecy.
It is easy for churches to become inward-looking, and fail to discern how and where God is at work outside institutional structures and hierarchies. Yet the hope of renewal may be found in humble openness to One present throughout creation and who (in the words of a prayer attributed to Patrick, patron saint of Ireland) may speak through “mouth of friend and stranger”.
It's a watershed moment for the Irish and for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Even if some see the Prime Minister's words as opportunistic or "too little too late," he reflects the sentiments of many many people. Apparently there's now a phrase on many people's lips: "Change the Church, keep the faith." 

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