I’m thinking of taking Saturday to comment or reflect on a story from the week’s goings on nationally. So we’ll see how it goes.
The big story this week was the Irish Bishops’ summoning to Rome. They spent much of Monday and Tuesday meeting with the Pope and senior curia. The goal of these meetings was described by Primate of All-Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady as “one step in a process . . . which will lead to a journey of repentance, renewal and reconciliation”.
Gladys Ganiel in a series of informed and sceptical posts doubted Brady’s optimism. William Crawley took a similar line. I’m with Ganiel and Crawley. Why? Because there is something far more systemic to face up than a failure “to act effectively” by the Irish Catholic leadership – as the press statement put it. [And as the statement itself suggests, that Irish leadership is not united in the aftermath of the Murphy Report].
Christendom Catholicism Irish style was formidable: the corrosive institutionalised culture of loyalty; a general culture of deference to authority; fused with nationalism; all mixed with a high sacramentalist theology where everyone is ‘in’ from baptism, led IMHO to a culture where the spiritual qualifications for Christian ministry were so marginalised as to be irrelevant. Having a son ‘go for the priesthood’ became a symbol of cultural prestige regardless of whether he had truly been converted by the Spirit to new life in Christ. Perhaps even the question would have seemed a strange one.
It is interesting that the statement did say this:
The Holy Father … stressed the need for a deeper theological reflection on the whole issue, and called for an improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained and professed.
The New Testament qualifications for spiritual leadership revolve around character, integrity and Christ-likeness, all recognised within a local community of faith. This is a long long way from recent Irish experience. As Catholic thinkers themselves have acknowledged, “We have baptized and catechized but not evangelized.” And the reason for this is, in my view, is the overly-sacramental nature of Catholicism. As a result personal faith is downplayed and the necessity for new birth is marginalised.
The Pope’s statement is spot on – it will take BOTH profound theological shifts about the nature of faith and conversion as well as improved spiritual preparation for leadership for lasting change to take root. [and in saying this I’m in no way saying evangelicals somehow have got it all right, I’m just focusing on this particular story].