Post-Christendom continues to work itself out in Ireland in all sorts of ways. And probably the biggest is a turning away from and a repudiation of the past – a (Catholic) Christendom past – in a mixture of horror and disgust.
This week it’s picking up force, with calls from just about everywhere for the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland to resign. Cardinal Daly is Primate of all Ireland and President of the Irish Episcopal Conference. Even a senior figure like Fr Vincent Twomey on RTE’s Primetime last night thought (relucantly) he should go.
Why? Because the present Cardinal just ‘did his duty’ in recording interviews with Kevin Boland and passing on names of 5 other children given by Boland who were also being abused by Fr Brendan Smyth to Smyth’s superior. Smyth’s boss did nothing and Smyth continued to abuse untold numbers of children up to the early 1990s. Neither Brady nor any of his bosses of the time told the children’s parents or the police since this was a Catholic Church matter and enshrouded in Canon Law.
Brady is convinced it is not a resigning matter, he resisted calls to do so two years ago. But the reality is that he has lived with this knowledge since 1975. But whether he resigns or not, there are other bigger questions around.
Watching Kevin Boland interviewed on RTE’s Prime Time last night would make you weep or vomit or both. The questions a group of men asked 14 yr old boy in 1975 (after not allowing his father to be with him and insisting he sign a confidentiality document) who had been abused spoke of self-protection, institutionalism, a complete lack of emphathy and little or no interest in the victim.
I’m not targeting Cardinal Brady in particular for of course this scenario has been played out repeatedly in Ireland over the last twenty years.
But what sort of church system is it that produces such inhumanity? What sign was there in that room of any presence of the Spirit of God, any Christ-likeness? Any sign of God’s fighting of injustice and fierce love and compassion for the vulnerable?
I’m an evangelical Christian. Evangelicals would be the first to say just being a member of a church does not mean there is spiritual life present – whether you are Protestant, Catholic or even Baptist 😉 There is an emphasis on the reality of a personal faith in Jesus that results in discipleship and is empowered by the gracious gift of the Spirit.
Some qualifiers here: My friend Kevin rightly says that this is not a time for sectarian point scoring or triumphalism. Yes there are many outstanding Priests deeply committed to following Jesus. Yes, other churches are broken and imperfect and don’t get me started on the bureaucratic structures of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that often marginalise real people. Yes, as Kevin also rightly says, things would have been very different if there had been women present in that room and within the leadership structures of the Catholic Church. Yes, evangelical stereotypes of what Catholics actually believe are often just that. Yes, Christendom means that Protestant and evangelical churches also struggle with nominalism.
But it seems an inevitable conclusion, to me anyway, that for a multitude of reasons many of which are tied up with the pervasisve reach of Christendom Irish Style and with the overly sacramental nature of Catholicism itself, the Catholic Church in Ireland fostered a situation where many men in positions of leadership were not Christian in any biblical sense. They may have been Priests and experts in Canon Law etc but there was precious little sign of spiritual authenticity.
And the results were awful, the worst of all worlds. People in positions of tremendous spiritual authority and power but, judging by the evidence before us, without the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
What is needed is massive, sweeping spiritual and structural reform.
Does that make me sound like Ian Paisley?