Who do the Irish bishops think they are?

In the UK’s Independent (4 Nov., 2012) there is an extraordinary telling article regarding the absolute dysfunction of the Roman Catholic church in that part of Europe. It is written by a teacher at the Dublin City University, Colum Kenny. It could have been written in any English-speaking jurisdiction including Canada. Basically it deals with the stunning arrogance of papal-appointed bishops so convinced of their rectitude and episcopal power that they do not have to listen to the people they are sworn to serve. One hardly knows where to start with such appalling behaviour. It would appear they are deeply enmeshed in ‘System think’. They appear totally enmeshed organisational molasses far from being a community of believers in the same church. They seem tone deaf to the voice of fellow Christians in an organic body. Here in brief is the story.
The Irish Bishops Conference has refused to meet with the Association of Catholic Priests, 1,000 strong in this small Catholic country. The reason of course is they fear what the front-line providers are going to say to them. Vatican ll insisted that bishops are not branch plant managers, sent from headquarters to enforce the Roman line. Lumen Gentium (27) stated that they are not to be regarded as “vicars of the Roman pontiff.” Vatican ll insisted that the bishops were there, ‘teaching sanctifying and governing’. One verb is missing: Listening.
It was the martyred Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer who put his finger on this refusal to listen deeply:
“The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives His Word but also lends us His ear … Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and, in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words”.
Fifty years after the Council’s inception, there has been much movement in this regard, in hearing the lived experience of the baptized and integrating in ecclesial life.
The great Anglican convert John Henry Newman inspired much of the thinking that it is the entire People of God which is the bearer of the Spirit. As an Anglican he never bought the cult of the papacy, “a church with a church” he called it. By the time of the Council this ultramontane view had become rigid in the Roman Church. The pope was infallible (by himself), his bishops too at the local level and the priest was the voice of God in the parish. Infallibility previously had been exercised in many ways —councils, papal pronouncements and the witness of the entire people. By 1962 there had been was a massive delegitimizing of the lay voice. Pius Xl phrased it well in 1939, saying the Roman church had become a monstrosity, is head is way out of proportion to its body. Cardinal Newman had been saying all of this in his own way.The papal magisterium can never be the sole locus of truth. The voice of great theologians those who advanced the understanding of the great Mystery must be taken into considration.
Vatican ll (1962-65) began the massive corrective. The vast majority of the baptized must be heard.
The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) states this quite nicely:
“Those who exercise episcope in the Body of Christ must not be separated from the ‘symphony’ of the whole people of God in which they have their part to play. They need to be alert to the sensus fidelium, in which they share, if they are to be made aware when something is needed for the well-being and mission of the community, or when some element of the Tradition needs to be received in a fresh way”. (#30)
As the Irish would say, who do these bishops think they are? It’s not as if they are riding high in the polls after shocking scandal after scandal has emptied churches in this almost totally Catholic country, they are acting like fossilised bureaucrats in a church which has privileged communio. They have not grasped that the day is long gone when diktats from the centre carry much weight. The Church as politburo is a non-starter.
If these silly men will not meet with their priests, what are lay people to think? One Catholic layman Geoffrey Chaucer phrased it well in the 14th century, ‘If gold ruste what shall iron do?’
tschmidt | November 6, 2012 (from his blog, Theology in the Vineyard)

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  1. Tony Butler says:

    I am grateful for this contribution.
    Recently I heard the following comment on BBC Radio4:
    ” The patients are unhappy waiting for surgery but the doctors are cowards.”
    Exactly my sentiments on hearing the reply received from the Conference of Irish Bishops. Please ACP continue to be brave on behalf of all of us who care for the Church and its future here in Ireland.

  2. Whatever the issue if you don’t listen, you cannot respond and so the realisation of the real problems facing people goes unnoticed. Those who do voice their concern, who look for alternate ways to move forward, in faith, are castigated as disloyal and asked to refrain from speaking, lecturing or otherwise publishing their views. The 20th Century is littered with their names and although we are only 12 years in this 21st Century, there are no immediate signs of a significant change to established habits.
    And all this in the Year of Faith…. I would ask: are we sincerely intending to seek a deepening of faith in the Mission of the Church or are we anxious to accept an ever-tightening control from Rome over the intellectual integrity of our fellow Christians? Is it Mission or Maintenance?
    The challenge of contrasting opinions, however difficult the issues raised, will not be solved by attempts to silence their expression. We appreciate each other when we actually listen rather than vaguely hear, and then are willing to engage in a productive exchange of opinion. We have so much to learn from each other and through our attentive listening to the Spirit of God.

  3. Con Devree says:

    The Catholic Church is not dying in Ireland. The numbers are dropping, have been since the 1960s. They will continue to drop. But it is not a Titanic situation. God is always in charge.
    Acts 2.42, concerns a time when numbers were low. It gives us the four pillars on which the growth of the Church was based: faithfulness to the teachings of the Apostles, unity, sharing ones goods with the poor, prayer – the Eucharist. Absent any of these four and the process fails.
    This was the way forward in a culture that was indifferent and/or inimical to God. History is repeating itself. The way forward is still the same. Alternatives amount to reorganising deck chairs.
    We may well be on the way to another persecution. The spirit of evil does not rest. There are five stages to such persecution: 1, stereotyping, 2, isolation, 3, vilification, 4, criminalisation, and 5, full scale persecution. In Ireland we have already reached no 3. With the onset on new predict able legislation at variance with Catholicism in certain areas, number 4 may not be far off.
    The important thing now is to look after those who still attend and seek to be faithful. There is an urgent need for catechesis in the true faith.
    I encourage all in the ACP to promote Eucharistic Adoration, prayer and penance vigorously in their parishes as a way to regaining the spirit of Acts 2:42. Why? There have been atheists, very contented with their lives, corresponding the newspapers recently. The only thing we have to propose to them is Acts 2:42, and we need grace to do it, a grace derived from the practice of Acts 2:42, a grace demonstrated in groups such as Youth 2000.

  4. Agree with you Tony. Hope to put faces to familiar names, at the Regency Hotel on Friday and Saturday of this week.

  5. Raymond Hickey Bordine says:

    Here in America, we just concluded our national elections. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued strong position papers on several moral issue of substance. Many bishops sent letters to the people that were to be read from the pulpit on the weekend before the elections. In nearly every case, Catholics followed their well-formed consciences which generally were in conflict with the ‘official’ position of the RCC. What resulted was an almost complete repudiation of the Catholic bishops! This is what occurs when a group of pseudo-leaders [Bishops] are out of touch and disconnected from the people. Bishops need to realize and come to grips with the fact that in the 21st century, as opposed to the Middle Ages, individuals are educated and able to think for themselves. Vatican Council II was the clarion call trumpeting that. Bishops: disregard that at your own risk!
    Americans are connected to the teachings of Jesus and other spiritual leaders and feel NO compulsion to do what they are told by institutional pseudo-leaders. When there are inferior and substandard reasons given to follow their lead, intelligent individuals will not follow. This has nothing to do with being disloyal to Jesus but rather to being no longer intimidated by the ‘power’ of those who think they yield power as in the old days. Jesus gave us the courage and impetus to act out of love and to not respond to fear and intimidation. As long as the bishops of the RCC continue to fail to listen to the people, they are not leaders in a Christian church. Those dedicated to Jesus, the Christ, are on their way out of that institution in search of the real truth, life, and hope!

  6. I agree completely with Tony and Chris above and, like Ger, I am also looking forward to putting faces to familiar names this weekend at the Regency.

  7. Gene Carr says:

    There are two points I would make about this piece. First, here is a tendency on the party of small, particular groups to equate themselves and their sometimes very partial views with the whole ‘People of God’. The fact that bishops are not prepared to accord some kind of special status to such groups does not mean that they are not listening widely to their flocks. Second, while the ultramontane tendency in the 19th century can be critisized for its centralizing tenencies, there is another side. Before then bishops were often subjugated to the prevailing civil power, as was the case with ‘Gallicanism’, in France, ‘Josephism’ in the Empire and ‘Febronianism’ in the German states. Even in 1914, the Austrian Emperor had a veto even in Papal elections. A Spanish dictator had a veto on bishops appointments up to the late 1960s. So in many ways the ‘ultamontane’ movement was a liberating movement.
    Those, who like Mary McAleese, would prefer that the Irish Catholic Church act more like the Anglicans are hardly proposing that Irish Bishops should now be appointed by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach?

  8. Mary O Vallely says:

    In answer to Paddy’s post (6) may I suggest that we each wear a label? (much as we all hate labels) One of those sticky ones will do fine but words and faces often don’t go together. I look forward to seeing lots of smiley faces and giving and receiving lots of hugs. At the very least let this be a true communion of charity and friendship and a plea also to try not to look disappointed if the face doesn’t live up to expectations!!! Some of us are staying overnight so there should be plenty of opportunity to seek out a name and face. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair. 🙂

  9. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Brief note to Paddy F, Mary O.V, Ger and others. I’m afraid I’ll be nameless, faceless and voiceless this weekend. There in spirit only. Had hoped to make it over but a few health probs mean I must stay close to my GP at the moment.
    My greetings and obeisance to the Cardinal, Nuncio and all the bishops present – I hope the Regency hall has place for all of them. 10 minutes apiece should let them have their say, leaving 5 minutes each for ACP and ACI. Enjoy!

  10. Well said Mary. I am about 6’tall and very good looking. (I also tell a lot of lies). Keeping smiling. Keep the faith.

  11. Eddie, we will be thinking and praying for you over the next couple of days. Thank you for your words of wisdom, and for putting a smile on our faces over the last few months.

  12. Tony Butler says:

    Apologies to all, unable to be present for the weekend regency meetings. Prayerful good wishes to all. Tony

  13. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    Really looking forward to meeting the tall, good-looking Ger! I already know Mary, so I’ll be the one refusing to wear a name-badge, but sticking close to her. That way, I can melt into the background and refuse to let myself be identified if I’m overcome by the discovery that none of you look remotely like the pictures I have of you in my head!
    Oíche mhaith

  14. Mary, really glad that you can make it now. Yes, a name badge is a good idea and I will now wear one.
    Eddie, I was so looking forward to meeting you. However, you are right and sensible to stay close to your GP and I am sure there will be other occasions.
    Hope to meet Joe, Jo, Sean and others.

  15. Kathleen O'Connell says:

    Con Devree:
    I believe the first pillar was faithfulness to the teaching of Christ. No matter how good an apostle or other leader, they are not cultists but lead us to explore, know and live Christ’s Word, no?

  16. Con Devree says:

    Kathleen, thank you for your good wishes.
    I was merely quoting from Acts 2:42 “teaching of the apostles”

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