| |

Is our papal nuncio too much Pope Benedict’s man?

As priests age and our numbers decrease, inevitably a great deal of soul-searching takes place. Instead of retirement at a reasonable age there’s the uninviting prospect of an increased work-load as energy and health diminish. Instead of the satisfaction of looking back over decades of effective service there’s the reality of the haemorrhaging of congregations and the decline of the Church on our watch. Instead of the appreciation of our people, there’s the sense that we are increasingly incapable of responding to their ever-growing and often (we priests feel) unreasonable demands. Instead of receiving credit where credit due there is the feeling that we have become endless and disparaging news, reviled by some, pitied by many, taken for granted by most.
For many priests moving on in years, hardly surprisingly in view of the troubles of the last few decades, disenchantment is the order of the day. And to a large extent, this disenchantment that can lead so easily to cynicism, resentment and anger is almost invariably associated with the experience of being taken for granted.
The appointment of bishops is a glaring example. For years this has been a running sore in the Irish Church. Once there was some effort at consultation, even though it was minimal at best and often had the appearance of a public relations exercise more than anything else. Now no one is even pretending that priests have any say anymore in the appointment of their bishops.
In recent months, five new bishops have been appointed to dioceses other than their own. All of them no doubt are good men and my criticism is not of them personally but it’s a safe bet that none of the priests of their new dioceses voted for them. For example, a Roscommon priest, a worthy candidate in his own right, was appointed to Kerry and I don’t think anyone would pretend that any priest in Kerry was aware of his suitability to the extent that they actually voted for him.
I’m sure too that the present papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, is a worthy man. I don’t know because I’ve never met him – as he doesn’t want to meet me or any other of the 1000-plus priests who are members of the Association of Catholic Priests. But I’m not too sure that he’s the right man to appoint, effectively on his own, a whole phalanx of new bishops, five in the last few months and two others apparently in the pipe-line, almost a third of the Irish episcopal bench, as we rather grandly call it.
Archbishop Brown, it seems, spent very little time in parish work and he has no formal training as a papal nuncio, in that he was catapulted out of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith into the diplomatic service by Pope Benedict, as Rome’s answer to the dysfunctional Irish Catholic Church. I’m sure he’s a very talented man but I’m not too sure with these two disabilities plus the inevitable problem of appreciating the nuances of a different culture that such crucial decision-making should be placed effectively in his exclusive hands.
Pope Benedict, under whose governance the system of church administration almost collapsed, tended (as Paul Vallely writes in his new book on Pope Francis) to ‘put his supporters in positions of administrative power because he knew and trusted them, rather than because they had the qualities required to do the job’. By common admission, church governance and administration, under Benedict and his predecessor, had become a series of personal, independent fiefdoms where local churches were accountable to Rome rather than the other way round.
I would worry too whether, as an appointee of Pope Benedict, Archbishop Brown appreciates the new spring in the Catholic Church that Pope Francis represents. If there’s one thing clear in the focus of the new pope, it’s that there is a wider and deeper perspective on what’s good for the Catholic Church than the narrow wisdom that emanates from Rome.
Just three years ago as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis delivered a scathing critique of clericalism, an ecclesiastical virus that places clergy at the centre of the Church in a way which infantilises the people when what  they need is empowering. Bishops too can do the same with priests ­– infantilise them. And bishops know what it’s like because so many bishops from around the world, during the last two pontificates, were treated by the Vatican officials in the same infantilising manner.
A second focus of Pope Francis is on his role as ‘Bishop of Rome’, which he has consistently underlined from the day of his election. In other words, that there will have to be greater role for bishops in determining what is good for the dioceses of their country rather in simply assenting too and putting into effect directives emanating from the corridors of the Vatican.
A corollary of that is that people and priests need to be given greater involvement in decision-making appropriate to their positions – people in their parishes and priests in their dioceses – in effect the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality (so often preached by the Catholic Church and so seldom implemented) which states that an issue ought to be handled by the lowest authority capable of addressing the matter.
It follows that the virtual exclusion of the priests (or people) of a diocese from any effective say in the appointment of their bishop is an unacceptable form of ‘infantilisation’ ­– treating people as children and disrespecting their rights.
For years Irish priests have protested at their unfair, unwarranted and unwise exclusion from participating in a decision to appoint a bishop – a matter of compelling interest to them. Meetings were held, delegations sent to the nunciature in Dublin, pleas made by priests’ associations – all to no avail. A few years ago a former nuncio told a delegation of priests to go home and say their prayers and to wait for whatever bishop the Pope would send them! On another occasion a papal nuncio told the leader of a priest’s association who attempted to raise this issue on behalf of 6,000-plus Irish priests that he was ‘a nobody leading nobodies’. You can imagine the wonders that did for the morale of priests. Is it any wonder that so many priests are disenchanted.
If God surprised us by sending us a pope so in tune with the ordinary and the everyday, maybe the Irish bishops might take their courage in their hands and suggest to Rome that we’re grown up enough to be able to make some decisions for ourselves. We should no longer be patronised as errant children.

Similar Posts


  1. Mary O Vallely says:

    “On another occasion a papal nuncio told the leader of a priest’s association who attempted to raise this issue on behalf of 6,000-plus Irish priests that he was ‘a nobody leading nobodies’.”
    The arrogance of it! The downright cheek!! I wonder what he would have said to ‘the man from Nazareth?’ Was he a ‘nobody’ too?? It does beggar belief that any Christ follower, never mind a papal rep, would treat people in such a dismissive way and the strangest thing is that he was probably totally unaware of how mean-spirited and nasty his remark was. Those days must end. You have a voice and you have a right to speak the truth as you see it and I would suggest that you keep knocking on Charles Brown’s door.
    I am sure the Nuncio is indeed a decent man. Didn’t I see him sitting among the congregation in Donnybrook church this morning, among the mourners, not in a special seat but equal with all others before the altar.
    I understand Brendan Hoban’s anger and frustration expressed so palpably in this article. Maybe though he’s a bit harsh in his views of most parishoners. People will help out if asked, if treated with respect. The sooner we get rid of the false barriers of clericalism the better. Charles Brown and indeed all of us, are prisoners of a clericalist past and we need to learn to love each other as Christ does, as brothers and sisters equal in His eyes.
    “A nobody leading nobodies.” !!! You should have that framed as a reminder that you will never allow yourselves to be treated again with such contempt. Get one to hang in each episcopal residence up and down the country as a lesson in humility. The Irish Bishops, as far as I am aware, are still not in dialogue with the ACP so it’s not a huge assumption in thinking that the lesson still has not been learned, eh?

  2. Colm Holmes says:

    I agree totally with Brendan Hoban. Back in the Middle Ages strong and unelected central control was the norm. The RC church badly needs to be restructured. I note that the Diocese of Down & Connor has called an assembly for 27-28 September 2013. We need more such assemblies – provided the agenda is open to include the election of bishops by ALL the people of each diocese and the FULL involvement of the laity in the management of the RC organisation.

  3. Soline Humbert says:

    Remember:No one can infantilise us without our consent…
    We need to follow the example of the “Nobody leading nobodies” from Nazareth and take our courage in our hands and proclaim “the Lord’s year of favour” loud and clear by our lives,our actions and our words.Isn’t it for this that we were anointed with the Spirit?

  4. Kevin Walters says:

    If God surprised us by sending us a pope so in tune with the ordinary and the everyday, maybe the Irish bishops might take their courage in their hands and suggest to Rome that we’re grown up enough to be able to make some decisions for ourselves. We should no longer be patronised as errant children.
    The Credibility of the Church has been lost with the child abuse scandal and rightly so, to cover up evil is to collude with the Devil, as mankind looks on, they see our Popes receiving glory from one and other, do they see Pride or Humility?
    To seek to know oneself (Humility) by ANY man before our Father in heaven gives glory to God.
    “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”
    Authority comes with Truth, why do you not seek it?
    In Christ

  5. Soline Humbert says:

    Further to @3
    Of course “The Nobody of Nazareth” was the flesh and blood of another “Nobody of Nazareth”(whom we call the honour of the human race!)who proclaimed the Lady Wisdom’s year of favour in her magnificat! She carried in her very flesh Holy Wisdom’s child who made Herself a Nobody in Jesus.
    There is great freedom in being a nobody….I wouldn’t trade my nobodiness for Somebody’s (anybody’s…including our dear nuncio’s) somebodiness. Blessed are you when they call you a nobody… Rejoice and dance for joy etc…….(or go for a swim in this glorious weather if you can !)…Magnificat!

  6. Soline@3, we face a consummately skilful political machine, though it may falter at times ( decades being in its timescale merely a moment). I suspect that simply trying to be good in “our lives, our actions and our words” will not be enough to find a purchase on it. If the past is anything to go by, it will go on reinventing itself in such a way as to keep power in its own, clerical, hands.
    I`m afraid that the only act that would rock its boat is if parishioners left en masse and refused to serve it until there was clear evidence of its adopting new paths in terms of the governance of the church, in relation to the status and roles of the laity, and then the questions of married clergy and women clergy.
    But of that mass exodus of the practising faithful there is no chance. And the hierarchy is only too happy, it seems, to tolerate the non-attendance of the multitudes who used to flock to Sunday Masses and who can now be labelled disparagingly as “lapsed” without their bothering too much to find out why, not to mention doing very much if anything to remedy it.

  7. While I can’t speak to the situation in Ireland other than agreeing with the idea of ha ing say in the appointment of bishops, I can say that the first paragraphs reflect my experience as I help out in many parishes. The folks are good, the priests overworked and often overwhelmed, the bishops (in general) out of touch with the realities of parish life. Many parishes are so big that the pastors don’t know good folks are just walking away. The Holy Spirit is in this somewhere.

  8. Brendan Butler says:

    The problem is not so much what Pope appointed the Papal Nuncio but that he should have such enormous canonical power that in effect with all the Episcopal appointments Archbishop Charles Brown has jurisdiction over he can in effect determine the future course of the Irish Church over the next 25 years by his selections. Canon law 364 needs to be revised so that there is transparency and accountability to us the People of God as well as to the Pope regarding ‘the nomination of Bishops’. This present secretive system is a product of the hierarchical model of Church where power is concentrated in the absolute monarch , the Pope.
    The Church as the People of God developed by Vatican 2 demands an active and responsible role of all members , whether lay or clerical in the governance of our communities.
    ‘THOSE WHO PRESIDE OVER ALL MUST BE ELECTED BY ALL’ was enunciated in the 5th Century by Pope Leo the Great and he was only articulating the hallowed traditions of the early church where Bishops were elected by the Christian community . If we are to be true to what the early church interpreted as the will of Jesus in how we should relate to one another then it’s time for a return to our hallowed traditions . On a pragmatic level , trust has broken down between Bishops and priests and lay people and there is an urgent need for it to be restored . If we as the People of God led by the Spirit elect people to the episcopacy whom we consider trust worthy then isn’t that a worthwhile first step on the road to recovery and Aggiornamento .

  9. richard o'donnell says:

    While bishops continue to be appointed, without any serious local input into their appointments, they will continue, as at present, to be wholly irrelevant to the vast majority of the people of their diocese. They will, however, continue to be so appointed, for as long as a disinterested laity continues to contribute to church funds.
    Apart from “managing” an ever dwindling number of clergy, what do bishops, in Ireland, do, that in any serious, or even little, way brings us closer to God? Would a bishop-less clergy be any less effective?
    As I understand it, recent appointments are very good men. But they will be much less relevant as bishops or arch bishops than they were as priests.

  10. Mary O'Garvey says:

    A song is going through my head..the sea shanty somebody o johnny somebody oh bootie ta na na i am somebody o. we could just change it to nobody oh johnny nobody o nuncio said i’m a nobody o.
    i would love to see someone embroider that and send it to the pope with the name of the nuncio and the date he said it included. hope he is still alive to be ashamed of himself or herself…

  11. Seamus Heaney, in one of his poems examining life in Northern Ireland quoted and explored the expression – common in Northern Ireland – : “Whatever you say, say nothing”. Seamus was generally seen as referring to the effect silence has in a malign culture that produced injustice.
    His poetry did not name names. However that does not exhonerate anybody. The leaders of the church that laid seamus to rest have answers to give, including on the question of trying to reduce their members to silence.

  12. Jason Hill says:

    Surprise Surprise Brendan Hoban has a problem with the Nuncio all because he is not picking the sort of (ahem priests) and I use that term very lightly that Brendan would like. He is picking orthodox men get over it.
    1) Picking priests outside of a Diocese has a purpose.You do not have the problem of certain priests moving within certain cliques thus it allows the Diocese to be free in that sense with an outsider who can act as the middle man and be a bridge to everyone not just the select few.
    2) Nuncios will always pick Bishops so that is not even up for discussion and I think it is the right way. Once again the Nuncio is a middle man who will pick the best person for the job. If the church turns into a democracy as so many of you on this site seem to be calling for, it allows it to be open to majority rules. So if liberals are majority they get a liberal who Brendan would approve of. If the majority are conservative you get a Bishop who Brendan would not be happy with. So having a nuncio will insure you get someone orthodox and the best man for the job.

  13. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh says:

    It is wise for Fr Brendan Hoban to question the role of the papal nuncio in picking Irish bishops. I believe that it is also courageous of Fr Hoban to bring up the topic, as the Church is still suffering from the effects of the fear, intimidation, and Gestapo-type tactics of the Inquisition that has been endemic in the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, in my view.
    I do not know fellow Irish-American Archbishop Charles Brown. I do not know if he has collaborated with Irish clergy before making his pick of who should be bishop.
    I do know that the early Church was a democracy. My whole life as a cradle Catholic growing up in Chicago, I was told that the Church was not a democracy.
    In learning more about early Church history as a grad student at Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies in Chicago, I found that THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WAS A DEMOCRACY!!!
    The people actually voted for who would be their bishop. The people also had the power to fire bishops who were not performing their job well.
    I believe that the RCC has been stuck in a limited history that dates from the 1200s onwards, instead of looking at how the early Church functioned.
    It is very appropriate for Fr Hoban to be questioning the manner in which bishops are being chosen today.
    The clergy and the people need to have input into who will be their local Church leader, if the Church is to be faithful to its early history. And women need to be treated as equals, as Jesus treated them and as women were treated in the early Church, even by St Paul, in my reading of early Church history.
    A main problem is that all of our knowledge of early Church history until recently has been from one point of view – the point of view of men. As women are becoming theologians, we are learning more about the valuable role that women have played in the early Church.
    If the Church is to reflect the way of life of Jesus, there needs to be a new structure that is more like that before the time of Constantine and before Christianity became a State religion. It needs to be a form of democracy, where the voices of clergy and all people are heard.
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois, USA

  14. Rosemary, why do you always put ‘Dr’ in front of and at the end of every post? The reason I ask is because I have a BSc and I’m wondering if I put that at the end of my name, would it lend more credence to my posts?

  15. Bob Hayes says:

    Dr Rosemary, did you discover who formed the electorate in the ‘democratic’ Church? What was the electoral system – first-past-the-post, STV, AV? Were there primaries? How was the ballot cast? What were the qualifications to be an elector? Did women have the vote? Were there caps on electoral spending? Who were the returning officers? What was the average percentage turnout? What qualifications were required in order to be eligible as to stand as a candidate? To what extent where electors influenced by outside interests – the state, landowners, family. Without answers to these and numerous related questions, your statement ‘the Catholic Church was a democracy’ is mere assertion. Yes, there is evidence that there were electoral processes in the early Church. But elections do not of themselves amount to ‘democracy’ – as the people of Egypt have discovered at great cost.

  16. Jason Hill says:

    @Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh
    ‘as the Church is still suffering from the effects of the fear, intimidation, and Gestapo-type tactics of the Inquisition that has been endemic in the reign of Pope Benedict XVI’
    wow!!! That’s the sort of attitude you have towards a Pope chosen by God to lead the Church. I feel very sorry for you. Have you ever read his encyclicals? All I see is a prayerful, humble misunderstood man.
    ‘If the Church is to reflect the way of life of Jesus’
    Well maybe don’t compare someone who was our Pope to the Gestapo and try reflect Jesus a bit more in your life since you feel the Church needs to reflect it. Not so easy is it?
    The Church was very disorganised and in many areas you had mutable Bishops who all claimed they were Bishop. I am sure your studies from the pre 1200’s showed you this. My point is that if the people vote the Church splits and history shows us this.
    The Church is not a democracy and never will be. I am a lay person and I accept this. I would rather a priest who serves God and someone who the Church has deemed worthy to choose Bishops choose a Bishop rather than lay people who will take sides depending on their own views rather than Gods law.

  17. Gene Carr says:

    Just how many diocesan priests authorised Fr Hoban to speak out on their behalf? What process of consultation was used to ascertain their opinions on this matter? Was it a transparent process?
    Those who refer to the popular election of Popes and Bishops in the early centuries of the Church often omit to mention how these processes degenerated; bishoprics and the Papacy itself became the playthings of the most activist factions. One has only to contemplate the state of the Papacy in the 9th Century. In such circumstances the Church becomes vulnerable to massive intrusion by the secular governments. Do we really want this ?

  18. Fr. Paul (Dublin) says:

    I read this article and subsequent responses with great interest. With regards Fr. Hoban’s comments on the language used by a previous Nuncio when speaking to a delegation of priests, and to an individual priest – I agree wholeheartedly that this was disgraced and shameful. No individual has the right to treat another human being in such a manner. I also concur with Fr. Hoban’s assessment that many priests are feeling overworked and under-appreciated.
    I have never contributed to this website before, but this recent post, I feel, is doing a great dis-service to an individual who is truly trying to make a difference, for the better, in the Catholic Church in Ireland – namely Abp Charles Brown.
    The Apostolic Nuncio has brought a new and vibrant figure to the Episcopal realm in Ireland. He is not one to confine himself to the Navan Road. Each week, catholic publications are brimming over with photos from various events. His addresses and homilies I have found to be erudite, focussed, inspiring and courageous. I think especially of his World Day for Peace homily in this regard. From climbing Croagh Patrick to attending Youth Conferences; Parish Novenas to Diplomatic Functions – Abp Brown has made himself available for all such events. In his time among us, I’m sure many would agree that Abp Brown has earned himself a higher public profile than most other Nuncio’s to Ireland. This clearly shows that the man is pastoral at heart – he wants to be among the people as much as possible. It’s true he spent many years in an office of the CDF – but what we have been seeing since Abp Brown arrived in Dublin is the doors of the Nunciature being thrown open – pre-empting the change of style that was to take place in Vatican City with the election of Pope Francis. Surely this has to be for the good!
    The ‘disability’ (of lacking parish/pastoral experience) that Fr. Hoban sees in Abp Brown, I believe, can be refuted by reading almost any catholic publication in Ireland, and indeed the wider media, since the Nuncio took up office – he’s proven over and over again that he’s noticeably pastoral.
    As regards the appointments of Bishops, Abp Brown seems to be an extremely shrewd man – at the many events that he attends so frequently, he listens to people – lay and cleric alike. I know from comments made by friends and colleagues that the Archbishop listens to what people have to say about their parishes, their dioceses, and their involvement in such – he misses nothing. He also hears what is not being said – which at times can say more. I find it hard to take that Abp Brown is making Episcopal Appointments, or more accurately, recommending names for the Episcopacy, without giving due consultation and consideration. Granted, the consultation process may not please all, but consultation is taking place nonetheless, and perhaps even in ways that are wider than the expected norm. Perhaps Fr. Hoban might consider submitting names to the Nuncio of people that he considers to be worthy candidates for the Episcopacy.
    When Pope Benedict appointed Msgr. Brown as Nuncio to Ireland, I personally viewed this as a sign of the concern that he had for the nation. The Pope was willing to ‘go against the norm’ and send us someone who was not from the ranks of the Diplomatic Corps. I’m not sure that I agree Msgr Brown was catapulted out of CDF as Rome’s answer to the dysfunctional Irish Church – The Vatican must have known that one man was not going to solve all our problems. No-one could be that naive. Fr. Hoban quotes Paul Vallely as saying Pope Benedict ‘put his supporters in positions of administrative power because he knew and trusted them, rather than because they had the qualities required to do the job’. On the contrary, I believe that the Pope hand-picked Msgr. Brown for his talent and ability – Pope Benedict knew, and understood, that Ireland needed someone with the impact that Abp Brown has displayed over the last 20 months.
    Rather than resorting to hasty criticism of a young Nuncio in his first appointment, during a very difficult period in the Irish Church – instead let us pray for and encourage him in the challenging task that has been thrust upon him.
    ‘Truth is the daughter of time’ – meantime, let’s give the man a chance!

  19. Well said Fr. Paul. I attended a Mass said by Archbishop Brown and was very impressed with him, particularly his sermon. He is slick and modern and faithful, in all the best senses. He’s very much, as you say, among his people and he makes himself accessible.

  20. Josephine Ryan says:

    I’d like to think the Archbishop is among the people — but surely if there is a group of 1,000 priests in the country and he hasn’t met with them then there clearly is a problem.
    Either he or they need to be moved out – if they can’t overcome this basic problem.
    How the church or any newly appointed bishop can work or minster in an effective way if this is the reality baffles me. What ‘business’ could survive if there is no communication between those at the top and those who work on the ground ?
    Have they ever heard or considered mediation?
    If the church means so much to both sides they sooner or later they need to realize they need to pull together not apart.

  21. Stephen Edward says:

    Well said, Fr. Paul. Even the Anglicans don’t go in for electing bishops (though they seem to vote on everything else).

  22. Soline Humbert says:

    @ 19.
    ” Truth is the daughter of time”…Isn’t it nice to know that Truth is female….Now I understand why there is so much procrastination… the time is:never…..Certainly she’ll never get ordained! Too dangerous….
    Further to @11( and admittedly in a lighthearted vein which falls far short of our young,shrewd,gifted nuncio’s erudite,focussed,courageous,inspiring homilies)
    not a song but a poem.
    “Nobody is a nobody
    for everybody is a somebody.
    The day someone tells you
    you’re a nobody,
    tell them you ‘re a somebody.
    Nobody wants to be a nobody
    for everybody wants to be a somebody.
    So why not become that somebody
    that everybody wants to be?”
    ( from Somebody by Genevieve Farrell in a Touch of Simplicity)

  23. Brendan Cafferty says:

    @Steven Edward (22) My understanding is that Anglicans here in Church of Ireland do elect Bishops- lay and clergy have votes. Only when no agreement is reached by that process does House of Bishops then nominate or elect a Bishop

  24. Linda, Derry says:

    The Papal Nuncio is Papal, what a non-revelation! Only query I have as an actual papal catholic is this: are ALL priests and laity not supposed to be ‘papal’? He is, is he not, the vicar of Christ, appointed by Christ? Or did you think YOU were? I think the Throne of StPeter only seats one, Brendan, and Christ allocates the seating in accordance with HIS choosing.

  25. Totally agree with Aidan C & Fr. Paul above. You can only speak as you find. Met Mons. Brown for the first time two weeks ago on pilgrimage walk from Hill of Tara to Hill of Slane ( wife & I still recovering from same ). He walked the full 24km & chatted to everyone en route. An absolute gentleman, very much in the humble mode of Pope Benedict. In my opinion an excellent Pastor.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.