It’s time for the bishops to start listening

LAST WEEK, there was much comment regarding Pope Benedict’s wearing of the papal fanon. The fanon was regularly used before the Second Vatican Council but then fell into disuse. On 21 October 2012, during a canonisation Mass, Pope Benedict XVI wore the fanon. The garment had not been used since the early 1980s, when Pope John Paul II wore it once when visiting a Roman convent.
In itself, it’s not earth-shattering news, nor will it contribute to the renewal of the Church, but I do find such trivia indicative of a clerical culture within the Catholic Church that is determined to ignore the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, whose anniversary is the very reason we celebrate this year of faith.
The fanon is a far cry from the disillusionment many people feel towards the Roman Church at this time. For me, there is a worrying trend that rank, title and costume remain so very important to so many Church leaders.
Enniskillen-based priest and well-known broadcaster Fr Brian D’Arcy spoke earlier this week on a BBC documentary entitled Turbulent Priest about the pressures of being a priest in Ireland amid the fall-out of various clerical sex abuse scandals, as well as grappling with controversial Church teaching on issues such as clerical celibacy, contraception and homosexuality. Fr D’Arcy communicated a sense of great sadness and real hurt in the way the established Church has effectively both silenced and crushed his spirit.
In a similar vein, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has expressed great disappointment and sadness at the response of the Irish hierarchy to its request for greater engagement with the group about the future of the Church. “We are both disappointed and saddened by this response from our bishops. It is hard to understand why, in this time of great difficulty for theIrishChurch, neither the bishops – as a body or any individual bishop – is willing to meet an association that has a membership of more than 1,000 priests.”
The organisation claimed there was often a “palpable sense of dejection, depression and sometimes almost despair when clergy gather as a group”.
The Irish Episcopal Conference told the ACP that engagement would best be conducted at local level using established structures. The Association of Catholic Priests believes that the current crisis demands real engagement between the different groupings in the Irish Catholic Church. Unless this engagement takes place, it will not be possible to plan strategically for the future of our Church.
There are many people who still value their Catholic heritage and who want the Christian message to be promulgated in a way that will challenge the values of our time, as evidenced by the large participation in the International Eucharistic Congress and in the recent ‘assembly’ meeting in Dublin by the ACP.
These are very real issues: a hierarchy that refuses to actively engage with its priests and people is indeed a frightened and distant one. Conversation is key to leadership, as is enabling all the voices of the Church to contribute to the chorus of the Gospel’s vision, which is deeply relevant and necessary at this time. It’s truly time that, as a Church, we rid ourselves of the fanon and elitist trappings that suggest pomp and triumphalism. Church leadership must stop talking the talk but humbly walk the walk.

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  1. Br. Adam Conroy says:

    I must ask why there is a need to rid ourselves of traditional liturgical garb. There are real reasons behind the beauty of liturgical vestments, beautiful church art and the like.
    It is possible to have a hierarchy that engages with the priests and the people without disposing of things which make the mass and the structures in which we celebrate mass more beautiful.
    It seems to me to be irrelevant to attack the wearing of the fanon to make the point of the article – that the hierarchy do not currently listen.
    If people still value their Catholic heritage then would it not be more helpful to in fact promote proper and beautiful liturgy and the wearing of beautiful vestments. And also the interior and exterior beauty of our places of worship.

  2. Tom Hayes says:

    The Canonisation Mass was in the open air in St Peter’s Square at the end of October. Isn’t it more charitable and reasonable to think that perhaps the Holy Father sought a practical and liturgically acceptable way to stay warm during a lengthy liturgy.

  3. The reason for ridding ourselves of traditional liturgical garb is that such pomposity has no place in the worship of the Saviour who was crucified naked. The cappa magna, the cloth of gold vestments, the ornate regalia of ecclesiastical office, to use a few examples, are all indicators of a mindset more absorbed with self than service, with outward adornment rather than interior holiness, and with power and pomp than poverty and humility. While you rightly extol the beauty of the liturgy, that actually comes from the gift of the one who gave his lfe for all. It cannot be augmented by worldly trappings. How much is spent each year in ecclesiastical tailors by bishops and other clerics? How many children die each day because of a lack of basic medicine to prevent diarrhoea? The magnificently robed, gold encrusted, well fed clerics who seems to predominate in Rome are a marked contrast to the fly covered, naked, emaciated chikdren who will never life long enough to see beautiful places of worship.

  4. Mícheáll says:

    Now that the fanon and camauro have been used by the current pope, why not bring back the papal mantum, the sedia gestatoria complete with flabella, and the falda. Clearly the papal office does not enjoy the respect of former years so a retreat to the language, liturgy, and regalia of former glories provides a way forward. The restoration of the traditional papal wardrobe would do wonders for the Vatican pilgrim industry. In hindsight, though, perhaps we might remember that the habit maketh not the monk: sackcloth and ashes may be more appropriate than watered silk or Prada slippers.

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