A Personal Reflection on my current situation
By far the most frequent question asked of me nowadays is: “How are you getting on; are you coping?” It is asked with great sincerity, and, as often as not, with a pitying look. I don’t mind that. It is nice that people are concerned, and I appreciate their support. If the context is such that a conversation can take place, the questioner usually follows up with something like “What do you miss most?” If I am talking to a group of people in a fairly intimate setting, as I was recently in the Friarsgate Theatre, Kilmallock, the question can be asked in public. After my attempted answer on that occasion, the questioner followed up with “And are you happy?”
It is now almost four years since I first got the rap from the Vatican. I tell myself I have coped reasonably well. Apart from a brief setback about eighteen months ago (a mild stroke which did no damage), the indications are that I am in good health, thank God. Involvement with the Church Reform Movement, first at local level through the ACP, and later at an international level, has given me a new and absorbing interest, and has introduced me to a range of new people and places. I think it has also served to strengthen my views on the urgent need for reform in the Church, and motivated me to do whatever I can to push that agenda forward. Through my own personal experience in dealing with them, through the people I have met, and all that I have read, I now have a far greater knowledge of the workings of the Vatican than I had four years ago. (Sometimes I wonder would I be better off if I knew a lot less!!)
During the first couple of years after I went public, my life was busy with talks here and there, first around Ireland, and then in England and the U.S. That has eased off now, and, while I still get some very interesting invitations to speak, they are less frequent. (I had two really enjoyable ones in the last few weeks — the Friarsgate one on Pope Francis, and Aidswest in Galway for World Aids Day). I still get a kick out of standing at a microphone in front of a crowd of people; I suppose a lifetime of preaching leaves its mark!
At almost sixty nine years of age, I am happy to be taking things a bit easier. While I do miss parts of the mission and novena work that I spent my life doing, I am glad not to be travelling around to parishes, and living out of suitcases, any more. I also think that if I did go back to that work now the content of my talks would be a fair bit different. The bit of advice that someone sent to me at the beginning of this whole saga — “You must wait to see who you are when this thing is done with you” — has proven true. I think I have changed a great deal over these four years.
At a recent Redemptorist jubilee celebration which I attended (my 50th of profession) someone prayed that I would be able to endure the “agony” I was going through. I responded that I didn’t see it as such, and that it some ways it was a positive experience.
From the beginning I told myself that it was very important that I would not allow myself to get consumed with anger or bitterness. I conceded that the Vatican were fully entitled to question me over certain views that I had expressed, but I believed the process they engaged in with me was seriously unjust and abusive. But I knew that if I dwelt too much on that, and allowed a sense of grievance to get a hold on me, I could do myself great harm. With God’s help, I think I have succeeded fairly well in that. The arrival on the scene of Pope Francis has also been an enormous help. I responded immediately to his attitude, to the way that he spoke and to a lot of what he said. His coming brought a great ray of light and hope for the Church, and lifted my spirits also.
But there are times when the reality of this enormous upheaval in my life hits me, and I feel oppressed by it. Some of the things that tend to make me angry are the following:
- The total indifference shown by the Irish bishops to the sanctioning of myself and five other Irish priests. A number of requests to them over the past few years have fallen on deaf ears. The only response we got was to say that, since all the priests involved are members of religious communities, it was none of their business. I do believe that all this sanctioning and silencing of priests by Rome has done a lot of damage to the Irish Church, and that it should certainly be the business of the bishops. I would also have hoped that the Conference of Religious (CORI) might have used their influence, but they too remain silent.
- Bishop Crean’s banning of my invitation to speak in Killeagh was a particularly pointed case, that did hurt me more than I was inclined to admit at the time. It was a sharp illustration of how the Church disowns someone, and pushes them out. “You don’t belong to us anymore”.
- Reading of the opposition to Pope Francis by very senior figures in the Church these days. There are so many of them, I will just mention four, all cardinals: Burke, of course, who carries on this charade that he loves the pope, while doing everything he can to undermine him. Chaput of Philadelphia is not too far behind him, and indeed about half a dozen other U.S. bishops. Sarah of Guinea expresses views that are not only contrary to Francis, but also to Jesus; but even he does not match Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez of the Dominican Republic in the things he said about the U.S. ambassador to that country, who happens to be gay. And nobody in the CDF is issuing a bull of excommunication against any of these, not likely.
- The report of the U.S. bishops’ recent conference is depressing. It was as if Francis’ visit there in September hadn’t happened. The ‘culture warriors’ still reign supreme, and in spite of all Francis’ efforts to change the agenda, and to focus the attention of the Church on poverty, migration and climate change, the U.S. bishops continue with their obsession about sex. Their attack on pornography has some justification, but resorting to yet another condemnation of masturbation, while barely mentioning the papal agenda, is hopeless. And the few voices, like McElroy and Kicanas, who tried to introduce these topics, were quickly dealt with.
- Despite Francis’ call for a humbler, simpler Church, it is disappointing to see so many of the top people in the Church clinging on to status, titles, and indeed wealth and comfort. Titles like “Your Eminence” and “My Lord” should never be heard in today’s Church. I find it hard to understand the mentality of people who cling to these trappings of power and distinction. How can they possibly reconcile this with the Man from Nazareth? And to read of old men in the Vatican and elsewhere providing themselves with luxurious retirement ‘pads’, at enormous expense, is amazing. What do they need them for?
I have great support from my family and close friends, which of course is crucial. There is also a wide body of people who give me encouragement. I regularly meet people, maybe in the shops or walking the streets, who come up to me and say lovely words to me. Mostly I will not know them.
The ACP have been wonderful, both the leadership and a great many of the members. At the recent AGM I experienced a great feeling of warmth, and unanimous support for a resolution of my case during the Year of Mercy. I have also made many friends, on the continent, in Australia, in America, who regularly keep in touch. That is all good.
Though I do not live in community at present, I get great support there, and I am always welcome when I call. I wish the men at the top of the congregation had shown more ‘bottle’, but maybe I was expecting too much there. Two theologians, a Jesuit and an Augustinian, have been of enormous help, and I am very grateful to them.
There it is; my effort to partly answer the question I am constantly being asked: “How are you?” There are other layers to the answer, but they are too private even for this blog. If you have read this far, I hope you haven’t found it too self-indulgent!!