Martin points the way
There comes a point in life when people want to have their say. A dying mother will feel entitled to give advice to her children. A father, preparing for complicated surgery, will speak to his worried daughter about faith and fear. A leader will communicate the wisdom gleaned from reflection on his experience. All clearances of a kind in which people get to say the things that really matter.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s recent talk in Limerick had that feel about it. 20 years a bishop, 15 years as archbishop of Dublin and 50 years a priest entitles him, as he moves into retirement, to his ‘speech from the dock’. (Usually bishops are noteworthy for not saying much as they approach retirement, still less will they comment later on the activities of their successors – at least not publicly.)
This is a taster of twelve important points he made.
- Change has to come even though continuity and tradition are prized in the Catholic tradition.
- Fear of change leads some people to find comfort zones where they can feel the support of the like-minded, building firewalls between their belief and the world in which they live.
- ‘Cultural warriors of certainty’ who focus on one aspect of the truth can manipulate Church leadership into a certain sympathy with them and into taking wrong decisions.
- The experience of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudate Sìhas opened a wider path of ecumenical collaboration in the area of the environment and climate justice.
- The culture of Irish life have changed from being the culture of an enlarged faith community into a heavily secularised culture.
- Structures of school-based religious education, despite enormous good-will, are not producing the results that they set out to achieve.
- Churches together have to discover new ways of reaching out to young people to help them develop a strong faith that can be authentically lived-out in a more pluralist Ireland.
- A major challenge for the future of the Catholic Church lies in the area women’s issues and of sexual morality.
- Leadership in the Catholic Church leadership must involve lay, clerical and religious, women and men, young and old.
- A reduction and rationalization in the number of dioceses is needed as is the revision of the arcane workings of the Irish Episcopal Conference.
- With the abuse scandals there is no simple way of wiping the slate of the past clean, just to ease our feelings. We need to learn from survivors of abuse to know something of their pain and of their hopes and also of the spiritual void which many experience as a result of betrayal by their Church
- My hope is that the future of the Church in Ireland will be one where we truly learn from the arrogance of our past and find anew a fragility which will allow the mercy and the compassion of Jesus to give us a change of heart and allow others through a very different Church to encounter something of that compassion and faith for their lives.
My first reaction to Martin’s assessment is that it ticks most of the boxes that the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has been ticking for years. It might even be said that the archbishop has stolen our best lines.
When the ACP was founded eight years ago, when Pope Benedict was mulling privately over his historic retirement, there was little appetite for straight talking. Cardinal Gerhard Muller was a big wheel in Rome, the Vatican bureaucracy was above criticism and Benedict batted a straight wicket. As we were so we would be. For ever and ever. Amen.
Then six years ago Francis was elected on a programme clearly agreed by a mass of cardinals. Suddenly the mood music changed. Muller, given his P45, found himself at a loose end; Vatican personnel were publicly criticised for their ambition; and Francis was presenting the Church not as a citadel to be defended but as a field hospital where those in need would find solace and mercy.
Effectively, Rome was encouraged to become a different place : more receptive to different opinions; more open to different strategies; and more accepting of the fragilities of life. Suddenly there were no more ‘silenced’ priests; no more summoning of bishops to Rome for a ticking off if they happened to say the ‘wrong’ thing; and more freedom to sing from a different hymn-sheet. It even seemed to the ACP that Francis was an honorary member.
The same thought struck me when I read Diarmuid Martin’s talk in Limerick. Another honorary member?
So did he say anything new? Not really. Nothing that most people in Ireland are not saying in parish councils. Or when they’re standing outside schools waiting for their children. Or at pub counters. The sort of things that most priests know though they often won’t admit it even to themselves. Just some realistic thinking out loud on where we are and where we need to be – unusual, it has to be said, for Irish bishops.
During his talk Diarmuid Martin referred to a comment someone made to him many years ago about the challenge of change – that what matters ultimately is that we end up facing the right direction. Diarmuid Martin has done his bit in pointing us the right way.