Pope is bringing his revolution to Ireland: Brendan Hoban

Irish Times

Rite and Reason

August 14, 2018


Pope is bringing his revolution to Ireland

Brendan Hoban


Unlike Pope John Paul in 1979 who, with his training as an actor, took to the Irish stage with alacrity, Pope Francis will be chewing on his lip as he’s ushered around the country, the subject of a photo-shot here, a meeting with a politician there or a millionaire donor somewhere else. But beamingly happy, when he’s greeting the people.

Francis’ real interest is in his belief that systemic reform is needed in the Catholic Church, nothing less than what he called ‘a change of era’ whereby a radical and fundamental adjustment needs to take place to facilitate a more adult, participatory institutional model of Church, with a focus on service – ‘the smell of sheep’, as he famously described it. Jesuit theologian, Gerry O’Hanlon calls it a ‘quiet velvet revolution’.

For Francis the highlight of his visit won’t be Croke Park or the Phoenix Park or Knock but the Capuchin Centre on the Dublin Quays where he will see his model of Church come alive before his eyes. A clear focus on Jesus’ mindrather than on Rome’s bidding.

The rest he will endure with stoic resolution, possibly asking himself over and over again what he needs to do to convince the Catholic Church, particularly in Ireland, that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council are back on the agenda.

Because even though Francis’ presence will give a lift to Irish Catholics, even though the Irish bishops may enjoy a fleeting respite from surfing the customary waves of criticism and apathy, the truth is that, unlike in the aftermath of the 1979 visit, there’s less room for imagining that a temporary high can substitute for the kind of painstaking reforms that are needed.

Another difficult truth is that, even though on any assessment the Irish Catholic Church is in free-fall, there’s as yet no sign of Francis’ revolution in Ireland, despite the fact that it’s becoming increasingly more obvious that a seismic shifting of perspectives has taken place in recent years.

But there’s hope. For one thing, Francis and the people still in the pews in the Irish Church are now thinking along the same lines.
This is clear from a survey carried out, in 2012, by Amárach Research for the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP). It’s also clear from another survey this year in Killala diocese in preparation for a diocesan Assembly which, through the votes of 300-plus representative delegates, passed a series of resolutions underlining the need for reform. And the recent four regional meetings of the ACP confirm yet again that Irish Catholics have rejected the few insipid teaspoons of fake consultation ritually on offer in Irish dioceses to tick a box for sending to Rome.

Irish Catholics want the open, adult, participatory Church that Francis is proposing, a ‘synodal’ Church that’s in tune with the world and responsive to people’s needs where decisions are made by people, priests and bishoptogether, after debating and agreeing on what needs to be done. They want movement on church teaching, structures, leadership, worship, gender, ministry and a range of issues now obvious to everyone apart from a clerical elite in deep denial who are either unwilling or unable to respond.  

In short, Irish Catholics want a People’s Church, and all the evidence is that, unless this begins to emerge in Ireland, the Catholic Church will rapidlydisappear.

The people know it; the vast majority of priests know it; even the dogs in the street must sense it; but our leaders are sitting on their hands. Indeed, the very image of 30 or so elderly bishops meeting in Maynooth to make decisions for everyone else is now anathema not just to Irish Catholics but to Pope Francis.

One straw in the wind is that, between pope and people, there’s an emergingconsensus that if the decline of the Church is to be arrested, the momentum will have to come from the people. It’s the only Plan B.

Priests are older, fewer, weary. Bishops, most of whom give no indication that they have any appetite or interest in Francis’ reforms, seem content to preside over a declining church, that will see them out.

Despite that, in a Francis-model Church, the ability and commitment of Catholics are tangible assets. The road-map is clear.

For bishops and priests, the question is: are we prepared to trust the people now that we know the people no longer trust us?


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  1. William Herlihy says:

    Brendan, I admire your infectious enthusiasm.
    The problem is, that in our Church, Prelates like you, are thin on the ground.
    I am a bit long in the tooth now and most of the Priests I have encountered  are rather conservative,
    To give you an idea of what I am talking about.
    Our Parish Priest is comparatively new.
    At a meeting with a delegation of Parishioners, he made this startling comment, “how shocked he was when he came to the Parish, that a lady came to to see him, telling him of the project work going on in the Parish”.
    Basically he sees himself and the Curate as being the Church.
    I cringe, when I hear all the talk of reforming the Church from the ground up,because the Priest is still pivotal to life in Irish Parishes and if he does not want change it will not happen, with the Bishops sitting on the side line,there is no hope.
    Little chance in our Parish then, of attaining what you say in your article and I quote,“In short, Irish Catholics want a People’s Church, and all the evidence is that, unless this begins to emerge in Ireland, the Catholic Church will rapidly disappear”.

  2. Brian Fahy says:

    The decline of the Church in these days is very much like the declining years of a person’s life. So much has been done, so much is in the past, so much is dead and gone from us. It is a struggle for the old sometimes to hold on to life and live it well. Loss and grief and energy fading cause many to lose heart and to give up the struggle. What is there for me now, we feel.

    But to give in to these feelings is to contribute to our own death before our time. We convince ourselves that life is effectively over and in so doing we bring it on to ourselves. Our salvation lies in giving ourselves once more to the Lord and to the service of one another. We must get out of ourselves. Concentrating on our woes will only make us ill and more unhealthy than we already are.

    I am fascinated by Our Lord’s words, ‘Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe it is already yours and it will be granted to you.’ This is not wishful thinking. It means that when asking the Lord for anything we must also take part in that endeavour by believing and acting as if it were already being granted. It is the appropriate attitude and condition for receiving the gifts and graces that the Lord dearly wishes to bestow upon us.

    I pray for myself in my advancing years and for the Church everywhere and especially in my beloved homeland of Ireland that we will respond to this word of the Lord and so fight the good fight to the end and run the race to the finish. We will be well and all will be well because God will grant the gift to us in our believing.

  3. Frances Burke says:

    Brian @2. We will be well.

    ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but in actions and in truth’ John 3:18

    Let us never be afraid of the truth. The truth will set you free (but first it will make you miserable – James A Garfield)

  4. Brian Fahy says:

    Mark 11:20-25 seems very apt here. The withered fig tree could be an image of the church in its present failings and sufferings. The teaching about believing in what you pray for I have mentioned above and then we find a further teaching from the Lord on our need to forgive one another so that our Father may forgive us too.

    Being reconciled to one another and to our life story is a huge agenda for all of us. Jesus says, ‘When you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.’

    I do not speak here about abuse. That is a huge subject and justice and healing of souls is beyond my ability to talk about. People are holy ground and abused people most of all, and I do not venture here onto the holy ground.

    But all of us have issues of forgiveness to address. In my seminary days, all13 years of them, nobody hurt me, but the system damaged me. I was obedient and the demands of the system caused me to become repressed in my life. Functioned fine but the heart was sad and sore and lonely. So i need to forgive the system that did that to me. But the people and priests I met in the system were good and kind and trying to be good in their lives.

    Operating seminaries, especially junior ones that took children away from their parents and families, was regarded then as a holy work for God. Now we see it as a damaging thing to do to any child. I have struggled with this all my life but I want to live in peace and so in truth I cannot point the finger at any one person and say, ‘you hurt me’. But the system did. I pray the good Lord to help me now to forgive the system that did that, so that I too may be forgiven for my offences in life.

    Lots of systems in the Church began as good attempts to address a situation, unmarried mothers being a very important one. But the system although meaning well, did a lot of harm, and in the name of goodness and love, hurt and harm to many women and children happened.

    It all goes to show that there is a lot of hurt in human life and a lot of healing is needed. If we merely operate the systems we inherit we are blind and insensitive to what we are really doing. Everything needs to be done with constant vigilance and tested against the law of love of neighbour.

    Each one of us, and each system we make must produce the fruit like a healthy fig tree, otherwise we will wither to the roots. Resentments in life can fester and when they do they injure ourselves most of all. It is vital for us to make the peace wherever we can, to forgive one another and to work for the healing of all. May the Lord forgive us as we forgive one another.

  5. Eddie Finnegan says:

    William Herlihy@1, I’m sure Brendan Hoban got a bit of a kick out of your calling him a “Prelate”. From now on we must think of the ACP as a ‘Prelature Nullius’ or maybe as a Personal Prelature of the Pope. After all if Opus Dei can do it why not ACP. I don’t think the title of Prelate (praelatus = a man preferred), defined as a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an Ordinary or who ranks in precedence with Ordinaries, is good enough. We all know Brendan’s more of an Extraordinary.

  6. Brian Fahy says:

    Frances @ 2

    Thank you Frances. That last line was too glibly written. Good punch lines are great when you get them but that was a very soft sentiment to end with. We hope and pray that all will be well but how to make it well is our present struggle. So I am well rebuked.

  7. Frances Burke says:

    Brian @ 6

    It was not my intention to rebuke you. I was (obviously too obliquely) agreeing with you by repeating your line ‘We will be well’. I believe that when we finally learn the full truth of what the hierarchy were at (in all its sinfulness) and when the dust settles, we will be in a much healthier place spiritually. Hence I repeated your phrase ‘we will be well’.

    I always read your writings with great interest and pleasure as I find they contain great truths. That is a great gift and I thank you for sharing it. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

  8. Margaret Hickey says:

    Willie at 1, I live in the same parish as yourself. You misrepresent the PP. Parishes need people with solid Catholic faith formation in parish leadership teams.It is what we are,Catholic,something more than generically Christian.

  9. Phil Greene says:

    “For bishops and priests, the question is: are we prepared to trust the people now that we know the people no longer trust us?”

    Like William @ 1 , I have my doubts.

    From this sentence it would appear that priests do not now trust laypeople. From the application of ministry at parish level it appears in too many cases that we can only be trusted when we do things the priest’s way , as it seems, he is the only one that knows best.. infallibility filters down it seems..

    Perhaps the question might be asked another way .. will priests “accept” the people?..will they accept that laypeople make mistakes,will they accept that they(religious) make mistakes that need correction ( rather than just self-forgiveness)? You guys have been doing this for centuries and enabled the institution to get it so wrong .. don’t expect perfection now in a learning curve, but help us instead .. we can all help each other.
    It’s such a pity that many priests/bishops hold their place in society in such high esteem.. the best run companies are usually lead by owners and/or managers that have enough confidence in themselves, rather than in the title they hold, and pay attention to those that have a different view , rather than dismiss their alternative views with a joke or by constructive dismissal means.. let’s make room for EQ as well as IQ.
    We also have GDP and GMP and Good ? Practise codes in our normal working lives that are useful guidelines and codes of conduct .. why not a Good Parish Practise that the Pope/Bishops insist upon as part of any induction into lay ministry/volunteering in an active manner ..and that are produced in tandem by both religious and lay?
    William , the Scottish Reform Group mentioned in another thread might be of use to your Parish should it regress into the dark ages!

  10. Brian Fahy says:

    Frances @ 8

    Thank you Frances for your kind words which lift my heart. Having been a preacher all my life, as well as married and now widowed, I cannot let go of wanting to preach the gospel. It gives me the joy of my life and I try to say things that will be positive and will lift other hearts too. The pain of these times is great and saddens us all.

    I know from being in religious life and priesthood for so long (1958, aged 11 – 1999, aged 52) that we felt ourselves to be outside the realm of secular society, a privileged and perfect society, as the old theology used to say, and that meant that when sexual misdeeds occurred they were hushed up for propriety’s sake and people quietly moved somewhere else. Push it away and pretend that it no longer exists. This was the mindset and culture that we inhabited. Being celibate men in a celibate world, we had no knowledge or realisation of what we were really doing. Things that were indeed crimes were treated as moral failings and human weakness and as sins and the advice to pray more was usually the medicine on offer.

    The advances in psychology and kindred sciences saw us send people for counselling as well, but the profound wound in the offending person was not truly understood. And of course the victims of these aberrations were never considered much at all. Simply moving someone on elsewhere is no answer to anything, but we often act as if it were. All this we now see in the full glare of secular light.

    Being such a huge and mighty house, the Church thought it okay to deal with this stuff ‘in house’. Someone on Radio 4 this morning said that ‘celibacy in itself’ is not the problem but that many people who took on our imposed rule of celibacy were not mature emotionally or sexually or psychologically for the life that celibacy asks and this has been the problem in cases involving priests and religious.

    I hope I have said all that accurately. It is, at least how i have seen and understood things. Conversion of life now calls to us all. These things do not go away, but our need to look things in the face truthfully is on us. Jesus called his followers ‘disciples’, people who are always learning and practising faith. I hope we will be faithful to that.

  11. Frances Burke says:

    It’s hard to believe that we have to ask for this in the year 2018

    ‘We call on the Pope to immediately put in place a system of mandatory reporting to civil authorities across the globe and the immediate dismissal of religious superiors who place children in harms way #Stand4Truth @marielco @kavsisters @Colmogorman @ruairimckiernan @Donal_OKeeffe’

  12. Paddy Ferry says:

    Yes, Frances@ 13, it is truly hard to believe.

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