Seamus Ahearne OSA responds to the Visitors Report

It was a very good day (week) ‘to bury bad news!’  The Mahon report displaced the ‘Summary from Rome’  – which was a ‘blessing’ indeed!  Some of us shudder in anticipation when documents are due fromRome.  Rome can embarrass us and only add to our local difficulties. Their words can be wooden and disconnected from the ‘faith’ of our communities. Benedict’s letter ‘was feared’ but came as a surprise: it was  pastoral and real (the end part was sadly laughable).   When the Visitors from Rome were announced – some of us worried. However, when we met the Visitors – we were impressed: They listened. They wanted to hear what ‘we thought.’  It was a real conversation (which can be unusual in Church life!)   The New Missal arrived and it was a disaster. It was crude. It desecrates the English language. ‘The Word’ does not  become flesh in our culture. This committee product must have been finalised by non-English speakers – does Rome ever learn?. Why did our hierarchies accept it?  The New Zealanders showed sense.
I recall an article by Graham Greene (1972). The title was:  “The Virtue of Disloyalty.”   Greene enjoyed being awkward. He scoffed at Shakespeare. He called him a crawler (or similar words!). He suggested that Shakespeare failed as a writer. Why? He was a poet of the Establishment. Greene dared to say that the minor poet Southwell (Jesuit martyr) was a ‘better writer’ than Shakespeare  – Southwell was disloyal.  Greene was clear – the writer has to be disloyal.  He said that the writer has ‘to be a protestant in a Catholic society; a catholic in a Protestant one.’  He said that Bonhoeffer like Southwell was a greater hero than Shakespeare!  The writer always stands for the victim and the victims change. An honest writer cannot be a Conformist!
The Biblical Prophet is like Greene’s view of the writer. The Prophet has to be counter cultural has to be a non Conformist. The present day Church demands Conformity and Deference. (In truth only the Roman church not the local one!) The Conformist is the model for the Establishment. The Report (Rome) says so little. It would have better if nothing was said. The generalities had to be restated and that is right. But then when the Report expresses its ‘wish’ that our students should  be prepared as clerical puppets; and observes that too many priests and religious dare to differ from the Magisterium!  I wonder. Is this all that is on offer to the struggling church in Ireland?
I have no idea what our Visitors sent into Rome. I respect them and know that they must have said more than we heard. The Roman summary (sterile version)  does not sum up what went on here. I had faith in the Visitors.  I do not have much faith in the Roman bureaucrats. A doctored document is useless.  What did I expect or hope for?  I hoped that the pastoral approach of the early part of Pope’s letter might have appeared. I hoped that Rome might hear from us that the clerical church/culture itself needed  major change; that Rome would show some humility and realise it had much to learn.  I have used this before but it still applies:  Is 55  (commentary in the Jerome Biblical commentary) –  “The Word comes from God, but it can be heard only when it is soaked up in human life (Irish experience)  and spoken with human accents (our local accents) . “  Note: Rome.
There is a wider challenge for everyone – We must stand back and look around.  Our history is wrapped up in a deep desire for independence. How could we value our freedom so little?  We have ended up with a rotten political Establishment. Mahon tells us part of the story. The other Tribunals confirm the destruction. How could it happen? As John Healy said:  ‘Why did no-one shout stop? ‘ (1968).  Why did we accept it?  Cute-hoorism seemed to be an ambition for too many and yet we accepted it.
How could it happen that the Celtic Tiger should have become so bloated that obesity collapsed our economy? Wasn’t it obvious to ‘even the dogs in the street’ that the housing boom would fall under its own explosion? Why wasn’t it noticed by our politicians, advisors, bankers, economists or  media?
How did it happen that the Church in Ireland needed Ryan/ Murphy/ Cloyne? Were we blind?  What did we miss? Why were so many asleep? How could the wonder and beauty of the Gospel (at the core of the culture) – miss out on so much? What are we missing now?  The Church now deserves to be an object of scorn – but what is happening across the wider community? If society can learn from the failures in the Church then many others have questions to answer: the psychologists missed it (sexual abuse); the judicial system missed it; the Gardai missed it. What now?.
The phrase ‘Cover up’ is used too readily. There is a much more dangerous question: How do we miss the obvious? In the Sexual domain? In the Political arena? In the Financial sector? In the Developers’ world?  In the Educational  establishment? What is really going on in our schools, universities?  Are people learning how to ask questions and to have the guts/imagination/stamina to keep on digging? Or are we producing robots? What is happening on RTE that no-one could see that the attack on Fr Reynolds  needed to be investigated before broadcasting or the Tweet on Sean Gallagher?  Who is alert with a wider perspective than the immediate? When is someone going to question our Tribunals?  They too are a disgrace in themselves. They have added a little to what we already knew but the time/costs are deeply wrong. We need the non Conformist to stand up and say: Their word is not the last word and not always totally right. We need a deeply critical mind to assess their generalities, assumptions and methodology. Are legal people alone capable of such Tribunal work? Can we do better? Greene is right for all of us – not just the writers or the prophets but everyone.
I conclude – there is a question for all of us to answer.  What kind of country; What kind of Church do we want to create?  If we claim to be Christian Catholics – the cult of conformism or deference or bowing to the establishment,  is not the way forward. It cannot be the challenge of the Gospel.  IsRomefollowing the call of Christ or falling into the role of protecting a dead past?  I think Christ had a problem with the Establishment also and he wasn’t a writer.
Seamus Ahearne osa
Rivermount parish, 60 Glenties Park, Finglas South,Dublin11.
26th March 2012.

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  1. Mary O Vallely says:

    I cheered a little reading this simply because it echoes my own thoughts. “What kind of Church do we want to create?” asks Fr Seamus. I am reminded of Richard Rohr’s advice “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” Let’s practise then!!
    It is so easy to succumb to a sort of despair and a “what’s the point” after the gloomy news of late. Of course Seamus is right. We must be true to the message of the Gospels. I’ll quote from something Tony Flannery wrote in “The Death of Religious Life”. (Columba Press)
    “All human institutions have to guard agaisnt the danger that the structures which were set up in order to help a group of people achieve a goal might become more important than the goal.”
    I look forward to a good debate on Seamus Ahearne’s heartfelt plea.
    Mary V

  2. Con Devree says:

    Fr Aherne’s artilce offers no credible way for the future. There is no credible blueprint. He needs to set out his blueprint, comprehensively and honestly and show some evidence that it will succeed in terms of new vocations to the priesthood and religious life and the spritiual infrastructure among the laity from which such vocations flow. Seeking to sell us a pig in a poke is not creditworthy.
    As an ordinary Catholic I regard the purpose of structure in Church and parish to do the following
    1. Primarily I want it to enable me to participate in the sacramental life of the Church and to access the Way, Truth and Life, the freedom and Divine Mercy inherent in the teachings and dogmas of the Church – to hear and receive them, – all with a view to my salvation
    2. On a less selfish but more broader level of reason, structure is there to enable the Church to pursue the exemplary form of the Church for all ages which is sketched out in Acts 2:42. There is an essential interdependence among the four aspects of this form of the Church – fellowship (including sharing our possessions and goods of life), the Eucharist, unity and, remaining in the teaching of the apostles, i.e., of the Magisterium. If any of them are deliberately played down, as in the case of Fr Ahern’s article, the whole edifice, as we now know, becomes badly damaged.
    3. On a more sobering level I want structure to serve the purposes of helping me identify my vocation as a layperson in the Church as outlined in general in The Catechism (par 898) – one of seeking:
    “the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will… It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order the temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer”
    This of course is the Ite Missa Est of the Mass and is reflected in the morning offering prayer. It derives from Lumen Gentium paragraph 31 and others, including Paragraph 39 of the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian given by the CDF in 1990 , where Cardinal Ratzinger drew attention to the issue:
    “The Church …. Is organised around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel, and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of the first community, all the baptised with their own proper charisms are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life and worship (c/f Acts 2:42) This is a rule that flows from the very being of the Church.”
    To me this sounds so much more positive and hopeful that does the negativity of Fr Ahern’s article

  3. Mary O Vallely says:

    “…the whole edifice, as we now know, becomes badly damaged.”
    Con, it is already badly damaged. You must admit that there is something seriously wrong with an institution claiming to follow Christ which consistently put its own “good” name before the well-being of children and vulnerable adults, that shows a complete lack of compassion or understanding to the many priests who wish to serve but are shut out because of falling in love with a woman and marrying. I could go on.
    There needs to be a serious self-examination as to WHY the abuse was allowed to happen and WHY it was continually covered up. WHY are the priorities the opposite of the Gospel message? You are obviously well-versed in Scripture and Church documents but I fear for a Church which is ruled by the head and not by the heart. To me, that is not following the message of loving God AND your neighbour and putting the vulnerable and the marginalised first, as Jesus himself showed us. This is not to negate the wonderful work done by so many in the Church who are committed to this work both at home and abroad but we need to allow ourselves to be open to the Spirit of Love more than to the following of laws.
    Mary V

  4. We are not required to ‘create a Church’. That has already been done and some of us are content with it – the new counter-culture TLM and all!

  5. Seamus, thank you for that excellent and honest piece. Your mention of Graham Greene and “The Virtue of Disloyalty” made me think of something I once read by the late, great Bernard Haring CSsR. At the start of World War II, Bernard was conscripted into the German army — as a medical orderly in deference to his religious vocation. He saw many terrible things and one of the hard lessons he learned from the war was what he called “the stupid, stubborn obedience of Christians towards cruel orders”. He described one experience he had in Cracow in Poland where an officer in his regiment came to him after having taken part in the slaughter of 10,000 innocent Jews. By the time he came to Bernard the officer was going off his head at the realisation of what he had just done. He told Bernard that he had prayed as he shot the innocent Jews. And, of course, the reason he did it was because he was following orders from above. Seeing people do the most terrible things and then justify them by obedience made Bernard resolve that if he were ever to teach moral theology it would not be a theology based on the concept of obedience but rather on “the concept of responsibilty and discernment; a discerning obedience and a virtuous disobedience”. Bernard Haring was probably our greatest moral theologian and certainly the most widely read. He was the kind of theologian who would never have survived in the Church we have experienced since 1978. He survived and prospered in the 1960s and 70s because he had the protection and support of John 23 and Paul 6. “Those were the days my friends, we thought they’d never end”. His cruel treatment at the hands of the CDF in the 1980s — despite his terminal throat cancer — has been well documented.

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