Silly Season Scrum: Archbishop Martin and the Media

Was Archbishop Martin Wise to Raise this Media Scrum?
Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC
In recent times I have been writing about how climate change and how Ireland is not living up to its obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the area of agriculture.  The situation with climate change is very serious. Scientists are telling us that 2015 was the hottest year on record, but that 2016 is expected to be even warmer.   Climate change will lead to the death and displacement of millions of people but, unfortunately, our media and our politicians have been slow to grapple with it in an effective and competent way.  It is only very recently that the leadership of the Catholic Church has begun to take the environmental degradation of the planet seriously. Then in June 2015, Pope Francis published an extraordinary encyclical on care of creation entitled Laudato Si : On Care For Our Common Home. Could it be that Ireland and the Catholic Church in Ireland was discussing this document early in August 2016?  Unfortunately, the answer is would seem to be a resounding no.
In the social and economic sphere there are also serious challenges in Ireland today.  Research by Oxfam Ireland has pointed out that the share of income going paid  to workers has fallen as the size of the global economy more than doubled over the past three decades. The research confirms that Ireland was the most unequal country in the EU in terms of income distribution. These are very difficult times, especially, for young people today.  Maybe the Irish public and the Catholic Church in Ireland were discussing zero hour contracts, in which people are obliged to be available for work even if they are not called in work today? Unfortunately, once again, the answer would seem to be no.
Rather than discussing some of the important themes I have mentioned above, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin decided to inform the public that he had decided not to send his three seminarians to Maynooth because he was disturbed by rumours about a poisonous atmosphere in Maynooth. One wonders did Dr. Martin realise that August is the silly season for the media, and that his announcement would lead to a deluge of coverage in the Irish media about the suitability of Maynooth as a training centre for seminarians. The the tsunami of invective and gleeful nods-and-winks that have resulted from his announcement was an embarrassment for the Irish Catholic Church.
The President of Maynooth, Monsignor Hugh Connelly, was vigorously pursued by Keelin Shanley in an interview on August 5th 2016. He made it perfectly clear that allegations are not facts and that he and the College formation staff have difficult decisions to make when assessing whether (or not) someone has a vocation to the priesthood. Allegations need to be investigated and, in our legal system, those against whom  allegations are made are innocent until proven guilty. Making these assessments as to whether a person is suitable or unsuitable  for ministry in the priesthood is a difficult task. People who have very rigid moral or theological views, or who are committed to a pre-Vatican II vision of Church are often not suitable for parish ministry in the contemporary Church.  This does not mean that they cannot have very productive, creative and fulfilling lives within the Catholic Church.
Fr Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests warned that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s decision will have far-reaching consequences, not just for Maynooth but for the Irish Catholic Church. He also stated that Archbishop Martin’s arguments about moving students to Rome “are not convincing”.  Fr. Hoban went on to make it clear that that many of participants in the media scrum triggered by Archbishop Martin’s comments have a particular vision of the kind of church that they want to see promoted in Ireland today.
In criticising the Association of Catholic Priests, Michael Kelly, the editor of The Irish Catholic, referred to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) as ‘left wing.’ This is not meant as a compliment; but labelling people is hardly a way to conduct a serious discussion. I am proud of the fact that during the 1970s and 1980s I was involved with the justice and peace ministry of the Mindanao-Sulu pastoral council in the Philippines. I witnessed the extraordinary courage of lay people who took decisions, often at huge risk to their own lives, to protect the well-being of people on the margins of society. During the past 35 years I have been involved in developing the Care of Creation ministry in the Catholic Church. For me these initiatives are consistent with the Sermon on the Mount and chapter 25 of Mathew’s Gospel,
On the issue of ministry, the ACP has been pointing out for the past five years that priestly ministry is collapsing in Ireland.  There are 1.2 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Dublin, yet Archbishop Martin is talking about transferring a mere three seminarians to Rome.  We need a completely new structure of ministry in the Catholic Church in Ireland if we wish to have the Eucharist available to us in the future and have competent pastoral care for everyone.
Finally, I was amazed that during all the of the controversy which ensued during the week, nobody mentioned three of the most significant documents of the modern Church  – The Joy of the Gospel,  Laudato Si’ : On Care For Our Common Home  and  The  Joy of Love. These are pivotal documents in the modern Church and yet, they were missing for the debate.
I look forward to the day when the media – if they are genuinely interested in the future of the Irish Church- will afford the same time, interest and energy  to discussing the  latter as they have to this week’s Maynooth story.

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  1. Maynooth music department was responsible for the musical aspect of the closing event of the Eucharistic Congress. Afterwards, a professional in church music from the English speaking world commented that (musically) the event was dated, from an earlier decade. The reaction of Maynooth music department : Wounded, incomprehending, looking for an apology, unable to benefit from the criticism. I also attended this event and in my view the criticism was fully justified. Maybe Bishop Martin is on to something that is not evident on the surface. If the philosophy of the rest of Maynooth is like its music department then they are ill equipped to train those who are to lead the Irish church forward.

  2. Christine Lynch says:

    Nobody answers the question: “if Vatican II was such a great success, why are the churches emptying and why are there so few priestly vocations these days”. Is it not a situation of the “emperor having no clothes”? It’s just too scary for many to consider that Vatican II, it’s interpretation and implementation is a massive failure. Traditional religious societies within the church are growing with growing numbers of young men attracted to the perennial, unchanging teachings of the Catholic Church. The operative word here being “unchanging”.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    Sean, the book you recommend seems to identify correctly the most edifying, vibrant, and enjoyable aspect of Christian culture today. Discussion and dialogue are the very essence of this living Christianity, and the ecumential and interreligious dialogues are to the fore. Discussion of the environment is also an interreligious matter. See the Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Catholic and Protestant input into last December’s Paris ecology summit. Let me again quote from the Japan Mission Journal, where John T. Brinkman wrote in the summer issue:
    [Editor: Download the following ‘Buddhist and Hindu Declarations’ in PDF format HERE]
    Buddhist and Hindu Declarations
    Pronouncements of world religions on the upcoming Paris conference included the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change (18 August), the statement of 154 Christian and other religious leaders (22 October), the Presidents of Regional Catholic Bishops’ Conferences Appeal (26 October), the Buddhist leaders’ pronouncement (29 October), and the Hindu Declaration (23 November). All of these interventions reiterated from their distinctive religious perspectives the call for global action to slow climate change and deal with its impacts.
    In particular, the Buddhist conference took note of the shared concern for the environment expressed by other faith traditions and was quite explicit in its endorsements of their resolutions pertinent to the UN FCCC conference discourse and agenda:
    We strongly support ‘The Time to Act is Now: A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change,’ which is endorsed by a diverse and global representation of Buddhist leaders and Buddhist sanghas. We also welcome and support the climate change statements of other religious traditions. These include Pope Francis’s encyclical earlier this year, Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, as well as the upcoming Hindu Declaration on Climate Change. We are united by our concern to phase out fossil fuels, to reduce our consumption patterns, and the ethical imperative to act against both the causes and the impacts of climate change, especially on the world’s poorest. To this end, we urge world leaders to generate the political will to close the emissions gap left by country climate pledges and ensure that the global temperature increase remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels. We also ask for a common commitment to scale up climate finance, so as to help developing countries prepare for climate impacts and to help us all transition to a safe, low carbon future.
    The Hindu document reached into its own unique references to Nature and its sense of lifestyle guidance gleaned from living in harmony with the ordained natural course of things. The Declaration quotes the Mahābhārata (109.10) which states: ‘Dharma exists for the welfare of all beings. Hence, that by which the welfare of all living beings is sustained, that for sure is dharma,’ and he calls on all Hindus to expand their conception of dharma so as to consider impacts of personal actions on all other beings. National and international responses to climate change must be based on the central Hindu principle that the Divine is all and all life is to be treated with reverence and respect. Three Sanskrit words from the Īśopanisad, characterize the Hindu outlook: ‘Īśāvāsyam idam sarvam. This entire universe is to be looked upon as the energy of the Lord.’
    The Declaration asks the world’s 900 million Hindus to transition to using clean energy, adopt a plant-based diet, and lead lives in harmony with the natural world. International and national action must be scientifically credible and historically fair, based on deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through a rapid transition away from polluting technologies, especially away from fossil fuels. Renewable energies are also the best hope for the billions of people without electricity or clean cooking facilities to live better lives and reduce poverty.
    An Islamic Perspective
    The Islamic Climate Change Declaration affirms the intimacy of God to the creation:
    We affirm God (Allah) as the Creator—He is al-Khāliq,
    He is Allah—the Creator, the Maker, the Giver of Form;
    He encompasses all of His creation—He is al-Muhīt.
    All that is in the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah.
    Allah encompasses all things.
    The declaration sees the divinely ordered cosmology of creation as imperiled by human disregard of its designated role in the wider context of things: ‘We face the distinct possibility that our species, chosen to be God’s caretaker (Khalīfa) of the earth, could be responsible for ending life as we know it on our planet. This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine balance (mizān) may soon be lost.’ It stresses the need to limit the current rate of climate change in order to preserve the divinely inspired balance of creation: ‘We call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to stay within the “2 degree” limit, or, preferably, within the “1.5 degree” limit, bearing in mind that two thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground.’
    In its last paragraph, the Islamic declaration called for interfaith ‘competition’ for the good of the earth: ‘We call on other faith groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavor, as we can all be winners in this race. “He (God) wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other.”’
    The Istanbul gathering sought and received expressions of solidarity from other faith traditions in the initiation of its climate change declaration. One such message of solidarity from His Excellency Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, expressed the kinship of the Catholic tradition and the Muslim tradition:
    A great motivation which unites Christians, Muslims and many others is the firm belief in God. This faith compels us to care for the magnificent gift God has bestowed upon us—and, God willing, upon those who will follow us. Our urgent action will surely be more effective if we believers of different religious communities find ways to work together. So, it is with great joy and in a spirit of solidarity that I express to you the promise of the Catholic Church to pray for the success of your initiative and her desire to work with you in the future to care for our common home and thus to glorify the God who created us.

  4. If Maynooth-trained Catholic clergy mostly show little interest in Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’ and Amoris Laetitia why should the Irish media be blame-worthy for ignoring these documents?
    All three documents predict a vibrant church that will be joyfully talking to itself – but that mostly doesn’t exist in Ireland yet. And while the ACP remains fixated on the priestly man-power issue, how can it?
    Which Irish dioceses have regular forums for lay-clerical interchange on the full range of issues facing the church, from the family to climate change?
    It certainly isn’t the fault of the merely-baptised that these don’t exist. A just-published book by QUB researcher Gladys Ganiel – based largely on interviews with Catholic lay people – describes a widespread appetite for dialogue but a general lack of opportunity for lay-clerical discussion. ( http://www.gladysganiel.com/my-books/ )
    And the last ACP-organised event that looked forward to such a church was held in 2012: the Regency Hotel meeting entitled ‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Church’.
    The Irish media will wake-up to a recovering Irish church just as soon as there is some sign of it. Why doesn’t the ACP initiate diocesan discussions of the kind we obviously need?

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    A few years ago Cardinal Ratzinger (or was he already pope?) said that the church is not a discussion group. Well, the church would be much better off if it were a discussion group on the environmental crisis and the issues listed in Laudato si’. Sadly, in Ireland the agenda is set by tabloid snoops. Our Japan Mission Journal keeps an eye on ecological questions. The Summer 2016 issue reprinted the following: http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/1550/ecology-and-economy-archbishop-calls-for-action-on-environment-to-head-off-social-crisis
    We also published a similar piece that begins as follows:
    Stefano Zamagni, “Ecology, Economics, and Ethics” Link to article

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