Archbishop Diarmuid Martin observes:
“Clericalism will only be eliminated by fostering a deeper sense of the meaning of the Church and that understanding of the nature of the Church will come not from media strategies or simply by structural reforms, but by genuine renewal in what faith in Jesus Christ is about. If we focus only on structures and power there is a risk that clericalism might be replaced by neo-clericalism….
“I am not saying that reform of structures is not necessary within the Church. Anything but! What I am saying is that such reform without ongoing radical renewal in the faith will end up with the wrong structures and indeed might end up just answering yesterday’s unanswered questions tomorrow. Clericalism will to some extent vanish when a new culture of co-responsibility and collaboration develops.”
- (From ‘Catholic Ireland: Past Present and Future’ – the speaking notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the Fordham Centre of Religion and Culture, New York, April 24th 2013)
These almost oppositional observations on faith and structures have become standard for the archbishop. It seems that for him a ‘radical renewal in the faith’ must precede contemplation of structural change. Has he properly considered the power of the church’s current structural slum to perpetuate clericalism and undermine faith – and even to persuade us that God has called ‘time’ on the structures we have and must be sought elsewhere?
What does it say about the faith of the magisterium that fear of open assembly dominates our relationships – that the magisterium is still structurally ‘wired for transmission only’? Elsewhere in his Fordham address the Archbishop laments the absence of a respectful and intelligent dialogue in Ireland between secular and Catholic intellectuals. What has he done to permit regular, frequent intelligent dialogue within the church itself, between bishop and clergy, and clergy and laity, in Ireland’s premier diocese? What has he done to forward an adult conversation in the church on the implications of Catholic social teaching? What has he done to ensure that the church makes use of structural options already available – for example the diocesan synod? What has he done to question the radical faith-repelling injustice of current structures for securing the deposit of faith – including the encouragement by the CDF of covert delation by poisonous cowards and the denial of opportunity for the self-defence of those accused?
I ask these questions on the ACP website because – absurdly – I have no other Irish Catholic forum in which to ask them. Half-a-century after Vatican II this in itself is proof of the collapse of the leadership, and faith, of the Irish magisterium. It is therefore seriously challenging my own faith – not my faith in the Trinity but my faith in the appointed leadership of my church. I am forced to the conclusion that God may be permitting the total collapse of the Irish Catholic clerical system because he has had more than enough of the fear rather than faith that still controls too many of its appointed leaders.
So could the archbishop please call time on his endless and sterile opposing of faith and structural reform? We cannot renew our faith until we gather our own courage to meet in open and prayerful assemblies to expel the herds of elephants in the room. We do not need a perfect blueprint for a future church to do that. We will learn how to rebuild the structures, and renew our faith, only by daring in the first place to meet to discuss that.
I definitely don’t want to hear another elaborate disquisition by the archbishop from some remote podium on the challenges facing the Irish church. To meet the challenges he describes Dr Martin needs to exit fully from the lecturer’s comfort zone. I want to hear of his initiatives in fostering open dialogue in his own diocese, to hear the faith-filled questions of his own priests and people – especially the young. Hasn’t a papal whistle already been blown for that?