Thursday, March 02, 2006

News From Ireland and... Ireland

Slaintè to all our readers from the Emerald Isle.... Buíochas le Dia -- it's 15 days to Paddy's.

So a bunch of things are going on in Ireland these days, and here's a quick summation.

First off, at long last, the diocese of Ferns will be regularised with the appointment of a native son as its new bishop. The diocese has technically been vacant since the resignation under fire of Bishop Brendan Comiskey in 2002. Auxiliary Bishop Eamonn Walsh of Dublin has been acting as apostolic administrator:

Monsignor Denis Brennan, the parish priest of Taghmon, was appointed Bishop of Ferns yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI as the successor to disgraced Bishop Brendan Comiskey.

The 61-year-old is the first native of Wexford to have risen to be a bishop in almost 70 years and there was a warm welcome from his fellow priests at the news that he had become the first "local boy" to be their boss since 1938.

The long-awaited appointment was made four years after the controversial Monaghan-born Comiskey stepped down over his failure to deal with the horrendous problem of clerical child sexual abuse that became subject to a Government inquiry.

During the past four years, Monsignor Brennan has been at the centre of the clean-up operation as the diocese's child protection delegate, working closely with the Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Eamonn Walsh.

Mgr Brennan was a key aide to Bishop Walsh in co-operating with the Government's inquiry into the scale of the abuse.

An open-minded and hardworking pastor, he came to prominence last November on the publication of the damning report into the cover-ups in the Ferns diocese of the actions of notorious paedophile priests such as the late Fr Sean Fortune and Fr Jim Grennan.

In a number of interviews Mgr Brennan was recognised as a caring priest who understood the terrible damage which had been done to the child-victims and to the Church in Ferns.

With the name of an academic outsider mentioned as "a parachutist" into the vacant post, the priests knew that, if appointed, Mgr Brennan would have their support in the task of rebuilding confidence.

The outgoing administrator -- who a report in The Irish Independent last week named as a potential archbishop of Dublin should the venerable Diarmuid Martin be recalled to a senior post in the Roman Curia -- is getting a warm welcome home
Bishop Walsh will now return to Dublin, where, according to Archbishop Martin, the archdiocese will "benefit enormously from the experience and expertise which he acquired."
Second, there's been much controversy in the diocese of Cloyne, Cork, over Bishop John Magee's plan to perform an extensive renovation of the Pugin-designed sanctuary of St. Colman's Cathedral at Cobh. Magee is known to a wider audience from his days as private secretary to three Popes -- Paul VI and the two John Pauls....

Suffice it to say, the plan has attracted a lot of heat -- conservatives, preservationists and people who just like to scream, oh my! But even I will tell you that anything Pugin should not be touched.
PROPOSED changes to the interior of St Colman's Cathedral in Cork could jeopardise the fabric of one of the world's greatest neo-Gothic structures.

The claim came on the second day of the An Bord Pleanala oral hearing into the proposed re-arrangement of the interior of the cathedral in Cobh which is the seat of the Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee....

The interior design basicallyinvolves removing a number of the front aisles, lifting floor mosaics and extending the altar. Amongst those who objected to that planning decision are the Friends of St Colman's Cathedral, the Irish Georgian Society and the Department of the Environment.
The Holy See has already said it will not intervene
Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, told Magee that it was up to the bishop to persuade local people of the merits of his proposals. In 1998,Magee told a public meeting that no changes would be made without the consent of parishioners.

Although more than 24,000 people signed a petition opposing the suggested changes, the bishop lodged a planning application last July. At the time, Magee said that the proposed changes had been ‘‘submitted by me to the relevant congregation in Rome and received its approval’’. But protesters argued that the changes were not mandated by Church law or by the Vatican.

Magee travelled to Rome on January 24 with Monsignors Denis Reidy and James O’Donnell. At the bishop’s request, the three met Arinze and three officials of his congregation. The diocese said the liturgical ordering of churches was the responsibility of the diocesan bishop, so approval by the Vatican was not necessary.
Just as in Milwaukee, et al., eh?

And third, the man of the hour -- Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (Stato subito) -- gave the keynote lecture at the 40th anniversary conference of the Irish progressive group Pobal a couple weeks back....

The address was entitled "A Humble and Listening Church."

Some snips:
I remember that at the end of the first session of the Council Archbishop McQuaid returned to Dublin and remained totally silent on his experiences. At the end of the Second Session, to our great surprise, he came across to Clonliffe on the very same evening of his return to Dublin to talk to the seminarians. We were fascinated to know if he had had a sudden conversion to the ideas of the Council. I remember well how he opened his talk with the phrase: “The Council Hall has been beautifully arranged” and preceded to talk for over thirty minutes on the furnishing of the Council Hall in Saint Peter’s Basilica, about where the various categories of Bishops and experts were sitting and what they we wearing. Not a single word about the debates!

Times have changed. Has the promise of the Council been fulfilled? Is the Church today – I am referring in these reflections to the situation of the Catholic Church - truly the Church desired by Vatican II? Has the doctrine of Vatican II been received in the Church? Are there areas where this vision has been blocked and impeded? Have, on the other hand, cultural developments over these past forty years coloured and even distorted the way in which the ideas of the Council are perceived?

The Church in Dublin to which I returned after an absence of over thirty years is a very complex Church. There is no doubt that Vatican II was a great gift to the Irish Church, which needed a quantum leap for it to become truly Church in the second half of the twentieth century. There are however many paradoxes. Numbers attending Church regularly have dropped radically. I visit parishes where there are no young people present at all. Vatican II is not a term used often in the vocabulary and culture of most of our young people. We have invested huge effort into new catechetical programmes, yet many young people move out into life with a very superficial religious culture. For the first time in the memory of the Diocese of Dublin there was no ordination to the priesthood last year. And yet I find parishes that have never been as vibrant in their history as they are today....

When we speak about a humble listening Church, we are speaking about a theological reality. When we say that the Church must be a listening Church we are not saying that it is a sort permanent session of hearings in which we listen to each other’s viewpoint – even though listening to each other is important. The first and determining listening process is listening to the Word of God. The need to listen to the word of God, to be obedient to the word of God is an obligation of every Christian. Teaching authority in the Church is firstly about the obedience of the teacher to the Word of God. To impose obligations on the people of God other than those which emerge from the Word of God as taught in the Church would be an abuse of authority.

One of the most important insights which Pope Benedict XVI wished to recall in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est is the fact that the truth we encounter in the Word of God is truth about love. The Word of God, the expression of the very being of God can only be a word which expresses love. The Word which took flesh, took flesh as the concrete revelation of the love of God, of a God who is love. In listening to the Word, in responding in obedience to the Word we enter dynamically in to the very process of loving which is characteristic of God.

The Church must be a place where the love of God becomes the norm of life, not the focal-point of an impersonal rule book or of a checklist of ethical principles against which we externally fill out a report card on our lives. The Church must be the space in which the love and the mercy of God become visible and through the lives and witness of believers become also the norm for society, for social interaction, recognising that through the incarnation the law of love has become the fundamental law which governs human relations and the entire universe.

Pope Benedict goes on then to stress another important element of this dynamism of God’s love into which we are captured when we receive his word authentically. The Pope notes that: “Union with Christ is union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself. I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become and will become his own.” Communion draws me out of myself towards Jesus and towards unity with all Christians. Through the Eucharist, all spirituality is therefore ecclesial in the sense that when we share in the life of Christ, we become one body, as is stressed in various ways in each of the Eucharistic prayers....

The People of God will always be a people of service. It will be a service to the truth and a search into how that truth can be embodied in a society that is often disoriented. The Church must therefore always present truth in love. The process of proclaiming truth must be characterised by the manner in which Jesus himself acted. Jesus claims in fact to be the truth in person: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn.14, 6). But at the same time his presence is always like a servant (Luke 22, 27). Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself as a servant (Phil.2). Jesus however receives Lordship, “the name that is above all other names”, because he consumed himself in service until the end. We need to reflect in greater detail the essential bond between truth and love, rediscovering the rich tradition of epikeia in the practical application of Church norms.

A listening Church leads automatically to a humble Church. The People of God is the continuation of that humble remnant of the Jewish people, represented above all by Mary, whose life was marked not by outward expressions of personal affirmation, but by a combination of pondering the word of God and silent and unremitting presence alongside her son.

The single characteristic of the Church, however, which is noted in all the ancient creeds is holiness. The Church is holy. The People of God is holy on the basis of its origins and divine institution. The Church is holy in the fact that it is guided by the spirit, that it is the custodian of the Word of God, that it is the abode where the sacraments and the economy of grace are active. It is holy in its missionary character and in its capacity to generate new believers into the life of grace.

The Church is not a simple organization of which we can be a member and at the same time calmly criticize as if from the outside. We must love the Church. Certainly, the affirmation of the Church being holy should not hide from us that the Church is made up not just of saints but also of sinners. Our affirmation of the holiness of the Church calls us to commit ourselves to conversion, repentance and renewal, in our own lives and within our Church communities. Solidarity in holiness means holding each other responsible, and challenging each other – including Church leadership - to the highest standards of holiness and integrity.