Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Out of a Catastrophe"

Topping this Tuesday's headlines in Ireland: a landmark address on "the future of the church" on the Isle, given last night by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

Having won wide praise -- and, indeed, some blowback -- for spearheading a charge for ecclesial renewal in the wake of seismic revelations of abuse and cover-up there over recent months, Martin's points are well worth reading in full... but here, some snips:
The Church is a reality of faith. As a person of faith I know that the future of the Church in Ireland is not in my hands, but that its future will be guided by the Lord, who is with his Church at all times. Yesterday’s Gospel reminded us that the Father would send the Spirit who, at each moment in the history of the Church, would teach us all things in Jesus name. In that sense I cannot be pessimistic about the future of the Church in Ireland.

On the other hand, as one entrusted with the responsibility of pastoral leadership I have the mission to guide that portion of the Church entrusted to my care along a path of renewal and conversion which ensures that what grows and matures into the future truly is the Church of Jesus Christ and not something of our own creation.

On a purely personal level, as Diarmuid Martin, I have never since becoming Archbishop of Dublin felt so disheartened and discouraged about the level of willingness to really begin what is going to be a painful path of renewal and of what is involved in that renewal.

How do I reconcile these differing trends in my reflection on the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland? On a personal level, I have no choice but to lay aside personal discouragement and continue day-by-day the search for personal conversion and renewal and to re-discover for my own life the essentials of the message of Jesus Christ.

The future of the Catholic Church in Ireland will see a very different Catholic Church in Ireland. I sometimes worry when I hear those with institutional responsibility stress the role of the institution and others then in reaction saying that “we are the Church”. Perhaps on both sides there may be an underlying feeling that “I am the Church”, that the Church must be modelled on my way of thinking or on my position. Renewal is never our own creation. Renewal will only come through returning to the Church which we have received from the Lord.

Why am I discouraged? The most obvious reason is the drip-by-drip never-ending revelation about child sexual abuse and the disastrous way it was handled. There are still strong forces which would prefer that the truth did not emerge. The truth will make us free, even when that truth is uncomfortable. There are signs of subconscious denial on the part of many about the extent of the abuse which occurred within the Church of Jesus Christ in Ireland and how it was covered up. There are other signs of rejection of a sense of responsibility for what had happened. There are worrying signs that despite solid regulations and norms these are not being followed with the rigour required....

The second and deeper root of my discouragement is that I do not believe that people have a true sense of the crisis of faith that exists in Ireland. We have invested in structures of religious education which despite enormous goodwill are not producing the results that they set out to do. Our young people are among the most catechised in Europe but among the least evangelised. I am a strong proponent of Catholic education; Catholic education has a solid track record. I see an important future for Catholic education alongside and in dialogue with other vibrant forms of education, including that of minority Churches, in our schools.

I am not sure however that we all really have an understanding of what Catholic education entails. Many people send their children to what is today a Catholic school not primarily because it is a Catholic school but because it is a good school. I am not sure that parents would change their children from that school if it were to become simply a national school. The level of parents’ interest in Catholic education will only be objectively measurable when they have real choice.

We are also deluding ourselves if we think that what is in fact presented as a curriculum for religious education and formation in faith is actually being applied everywhere. There are clear indications that in the face of so many other curriculum pressures and extracurricular activities religious education is in fact being shifted to the margins of school life in many Catholic schools. We have great teachers; teachers committed to Catholic education. But the system is also such that teachers who do not share the Catholic faith find themselves teaching something of which they are not convinced. Catholic schools have contributed greatly to integration in Irish society. Catholic identity is more than vague ethos; it is also about witness.

There are fundamental fault-lines within the current structure for Catholic schools that are not being addressed and unattended fault-lines inevitably generate destructive energies. Our system of religious education – especially at secondary level but also at primary level in urban areas - more and more bypasses our parishes, which should together with the family be the primary focal points for faith formation and membership of a worshipping community. I am not attacking Catholic teachers and Catholic schools; they do tremendous work. What is needed is renewal of the vision of parish. Many of our parishes offer very little in terms of outreach to young people.

There are further challenges to be addressed regarding Church teaching. Within the Church and outside of it discussion focuses around challenges in the area of sexual morality where the Church’s teaching is either not understood or is simply rejected as out of tune with contemporary culture. There is on the other hand very little critical examination of some of the roots of that contemporary culture and its compatibility with the teaching of Jesus. The moral teaching of the Church cannot simply be a blessing for, a toleration of, or an adaptation to the cultural climate of the day. The manner in which the moral teaching of the Church is presented to believers is far too often not adequately situated within the overall context of the teaching of Jesus, which is both compassionate and demanding. Christian moral rules and norms belong within a broader vision of the teaching of Jesus Christ.

This immediately brings us to the deeper question about the level of understanding of the message of Jesus Christ which exists in our Catholic Church and in our society in Ireland today. What do we really know of the message of Jesus? The Irish Catholic tradition has greatly neglected the place of the scriptures. Catholics do not know the scriptures. They do not know how to use the scriptures. We do not take the time to encounter Jesus in the scriptures....

I believe that the encounter with the Jesus of the Gospel of Saint Luke could an important answer in the process of healing which is needed by people who in the past encountered the Church as an insensitive, arrogant and dominating institution. I would appeal especially to those who say that they are disillusioned by the Catholic Church in Ireland as an institution but say also they still wish to share the message of Jesus, to take up the scriptures. They will not find the authentic message of Jesus simply on the talk shows. Faith requires nourishment. You cannot allow it simply to drift.

At the same time it would be arrogant on my part not to stress that so many priests, religious and lay persons have a real understanding of the God of love who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ and who not only transmit that message of love to others, but live that message of love in their own daily exemplary lives. There is great goodness and faith to be encountered within an institutional framework which is often frail. We have great priests and we need great priests for the future....

The use of modern media mechanisms to support the distribution of the Gospel is something important and innovative. In this context, we are very fortunate to have a group of scripture scholars who put their knowledge and personal perception of the scriptures at the service of parishes and bible study groups. This material is accessible to any individual who would wish to avail of it on the website www.yearofevangelisation.ie. The modern communications media provide great opportunities for adult catechesis, especially those media which are interactive and can be used not just to transmit information to individuals, but also to contribute to the construction of faith communities. Parishes have however still much to learn about using these media. Parishes must radically re-orientate themselves to become educational communities in the faith and understanding of modern communications is an essential part of that re-orientation....

The modern communications media provide great opportunities but there is no way that the renewal of the Church will be achieved just by slick media gestures and sound-bytes. The message of Jesus is too deep to be encapsulated into sound bytes. Indeed a priority of the process of proclaiming the Gospel is that of taking people beyond the sound-byte culture.

There are those who claim that the media strategy of the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin following the publication of the Murphy Report was “catastrophic”. My answer is that what the Murphy report narrated was catastrophic and that the only honest reaction of the Church was to publicly admit that the manner in which that catastrophe was addressed was spectacularly wrong; spectacularly wrong “full stop”; not spectacularly wrong, “but…” You cannot sound-byte your way out of a catastrophe.

Some will reply that sexual abuse by priests constitutes only a small percentage of the sexual abuse of children in our society in general. That is a fact. But that important fact should never appear in any way as an attempt to down play the gravity of what took place in the Church of Christ. The Church is different; the Church is a place where children should be the subject of special protection and care. The Gospel presents children in a special light and reserves some of its most severe language for those who disregard or scandalise children in any way.

In analysing the past, it is important to remember that times may have been different and society and other professions may not have looked on the sexual abuse of children as they do today. It is hard however to understand why, in the management by Church authorities of cases of the sexual abuse of children, the children themselves were for many years rarely even taken into the equation. Yes, in the culture of the day children were to be seen and not heard, but different from other professions Church leaders should have been more aware of the Gospel imperative to avoid harm to children, whose innocence was indicated by the Lord a sign of the kingdom of God....

Why am I discouraged? Probably my greatest discouragement comes from the failure of interaction between the Church and young people. I visit parishes where I encounter no young people. I enquire what is being done to attract young people to parish life and the answers are vague. Everyone knows that there is a missing generation and perhaps more than one, yet there are very few pastoral initiatives to reach out to young people. I would pay tribute here to the Chaplain in our second level schools who have acquired experience on which we should be drawing.

Parishes offers very little outreach to young people and I feel that an increasing number of young people find parishes a little like alien territory. A form of religious education which is separated from the parish will inevitably collapse for most the day that school ends. Sacramental formation belongs within the Christian community which welcomes and supports each of us on our journey. We need a more demanding catechesis, within a parish framework, for those who wish to come forward for admission to the sacraments. Admission to the sacraments is not something which is automatically acquired when one reaches a certain class in school.
Sure, there's more... but you've got your first taste.