Michael Bayley had another of his impressive landscape picture sets posted earlier this week, under the title “waiting in repose“. These were taken at a monastery and retreat centre, where Michael and some colleagues recently attended a workshop and address by the Jesuit Roger Haigh. Michael wrote though, that his post is not (primarily) about the Church, but about the landscape, in a state that he called “waiting in repose” to describe this late winter, an expectant waiting for a spring which has not yet arrived. In spite of himself though, he could help seeing beyond just the landscape to a metaphor for the state of the wider church.
Now, when I first saw Michael’s post, I was on the point of going out, so I was unable to read it in full, and was not aware until much later that the landscape had led him to think about the church and its current problems . Yet as I walked down to the town and back, I too found myself reflecting on this state of waiting in repose: here in Surrey, this has been an unusually long and cold winter. And I too went from thinking about the seasons, to reflecting on the state of the church. Our conclusions were a little different. Michael’s thoughts seem to have been primarily on the long winter of the landscape and he church, ameliorated by the hard work of some of its people: the Benedictine sisters who nurture the lands of the monastery as a God given spiritual duty, and the work of lonely but courageous lay people who are striving in their own way to tend the garden of the church, even as so many weeds threaten to overpower it.
Surrey may have had a harsher winter than usual, but that is still milder than Minnesota. The National Trust (our premier heritage and conservation outfit) has calculated that Spring this year is arriving four weeks late: but that still makes it reasonably imminent. As it happens, yesterday as I reflected on “waiting in repose”, the weather was good, with a bright sunny sky and temperatures reaching (just) into double figures (Celsius, that is). That is still not warm but is a great deal milder than we have seen for months. Finally, the local daffodils appear almost ready to open, there was plenty of birdsong, and just the day before, I had seen the first very tentative green shoots on my daughter’s crab apple tree. I also thought I was seeing the first green shoots emerging after the long clerical winter of the abuse scandal.
For the first time, mixed up in the usual Vatican denial, defensiveness and buck passing, we are starting to see some influential church leaders starting to call for more extensive investigation, for more open discussion of the previously taboo subjects of celibacy and women ministry, or even more directly, to scrap those taboos immediately.For further explanation of what I mean by that, read this commentary, which I placed in a comments thread at the Wild reed, in response to quite a different post :
There is no longer any doubt in my mind that not only must the church be re-formed, but it will be. This sorry story of abuse has already presented a cataclysmic shakeup to the church from which it can no longer return to business as usual, but the drama has a long way to run. The revelations from Germany are accelerating, and disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the church are now taking hold in exactly the same way they have already done in Ireland. It’s a good bet that the process will also accelerate in Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland – and that new stories will shortly emerge from still other countries.
The encouraging part is that the process of re-formation has already begun. For the first time, senior people are starting to call into question, or at least admit the need for debate, the long-standing taboo on celibacy and on women in ministry.
This is stepping out of line is new, and it too will accelerate, now that a precedent has been set. As it does, it will set in motion the most important reformation of all: a reduction in the monolithic papal control as we know it today.
It’s definitely warmer here in Surrey. When I got home after my walk about the town, I was delighted to find that my local ordinary, Bishop Kieran Conry (of Arundel and Brighton) is the first British bishop to join those calling for the Church to take the abuse problem more seriously, dismissing claims that it was all a conspiracy against the church, and reminding us that the Church should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.
The Roman Catholic Church is “holed beneath the waterline” and may take generations to recover from the sex abuse scandals, according to the first English bishop to speak out on the crisis.
The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Right Rev Kieran Conry, rejected accusations of media bias against the Catholic Church and said the problems of paedophile priests dominating headlines in the UK and across Europe were problems of the Church’s own making.
“The Roman Catholic Church sets itself up to be the great moral authority. When it does fail its own rigid standards, it deserves to be attacked and criticised,” he said.
Voices of sanity are still a small minority among the Catholic bishops, but their numbers will grow. Once the first green shoots are seen in Spring, others soon follow.