Abuse: The Irish Forcing a Response From Rome

The impressive thing about the Irish abuse drama is how inexorably the public reaction is forcing responses from higher up the command chain, with increasing levels of disclosure.  First the bishops’ own Ryan report into the original extent of abuse, then the government initiated Murphy report into the bishops’ decades of neglect and cover-up, now a growing swell of public reaction, which finally is heading in the right direction – demanding accountability from those responsible, and explanations from the Vatican. I am not aware of anything on this scale of public response anywhere else.

I do not have space to offer a comprehensive run-down, so in summary only, these are some of the key recent developments:


Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop Martin of Dublin, who (in my eyes) grows in stature every day, has written to all the former auxiliary bishops of Dublin who were implicated in the Murphy report and are still serving elsewhere. He has made it clear he is “not satisfied” with the responses.

Dr Martin has publicly called for the resignations of the implicated bishops. He has been supported in this by a published letter from a respected theologian, Dr Twoomey, who is a regular theological associate of Pope Benedict XVI.  I would assume that Dr Twoomey’s views are influential. Meanwhile, Bishop Murray of Limerick has told his diocese that he will travel to the Vatican , where he will tender his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI, ahead of ahead of the visit by other senior clerics later this week.  As far as I know, this is the first time anywhere, that a bishop is resigning for his failure adequately to deal with the problem, rahter than for his own sexual peccadilloes.  Will there be more?

The full conference of Irish bishops will be meeting on Wednesday to discuss and respond to the Murphy report.  Read the rest of this entry »

Visionaries or Heretics: Knock

In Ireland, there is an intriguing story unfolding at the established Marian shrine of Knock, where Mary is said to have appeared in a vision in… Since then, promoted by the Irish clergy, it has been a regular site of Catholic pilgrimage and devotion: as well as a useful source of income for the tourist trade. . Now, it is again a site of pilgrimage for some of the devout – but is encountering strong opposition from the clerical establishment. Early in October, a self-proclaimed visionary and spiritual healer announced that he had been seeing visions of the Virgin, who had told him she would be appearing at Knock on three distinct dates this year: October 5th, October 30th, and December 8th. With the news spread by internet, large crowds appeared on both the first two dates: many were disappointed, some claim to have seen the sun break through the clouds, “dancing” in the sky. Coleman himself, and a second visionary, claim to have seen theVirgin, just as she promised, and to have been given messages for the world.

knock pilgrims

Knock pilgrims:. (Picture: Independent)

The church establishment are not happy: they have denounced the claims, and stated that this expectation of Marian apparitions is “unhealthy”. Why this dismissive approach, when so many clergy actively encourage pilgrimage to Marian shrines, as they have done to this one in the past? Is it because the message this time is critical of the Church’s priests?

Mary, in her latest apparition, told him she is very angry: “She will rock the foundations of the church if the people do not listen, from Rome back down to where we are, down to Knock. -Coleman, after the first apparition on October 11th “I love all my children unconditionally with my immaculate heart, especially all my priests who are not listening to my call. I ask all my children to pray for my priests. Pray. Pray. Pray.” the second visionary, Keith Henderson. after the second apparition on October 31st

Oh, and she also wants the unification of the church:

“I am the immaculate heart, Mother of all my children, Mother of all God’s children. I am the Immaculate Conception. I am Queen of the heavens. I am Queen of the Earth. “I will glorify my father’s name through prayer from the people who come to pray. I ask for conversion many times. I ask for peace. I ask for prayers every day for my son’s apostles. I pray that they will listen. I pray and I ask for unification of the faith across the globe. -Coleman

What is to be made of this? Are these genuine, is Coleman deluded, or even just an opportunist? Press reports from the ground give conflicting impressions, and I have no intention of passing any armchair judgment. If you want to make up your own mind, ahve a look at some of the many press reports. I would like to share though, some pertinent observations on alleged visionaries and church reactions in general. I’d like to begin by pointing to an obvious similarity to the situation at the much better known, well established site at Medjugorge, where the Church establishment has similarly washed its hands of the place. Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic last month highlighted the contrast between the church’s dismissal of Medjugorge with its endorsement of the much lesser known Garabandal, pointing out that at the latter, the Church was benefitting financially.

The essential message of Garabandal, apart from the now familiar call to penance and conversion, is respect for the Eucharist, reverence for priests and the necessity of ‘obedience to the Church,’ making this Marian visitation more than palatable to the Vatican leadership of the Church. This is in stark contrast to the ecumenical message of Medjugorje, which originated in Communist Yugoslavia in the 80’s and witnessed to the necessity for respect and tolerance between religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, some years before the outbreak of the horrific religious/ethnic wars of the 90’s.

An observation in the comments that Mary at Medjugorge appeared to be specifically including Muslims in her prayers, led to a series of later posts at gay Mystic and at Enlightened Catholicism on parallel traditions of “White Lady” apparitions and assistance in other faiths, from native Americans to Eastern religions. Does the reference in the latest message from Knock to “all” her children include non-Christians? Not too favourable to the Vatican, then. No wonder they’re upset. Next, consider the timing, a few months after the publication of the Ryan report into clerical abuse of Irish children, and just ahead of a further report on the episcopal cover-up which protected the culprits for decades (this report is expected any time soon). her reproach of her priests did not single out the Irish clergy, but that is how an Irish audience will have interpreted it. Again, no wonder the clerical establishment are not impressed. All of this fits a pattern. There have been far more alleged Marian apparitions than most people realise. Many of these are patent nonsense, others are less easily dismissed. Very few are endorsed by the establishment – for them, the problem is simple. Claims of visionary experience suggest a direct approach to the divine which bypasses the clergy as necessary intermediaries. This is why those few examples that have achieved endorsement are either under some form of clerical control, or urge faithful obedience to the church authorities, or both. Many examples though, after first meeting fierce resistance, have later been embraced by the authorities.

The Vatican’s statement on the dangers of Halloween, the African Bishops statement on Traditional African Religions, the denouncement of Medjugorge and the latest Irish upheaval around the Marian Shrine at Knox all speak to the threat that these interactions are to institutional authority.

There is a legitimate issue concerning private revelation about discernment and certainly with the motivation of the visionary, but there is also this issue of these revelations as outside the control of the hierarchy.

-Colleeen Kochivar-Baker, Enlightened Catholicism, writing on All Saints Day

One famous example of great significance for the LGBT community, is Joan of Arc: visionary, military hero, alleged heretic, martyr and canonized saint. More on her later.

Holy Roman Empire

Overwhelmed by some fun pictures and pertinent comment at NCR Online, Far From Rome, Enlightened Catholicism, Bilgrimage and probably more to come, I have nothing original to say, so simply add more pics and some words from Wikipedia (Oh, there’s also a question!):

1. ) Holy Roman Empire, 962 – 1806

The Holy Roman Empire (Latin: Imperium Romanum Sacrum (IRS)) was a union of territories in Central Europe during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period under a Holy Roman Emperor. The first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was Otto I, crowned in 962. The last was Francis II, who abdicated and dissolved the Empire in 1806……..It was also officially known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Wikipedia)

Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious.

Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious

Robe of Hply Roman Emperor Henry II, IIth Century

Robe of Hply Roman Emperor Henry II, IIth Century

2) Look familiar?

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell


Imposing the Cardinal's Berretta

Further Reading:

Priesthood: Medieval Mythmaking

Duffy, E: Saints and Sinners (A history of the Papacy)

Sheep Leading Shepherds: Lay Theological Literacy *

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Outing the Church: Archbishop Wuerl, Homosexual Ministry & Gay Marriage.

Two notable bloggers have  current posts on some bishops’ perceptions of their teaching role: “locking down discussion“, is how William Lindsay at Bilgrimage describes it – even when the dissent comes from fellow bishops.  (Bishop Sample of Marquette has banned Bishop Gumbleton from speaking in his diocese, because he has uncomfortable and “well-known” views on homosexuality and women’s ordination.  Even though neither of these were up for discussion, he appears to be afraid that his colleagues simple appearance might become an occasion for discussion, which it his own responsibility to prevent.

Meanwhile, Fr Geoff Farrow has a piece called “pay, pray and obey,” in which he refers to news stories about Archbishop Wuerl of Washington DC.

Archbishop Wuerl with SC Justice Roberts

Archbishop Wuerl with SC Justice Roberts

The first story from the New York Times of April 1989 , dating back to 1989, tells how he was called in by Pope John Paul II to muzzle a colleague, Archbishop Hunthausen, in Seattle who was seen as having views that were too liberal – amongst others, on gay Catholics:

After criticism of the archdiocese by conservative Catholics, the Vatican named Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, a conservative in church affairs, to share power in Seattle in 1985.

Bishop Wuerl was given control of five areas in which Archbishop Hunthausen was considered lax: ministry to homosexuals, granting of marriage annulments, clergy appointments, liturgy and moral issues of health care.

Most priests and nuns in the Seattle Archdiocese continued to support Archbishop Hunthausen, who called the power-sharing arrangement ”unworkable.”

Another story (at Huffington Post), on the apparently “unstoppable” gay marriage bill in DC includes as a footnote the well-known fierce opposition by Archbishop Wuerl.

With gay issues prominent in both stories, I thought that now might be a good time to haul out a story on Archbishop Wuerl I cam across some weeks ago, with quite a different perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

The Impotent, Violent Hierachy.

In an interesting observation on the disgraceful Vatican investigation, Mercy Sr Theresa Kane describes as a sign not of the power of the hierarchy, but of its impotence:

Referring to the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious initiated last December by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Kane called it “a sign of impotence in the church hierarchy.”

“Regarding the present interrogation, I think the male hierarchy is truly impotent, incapable of equality, co-responsibility in adult behavior,” she said, not mincing any words. “In the church today, we are experiencing a dictatorial mindset and spiritual violence.”

Kane said there is a proper place for anger. “If we do not get angry, we won’t make change,” she said. And change can come, she noted. Years back, she recalled, women were required to cover their heads when in church — “even using tissue paper, if necessary.” After a while women simply stopped the practice and the requirement ended. She called it a “silent revolution.”

Spiritual violence it demonstrably is, impotence less clearly so, but I think she is right. Real authority does not do reassert itself with these conspicuous assertions of power, but instead is proves itself by the continuing, voluntary cooperation of those governed. I also like her observations on excommunication, and on the possibility of change, and on the possibility of facing excommunication:

Kane, as the nation’s most identifiable advocate of women’s ordination, has been repeatedly asked if she fears a Vatican excommunication. Her response: “I’m not out of communion. The institution got out of communion with me.”

This is the view that I am rapidly reaching.  It is not the ordinary Catholics who are out of touch with the real heart of Catholicism, but the supposed religious experts in the Vatican, and some of the bishops, who are so obsessed with their cloistered lives, power and finery that they have completely lost touch with the realities of ordinary lives.  In their courage and willingness to stick their necks out and speak up against injustice where they see it, including injustice inside the church, against the opposition of the powerful, these women are bearing true prophetic witness to the Gospel message.  Instead of being investigated by the authorities, they should be recognised and celebrated as the true leaders of the modern church.

(Read the full report of Sr Kane’s address, and other news from the 40th anniversary conference of the National Coalition of American Nuns, at the National CAtholic  Reporter,)

Articulating the “Sensus Fidelium”: a German Example

This interesting e-mail landed arrived in my mailbox overnight, from “Wir sind Kirche” (We Are Church, Germany) .  The lifting of the excommunication is back in the news, with reports that Benedict XVI was warned in advance about the holocaust denying views of Bishop Williamson, before  he went ahead.

However, the main feature that interests me is just the technique.  I have an impression that in the church we are allowing the neocath right wing to hog the limelight of public visibility, with public outcries and organised appeals to the hierarchy, while representing only a small minority of Catholics. This is odd, as progressives have never been slouches at political organising in the secular sphere, in the US or elsewhere.  Why, then, are we content in the church to settle for simply addressing fellow progressives in blogs or journals like NCR?  Is there any reason why we should not be able to organise more effectively to address the hierarchy directly?

The church has an accepted, but neglected, obligation to pay attention to the views of the people, the sensus fidelium. They not created a vehicle to formulate such a voice.  Where formal structures do not exist, we must create our own.

And now, the e-mail received – English translation by  Google  (edited by myself where I could untangle it).

If you want to support this appeal by a personal letter or an email to the German Bishops’ Conference and / or individual bishops:
The information (email addresses), the BTB and the German bishops can be found here: http://www.wir-sind-kirche.de/index.php?id=128&id_entry=1998 # addr

We are the Church’s appeal to the bishops’ conference: “Hold the course of the council!”
to the Fall General Assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference 21 to 24 September 2009 in Fulda
Read the rest of this entry »