Irish Archbishop Agrees: Catholic Church Needs Fundamental, Cultural Change

When people think of the crisis facing the Irish church since public awareness exploded over the sexual abuse scandals, they generally think only of the abuse itself. However, the real crisis goes much deeper. The abuse problems brought the crisis into sharp focus, but (tragically important as they are) they are in fact just one symptom of a much deeper malaise.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has garnered respect for his own response to the crisis, but in a hard-hitting speech in Cambridge, he has explained the extent of the problem, in terms remarkably similar to the argument made by the German theologians this month. Their statement, remember, was a response to a reflection on the abuse problems that emerged in Germany, Austria and Switzerland a year ago. Reflecting on the abuse issue, they concluded, like Archbishop Martin, that clerical sexual abuse cannot be looked at in isolation, but must be viewed as part of a much larger problem of Catholic culture and structures, which are urgently in need of fundamental reform.

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The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

One of the key points in the recent declaration by German theologians (now joined by others, worldwide), is the urgency of ending the current insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy. This is my cue to revisit, and expand on, some points I have made frequently on previous occasions.

When I wrote a series of posts on the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy nearly two years ago, I listed several problems with the rule:

  • It is not based on Scripture, but in fact contradicts Paul’s clear advice that celibacy is not for everyone.
  • It was not the practice of the early church, and was not compulsory for the first twelve centuries of Christianity – over half of Church history
  • The rule, when it became fixed, was not introduced as a matter of pastoral care, but to preserve church wealth and power
  • Celibacy has never been required for all clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • It was swiftly rejected by the Protestant churches after the Reformation
  • It is still not required for all Catholic priests: it does not apply to those in the Eastern rite of the Roman church, nor to those who are already married, and are now converting from other denominations.
  • Many bishops and even national Bishops’ conferences have asked, either privately or formally, for the blanket ban to be relaxed.

I can now add some further observations that I was not then aware of:

  • Research shows that the majority of Catholics want an end to the policy.
  • As a young man, Joseph Ratzinger himself signed a document asking for the ban to end.
  • As pope, Benedict XVI has conceded that celibacy is difficult, but becomes possible when living in a supportive community of fellow priests. He can offer no advice on how it becomes “possible” for one who can not live in such a community, implicitly conceding that for many men, perhaps it is not (agreeing in this, with St Paul).
  • The only objection he raised in the interview to ending the rule was not not one of principle, but of practicality, saying there were questions as to how this could be arranged.

But the most serious difficulty to my mind, is that as a universal practice, even within the Roman rite, it is a myth – and a dangerous one. It is a myth, because it is a rule that is widely broken.

Ordinands: A Lifetime of Celibacy?

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Irish Bishops’ Resignations Over Abuse: 1 Accepted, 4 (5?) to go.

One of the big disappointments of the pope’s “pastoral” letter to Irish Catholics, was that it contained no reference at all to the resignations of four bishops in the wake of the Murphy report on the cover-ups in Dublin. (A fifth bishop refused to resign, insisting that he had done “nothing wrong”.) In an under-reported press-conference at the time the pastoral letter was released, the obvious question was asked, “What about the resignations?” The only response was that they would be dealt with “in time” by the “appropriate Vatican department”. How long does it take, I wondered, to accept a resignation? The answer may have come this morning: a year.

In a matter entirely unrelated to the Murphy report and the Dublin diocese, Bishop John Magee, formerly of the Cloyne diocese, quit the day-to day running of his diocese a year ago, in March 2009. It has taken the Vatican a full year to accept his resignation. If this is a reliable guide to form, we might expect the acceptance of the four resignations arising from the Dublin Murphy report early in 20011. How long it will take to get rid of the one who is in denial, or of Benedict himself who has overseen the whole sorry mess, is anybody’s guess.

Vatican accepts resignation of Irish Catholic bishop John Magee

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who was once the personal secretary to three popes, it was announced today.

The papacy said Bishop John Magee was stepping down over his mishandling of allegations of clerical sex abuse in his Irish diocese.

Although Magee quit the day-to-day running of parishes across rural Cork last March, it has taken the Vatican bureaucracy a year to formally confirm his resignation.

The cleric, originally from Northern Ireland, faced scathing criticism after the church’s watchdog found he had taken minimal action over accusations against two of his priests.

He served as personal assistant to Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II in Rome.

There have been many calls for Magee’s resignation since the report into the Cloyne diocese earlier this year.

The announcement of his official resignation was made in statement released through the Irish Catholic Bishops’ conference.

Read the full report at the Guardian

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Michael Walsh on the Vatican’s Problem: Abuse and Renewal

At Open Democracy, there is one of the clearest analyses 0f the problem in the  Vatican that I have yet seen. Here are some extracts:

There are many reasons given for the imposition of celibacy on (the majority of) Catholic clergy, an obligation with a long and problematic history. Some of these reasons are practical, others ascetical, but there are good arguments for claiming that celibacy was originally imposed to mark off clergy as a separate caste within an increasingly Christian society. That was a long time ago, but the “caste” mentality survives to this day.

It is not true, of course, for all Catholic clergy, many of whom are well adjusted human beings, but it is true for some that they socialise almost entirely within clerical circles. ….. There is, in other words, a distinctive clerical culture which celibacy has an obvious role in maintaining. In their daily lives they are not challenged by wives or children. Read the rest of this entry »

Church Sexual Abuse: Train (& Tame) the Rottweiler

Now here’s a nice idea:   Benedict XVI, in his earlier incarnation as head of the CDF, was known as “God’s Rottweiler”, for his diligence in guarding the faith from all threats.  Every dog owner knows that Rottweiler’s for all their skill as watchdogs, need training, lest they themselves become a threat to those they are supposedly protecting.  Ergo – train the Rottweiler.

Rex

Benedict’s career has been woefully short on pastoral or administrative experience. He started out as a celebrated academic theologian, in which capacity he made a renowned contribution to the proceedings of Vatican II.  Later, he served briefly  as Archbishop of Munich. Now, recall that the origin of the post of Bishops” was as an “overseer” for the diocese, implying management and supervision.  We now know that in Munich, Ratzinger’s supervision skills in overseeing his priests and protecting the people were somewhat underdeveloped. EITHER he was remiss in allowing a know paedophile priest to return to active ministry against strong professional advice; OR he was remiss in leaving the required supervision to a junior underling, who has now accepted full responsibility.  However, as has been pointed out elsewhere, one can delegate tasks and decisions to subordinates: one cannot delegate the responsibility.

He was soon recalled to Rome to head the CDF (successor to the old and notorious Inquisition) , where he earned the soubriquet “God’s Rottweiler” for his enthusiasm and vigour in reigning in and silencing dissenting opinion:  opinions in dissent, that is, from the views of John Paul II and his own. Read the rest of this entry »

Danish Church to Probe Abuse

From Straits Times.

COPENHAGEN – FOLLOWING pressure from its members, the Danish Catholic Church will probe a number of cases involving sexual abuse of children, it said in a statement on Sunday.

‘The Catholic Church in Denmark has recently been criticised by its members for not investigating and reporting to the police cases of sexual abuse which date back 100 years,’ the statement said.

‘Bishop Czeslaw Kozon now addresses this criticism by, as soon as he comes back from an official visit to the pope on March 27, setting up a group of competent people to investigate these cases.’

Around 35,000 catholics live in Denmark, according to the Ritzau news agency, which said the Church’s declarations were brought about by ‘massive pressure.’

On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI apologised in a letter for child sex abuse by Irish priests and spoke of the ‘shame and remorse’ he felt over the scandals.

Similar scandals have also emerged in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Hand Wringing & Blame

The pastoral latter is carefully constructed to address several groups of people affected by clerical sexual abuse, or implicated in it as perpetrators, or as complicit in their protection. Benedict speaks directly to the survivors and heir families, and to the rest of the Irish people.  He speaks to the priests who were guilty, and to the bishops who shielded them. He speaks also to the rest of the Irish clergy ,to those priests and bishops who were not implicated, but are now shamed by mere association with the rotten eggs in the clerical basket.  But – where’s Wally? Who’s missing from the line-up?

Vatican Cardinals: Free from blame?

In treating this as an entirely Irish affair, in speaking only to the Irish priests and clergy, are we really to believe that culpability lies solely on those flawed Irish, and none in his own domain, the Cardinals of the Curia? Read the rest of this entry »