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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Irish Demand for Democracy – in Church.

The Irish Catholic Church, compared with other countries, has been notable for its belated response to the problem of clerical abuse.  Like other countries, for decades the bishops responded by cover-ups and denial.  Once finally forced out from cover, though, they have done more than any other country to finally deal appropriately with the problem.  the Ryan report, in its comprehensiveness and brutal honesty began the process.  That prompted a response from government, which launched a follow-up into the cover-ups by the bishops.  Teh public outcry, coupled with the firm resolve and frank apologies from the present Archbishop of Dublin, has led to more hand-wringing from Pope Benedict, who has promised a “pastoral letter” (as if that would help).  More usefully, four of the five bishops implicated in the Murphy report have been forced to resign, in what is for the church, a remarkable demonstration of accountability.(The fifth bishop insists he will not resign.  We shall see how long he can last, against the determination of archbishop Martin to scrub the barrel clean)

Equally impressive has been the response of the Irish public, who are finally beginning to ask the questions, and demand the responses, which really get to the real heart of the problem;  the fundamental causes.  Fr Timothy Radcliffe, in a recent address in Dublin, raised one issue:  that of the culture in the church obsessive control.  ow an opinon piece in the Irish Independent raises another, and proposes a remedy:  the church needs to introduce internal democracy.

Of course it should – as should church structures all around the world. (Not in the same form as parliamentary democracy,  not with equal votes for all:  but some form of democracy and shared decision taking is of crucial importance – just as it was for the early church at the very beginning.

Here is an extract from the piece in the Irish Independent, following the funeral of the former Primate of all-Ireland, Cardinal Daly.

Scandals must kickstart new era for Church

Observing the procession of aged men in their ceremonial robes, chatting among themselves as if at a clerical old boys’ reunion, I had an acute sense that the Catholic laity, be they of pious disposition or a la carte-minded, must mobilise to take control away from the ordained ministers who betrayed them and chart a new reform path for their Church.

The People of God, as the Church was defined by the Second Vatican Council, need to dismantle the clericalist pyramid of command structures that have dominated the mind-set since the First Vatican Council in 1870. That council lumbered the centralised system from Rome with the unverifiable dogma of papal infallibility and embedded a culture of unquestioning loyalty by a docile laity to a command system from the top down of Pope, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, not forgetting the Irish tradition of the infallibility of the parish priest.

The laity in Ireland must speak out now and demand a more democratic rather than medievalist church. Otherwise they will be expected to follow the paternalistic route which Pope Benedict plans to announce in his pre-Lenten pastoral letter to the Irish that will be interpreted as the mandate for church governance that is to be implemented by the two principal leaders of the Irish Church, Cardinal Brady and the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.

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