Ireland: the Brady crunch
The Catholic church in Ireland has been ruthlessly criticised by one of its own leaders, while the other refuses to resign
by Andrew Brown | Commentary
What is going on in the scandal-battered Irish Catholic Church? It has two primates, Cardinal Sean Brady in Armagh, and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in Dublin, who was parachuted in from the Vatican to sort out the catastrophic consequences of the child abuse scandals. Brady was discovered earlier this year to have served as a young priest on an inquiry where an oath of secrecy was administered to two teenage victims of Brendan Smyth, Ireland's most notorious paedophile priest. He announced then that he would consider his resignation. Now he has decided not to offer it, though he would like, he says a coadjutor bishop, which is to say a designated successor who will work alongside him until he can take over. That, you might say, is a fighting retreat, and it has been greeted with anger by victims' organisations.
Meanwhile, Martin, last week, gave a speech of astonishing honesty and bleakness. "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" he said. He went on to excoriate every aspect of the church's present position, from its care of children to the predominance of elderly priests.
"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.
"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."
But as well as these obvious headline quotes he had a lot to say on less visible stories which threaten the long-term future of the church quite as much. There are ten times as many priests in his diocese over 70 as there are under 40.
"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."
It's interesting to see the process of secularisation from the other side, so to say. For Martin, religious instruction in schools simply cannot compare with religious instructions transmitted in the parish, that is to say within a mesh of family life and social obligation: "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." The old folk religion of First Communion and other rites of passage provided by the church seems to him wholly inadequate. Although the Irish church is not formally established, as the church of England is, it's going through a process of expulsion from the centre of national life that could well be described as disestablishment. Just as in England, one reaction from the devout is to demand more separation from the secular world.
One important point about his speech was the timing. One passage criticised directly the reluctance of professional Catholics to acknowledge their church's sins:
"I have spoken about the need for accountability regarding the scandal of sexual abuse. I am struck by the level of disassociation by people from any sense of responsibility. While people rightly question the concept of collective responsibility, this does not mean that one is not responsible for one's personal share in the decisions of the collective structures to which one was part."
Now, if he had said this after Cardinal Brady announced he would not resign, this would have surely been interpreted as criticism of his colleague and brother. But he can't have meant it that way, can he?
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