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faith Crisis Is the Catholic Church in its present state worth saving?

The hypocrisy of religion was uncovered; it dismantled both the power and the faith of Catholic Church within a few years.

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Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Fr. Brian D'Arcy

Pope Francis insists that the future of the Catholic Church will depend on both clerics and laity taking joint ownership of their spiritual home.

Next year there will be a Synod in Rome to begin the process of a new way of governance in the Catholic Church. It’s 40 years too late; better late than never.

In Ireland steps are being taken to establish a Synod of the Irish Church; it will be part of the worldwide Synodal approach.

There is some interest from a minority of committed lay people; there is even a small vocal support from clerics. That’s a positive sign.

However, I suggest, the first question we have to ask is: Can the Catholic Church in Ireland be saved?

The more fundamental question might be: Is the Catholic Church in its present state worth saving?

It’s a question I have been wrestling with for decades now.

I have written 16 books - all of which approached that question from a variety of angles. My current book ‘It Has to Be Said’ is an account, not only of my life, but of the disintegration of the Catholic Church within my own lifetime.

My fellow priest Fr Brendan Hoban has been devoting columns and books to the same topic.

We don’t do it because we are enemies of the Church, though many of our clerical colleagues from their bunkered view of life, often make that accusation.

I do it because I love my faith but don’t find much nourishment in the suffocated mess we are left with in Ireland.

Pope Francis frequently reminds us of the evils of clericalism. The best example of moribund clericalism is the institutional Catholic Church in Ireland. It’s even worse in the United States, but that’s for another day.

Sadly it is most evident among the more recently ordained clerics, especially if they have been contaminated by Roman clericalism.

So many of them are angry, arrogant and power hungry. Not all younger clerics are dysfunctional but too many are.

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Fifty years ago I interviewed a young Bernadette Devlin (now McAlliskey) for the magazine I was then editing. She was a young, articulate, left wing politician then who was years ahead of her time.

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Powerful voice: Bernadette Devlin, then a 21-year-old MP for Mid-Ulster, addresses a crowd at the Bogside in Derry in 1969, soon after her election to Westminster. Photo: PA Wire

Powerful voice: Bernadette Devlin, then a 21-year-old MP for Mid-Ulster, addresses a crowd at the Bogside in Derry in 1969, soon after her election to Westminster. Photo: PA Wire

Powerful voice: Bernadette Devlin, then a 21-year-old MP for Mid-Ulster, addresses a crowd at the Bogside in Derry in 1969, soon after her election to Westminster. Photo: PA Wire

She foresaw that we could never have the religious revolution so badly needed in Ireland because our clerical rebels went to the Missions and would instead cause revolutions in Africa and South America.

By that she meant that middle and upper class families were the only ones who could afford to send their sons to Maynooth where they would soon settle for power, prestige and Jansenism.

The rebels from poorer families joined Religious Congregations and spent the best years of their lives on the Foreign missions.

However, the questions we church members have to wrestle with might be: Can the Catholic Church in Ireland be saved?

Should we even attempt to save the Catholic Church here? Have we, as a nation, moved past the need for religion being offered?

Have the sins of the Fathers been too many and too horrific? Does the demise of the Catholic Church also herald the demise of Faith in God?

If so, what does that say about the foundations of our Faith?

I am reading a recent book which attempts to explain why the Catholic Faith disappeared from Irish society.

Derek Scally is the Irish Times correspondent in Berlin. His book ‘The Best Catholics in the World’ looks at the spectacular collapse of Irish Catholicism.

He acknowledges that John McGahern was correct to describe Irish Catholicism as a “fortress church” which demanded unquestioning and total allegiance.

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John McGahern

John McGahern

John McGahern

He points to how history helped to develop this fortress mentality. Famine, persecution and imperialism, poverty, emigration and oppression conspired to break our spirits. The resulting martyr complex led to a passive, devotion based spirituality.

We would not allow others take away our Faith. They could take everything else but the Faith was ours.

The end of the Famine, The Rising and then Independence gave the impression of nationhood and faith being intertwined.

The Church played politics with the State. We controlled education, health, morality and most damaging of all, we expected the State’s laws to mirror Catholic morality. Religion became part of our oppression.

Then along came the clerical abuse scandals. The hypocrisy of religion was uncovered; it dismantled both the power and the faith of Catholic Church within a few years.

This suggests we never possessed genuine faith at all.

The cult-like religion imposed from Rome since the days of Cardinal Cullen was not built on the rock of faith but on the sand-like foundation of oppression, control and habit. Take away the fear and great was the collapse of the house built on sand.

First there was deep-seated anger and hatred of all things Catholic.

Now there is just apathy.

After Covid-19 the real test will be how many return to Sunday Mass. It is clear, for example, that many young people are now more determined to be married in their favourite hotel than in their parish church.

They don’t feel the need for the church to bless their own mature commitments.

Individual priests may hold on to smaller congregations because they are trusted and try to work with people rather oppress them. Full churches, however, will be reserved for funerals and tragedies.

This is not necessarily all bad. It may be the very opportunity we need to transform our religion. The Catholic Church needs to radically re-think its teaching on sexual morality, marriage and dogma.

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A resident is tested for Covid-19 in the Liwan District in Guangzhou in southern China (AP)

A resident is tested for Covid-19 in the Liwan District in Guangzhou in southern China (AP)

A resident is tested for Covid-19 in the Liwan District in Guangzhou in southern China (AP)

The church’s canon law is out of date and has become dehumanising if not irrelevant. Its dos and don’ts are simply ignored by most Catholics. What doesn’t make sense doesn’t wash.

The American spiritual guru, Richard Rohr recently outlined a basic principle for sexual morality-: “Our job is to keep working - to enjoy, to respect, to reverence, to honour, to love, and to listen to our bodies... ” he wrote.

“The Catholic Theological Society in America summarized it well when it stated that our sexual actions must aim to be ‘self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving, and joyous.’

“God’s way of loving is the only licensed teacher of human sexuality. God’s passion created ours... If we are afraid of our sexuality, we are afraid of God. Nor should we equate sexuality with unadulterated lust, which is far too egocentric to care about anybody else.”

I believe we need a moral compass in life more than ever. History and sociology agree we need a greater vision and more reliable authority in our daily lives. A church which refuses to reform or to listen to its members, cries out to God for the evil it leaves in its wake.

The Church in Ireland needs to acknowledge its cruel, ungodly past. We need to move on from anger and hate. We need to talk, to listen, to forgive and be forgiven.

We need to reflect prayerfully on what faith means and how we can re-build respect for Church. This demands humility, especially from the more arrogant clerics among us.

Personally, I experience nothing but goodness from the vast majority of people I meet. They want and need to own their faith and their church.

They are tired of being bullied. They detest secrecy, duplicity and misuse of power.

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