Brendan Hoban on Enda Kenny’s Speech
When I read Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s speech in Dáil Éireann, I was reminded of Tony Blair’s comment about ‘the hand of history laid on his shoulder.’ Blair, who later regretted the perceived pretentiousness of the remark, could be pardoned for such a self-serving comment as the achievement of the peace deal in Northern Ireland was indeed a landmark in Irish history.
Enda Kenny’s speech was in the same mould. There was a feeling that a line in the sand was being drawn. There was a sense that a new clarity had emerged when a State, less than a century old, had finally spoken a truth that had been struggling to emerge for decades: that the attitude of the State to the Catholic Church in society would no longer be one of deference and obsequiousness and that the words ‘Irish’ and ‘Catholic’ would no longer be felt to be interchangeable, that the will of our sovereign, democratic republic had to be respected.
After almost a century when a State – inevitably dominated by the Catholic Church which represented the vast percentage of its people – struggled to find its way in a new and different world, with Kenny’s Dáil speech, there was a sense of arriving at a great clearance. We had come to a place, courtesy of the Cloyne Report and the shameful hinterland that preceded it, when the State felt that need to define itself, to set out clear boundaries, to proclaim – in a paraphrase of Parnell – that no Church has the right to set the boundaries of the Irish nation. A Rubicon moment indeed.
It was an object lesson in leadership. If it is the duty of a leader not just to point a way forward but to articulate the feelings of his people, Kenny rose mightily to the challenge. There was a conviction and a passion in his presentation, and a studied resilience that stopped just short of a distilled anger. Here was a man, a leader, a Taoiseach who would be heard on behalf of the Irish people. And his declared and unashamed perspective as that of a ‘faithful Catholic’ and ‘a practising Catholic’ gave his words all the more substance.
Kenny is right. That much needs to be said. As a Church we have lost our authority, our credibility, our right to regulate for ourselves the protection of children. And, it needs to be said too, that the almost symbiotic relationship between the Irish State and the Catholic Church has, despite much good being achieved over the years, diminished the effectiveness of both.
Kenny has also articulated another obvious truth about the Irish Catholic Church: that the domination of Rome is strangling the emergence of a people’s Church in Ireland.
This is something that the dogs in the street know but our religious leaders seem incapable of communicating to the Pope and Vatican authorities: that the Irish Catholic Church needs to assert the freedom to develop its own distinct life; that Irish Catholics know best what the Irish Catholic Church needs to do; and that the basis for all of this is to be found not in some revolutionary manual but in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Part of the problem is that the Irish Catholic Church has been effectively neutered by the over-control of Rome and the consequent obsequiousness of the carefully-chosen Irish bishops. Just as the Irish State needs to establish its credentials and own its own truth, the Irish Catholic Church needs to do the same.
As Catholics, we are not children who have to be told what’s good for us. We are adult Christians in the Catholic tradition, a conviction and a heritage we treasure, and every time Rome makes decisions for us that we should as adults be making for ourselves the Irish Catholic Church is diminished and the gospel message of Jesus Christ rendered ineffective.
So when bishops are appointed what we need is an appropriate consultation among the people not a furtive mock ‘consultation’ confined to a given elite. When someone in Rome decides that we need a Eucharistic Congress, that proposal needs to be discussed with the Irish Catholic people. When new translations of the Mass are being introduced, is it too much to expect that people and priests would have the opportunity to assess the changes before they are introduced?
Yes, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is correct. There are cabals in the Irish Church and in the Vatican making it more difficult than it should be to focus on the protection of children. But Martin needs to go a bit further than that and name a wider truth.
He knows that there are cabals too in the Irish Church and in Rome actively undermining the teaching of the Second Vatican Council by refusing to allow, much less facilitate, a People’s Church. And Martin, to be logical too, needs to make it clear that the reason why the Irish Catholic Church has made such a mess of child protection is not because of the failures of a few convenient scapegoats but because lay people have been systematically excluded from positions of influence in the almost fifty years since the Second Vatican Council.
If parents, and especially mothers, were sitting around a table discussing the possibility of moving abusive priests to other parishes, it simply wouldn’t have happened. If parents were sitting with Bishop John Magee and Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan when they were making their decisions about child protection, the Cloyne Report would have been very different.
It’s always easy to demonise the few, but the ultimate responsibility for the present position of the Catholic Church in Ireland is with all those – popes, bishops, priests and people – who have conspired to block the emergence of a People’s Church in Ireland.
What we need is not a conspiracy of silence around the sustained ‘re-interpretation’ of Vatican Two but a simple acceptance that God chose a road-map in Vatican Two, and to our shame, like the guidelines in Cloyne, we took it on ourselves to ‘re-interpret’ the guidelines out of existence.
Archbishop Dermot Clifford took a very narrow, short-term view when he said the reasons why Cloyne made a mess of child protection was because Monsignor O’Callaghan thought he knew better than the bishops. No, the reason was that those who make the decisions in Rome and in the Irish Church, decided not to follow God’s guidelines in Vatican Two. Is there anyone in the Irish Church with the courage and clarity of Enda Kenny to say that now?
Probably not, which is why we’re now reaping the whirlwind.