Maybe it needs someone like the Taoiseach and words of the force that he used to get through to them
Fr TONY FLANNERY
A PRIEST’S VIEW: PERSONALLY, I was happy with the Taoiseach’s statement on the Cloyne report. I presume not every member of our association was, but those who rang me about it were delighted.
Many of us priests are very frustrated with the way the Vatican conducts its business. To hear someone in the position of the Taoiseach speak so strongly, so eloquently, and with such dignity, in challenging the Vatican was good.
I know you could quibble with some of the points he made, and he could have acknowledged more fully all the progress that has been made towards better child protection systems in the Irish church. But the Vatican is a very entrenched institution, and it would appear increasingly to have an agenda of dismantling the progress of the Second Vatican Council, and returning to the authoritarianism of the Tridentine church.
Maybe it needs someone like the Taoiseach and words of the force that he used to get through to them. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Many reforms are needed in the church, and there is little or no discussion allowed at any level. It is clear that one of the big problems in Cloyne was the appointment of John Magee as bishop of the diocese. His appointment ignored the views of the priests (the lay people, of course, were not consulted at all), and he was put in there to suit some Vatican agenda that had nothing to do with the needs of the church in Co Cork.
When decisions like that are made it is not surprising that sometimes the consequences are serious. But there is no indication that the Vatican is learning, and beginning to rethink its method of episcopal appointments. Until it does, nothing very much will change in the Irish church, or I suspect, internationally.
We of the Association of Catholic Priests are almost a year in existence, and have over 500 members, but our efforts at having any worthwhile discussion or dialogue with the Irish bishops has been frustrated. They meet us, but ignore the points we bring up; we write to them and get a reply four months later that is patronising in the extreme. All of this is happening at a time when the church is going through the worst crisis at least since the Reformation. Unless all the different groups within the church in this country can come together and face our difficulties honestly and openly we will make no headway.
The recent developments raise serious questions about the proposed Eucharistic Congress next June. Would it be possible for the Irish bishops to make a decision that, in view of all that has occurred, this is not a suitable time for such an event, and inform Rome of their decision? Along with showing clearly that they realise the seriousness of the situation we are in, and the need for repentance for the wrong that was done, it would also show a degree of independence from Rome among the hierarchy.
This would be of great help in working out a better future for all of us. It would signal that they no longer need to look over their shoulder at Rome before they made decisions. If they cannot do that, and if the congress is to go ahead, it is crucial that there be no trace of triumphalism about it.
This will involve a very different style of celebration than the one that appears to be in planning. We cannot have any event dominated by a phalanx of mitre-wearing bishops surrounded by large groups of clergy. A gathering like that, even with the best will in the world, is going to look and sound triumphalist in the present climate in Ireland.
Whatever else you could say about the celebrations of the Eucharist in the early church, there was no trace of triumphalism in them. So, in this context, anything that can shake up the Vatican, and get them to begin to think in new and different ways is good. They cannot silence or remove a Taoiseach like they do theologians and bishops who speak out.
For those reasons I was glad to hear Enda Kenny say what he did, and in the way that he said it.
Fr Tony Flannery is on the administrative team of the Association of Catholic Priests