Article by Brendan Hoban on reform in the Church
We live in strange times. I was watching on YouTube the recent Latin Mass in
Knock. The celebrant was Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke from Rome. He entered the chapel preceeded by a large retinue of altar-boys and assistants (all male, of course) and dressed in his full pontifical robes, the most extraordinary of which was a train of cardinal-red cloth carried after him as he swept up the aisle. It was longer even than the train of the wedding dress Pippa Middleton had to carry at her sister Kate’s wedding with Prince William of England. The entourage crowded into the sanctuary and proceeded to disrobe the cardinal of his cardinal’s outfit and to robe him for Mass. The unrobing and robing took at least fifteen minutes and seemed to be a series of formal ceremonies and prayers attaching to each specific garment. The fairly basic YouTube coverage had no close-ups of what was actually happening, apart from various members of the Cardinal’s retinue, moving over and back the sanctuary.
Am I the only one who finds it strange that a Cardinal from Rome, who presumably is extremely busy in such an important position as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, would go to such trouble to promote a Mass rite that hardly anyone wants and most people can’t understand while the present rite, which most people want, is to be discontinued in a matter of weeks? Strange. Even bringing the vestments and assorted figaireys from Rome must be something of an ordeal. (I wouldn’t like to be travelling on Ryanair with them.)
A few days later the retired Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly, launched a book, A Troubled See, in which (among other things) he mentioned that he had attended a Latin Mass but found it ‘lifeless and somewhat meaningless’ and was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the experience. He was, he said, ‘very happy with the liturgy and language of the Mass as we now have it’.
While in a broad Church, as the Roman Catholic Church now is, it is to be expected that opinions will differ, the gap between the world Cardinal Burke inhabits and the wisdom Bishop Daly has acquired seems almost unbridgeable. The Catholic Church, as we are often reminded, is ‘not a democracy’ and I don’t think anyone is claiming that it is, but the question arises as to whether it is a monarchy and whether the Church would better serve the Gospel truth if something of the democratic thrust of the modern world could be embraced. As I say, we live in strange times indeed. Groups of priests and people are springing up all over the place seeking and sometimes demanding a reform of the Church.
In Germany, where the Pope will visit in a few weeks’ time, the president of the German bishops has come out in favour of discussing the issue of giving Communion to remarried divorcees. While some bishops have distanced themselves from the debate, many German theologians have come out in favour and some have pointed out that, in practice, remarried divorcees are rarely refused Communion in Germany nowadays.
Meanwhile, in Austria, four hundred priests have thrown down the gauntlet over a number of issues of church authority. The Austrian group is led by a former vicar-general of Vienna and the group has vowed to disobey the Church on a number of issues: from now on they will give Communion to remarried divorcees, members of other Christian Churches and to Catholics who have left the Church; they will consider a Service at which Communion is distributed as ‘a priestless Eucharist’ which will fulfil the Sunday Mass obligation when priests are scarce and they will allow competent lay Catholics to preach; and they intend to take every opportunity to speak out publicly for the abolition of clerical celibacy, as well as supporting women’s and married men’s ordination.
Even though the thrust of the Catholic Church over the last two pontificates was to back-peddle on reform, to put a premium on control and to appoint people who wouldn’t rock a boat to positions of authority, a kind of rolling resistance is beginning to form – a version of the Arab spring – and, as the Tablet put it recently, ‘Rome must be concerned that any contagion that takes root in Austria would quickly be bound to spread’.
There are fires spontaneously breaking out in the Catholic world and will, it seems, continue to break out until some real engagement happens between Rome and the wider Church on reform issues that simply refuse to go away. Bishop Edward Daly’s book will help to kindle the embers of dissent in Ireland. I haven’t had the opportunity to read it yet but newspaper reports quote him as saying that ‘something needs to be done and done urgently’ about removing the compulsory celibacy requirement for Catholic priests.
Daly’s belief is that there should be ‘a place in the modern Catholic Church for a married priesthood and for men who do not wish to commit themselves to celibacy’.
Daly’s opinion is not new but what’s significant about it is that it’s being voiced by such a senior and credible figure in the Irish Catholic Church. Daly has other issues in his sights as well. Like the appointment of bishops. His thesis is that in the last century ‘more than 75 per cent of bishops were appointed from less than 20 per cent of priests’ and that this latter group had spent most of their lives engaged in full-time teaching. It is his impression, he says, that in the appointment of bishops ‘the powers-that-be in Rome had always considered (that) teaching and orthodoxy in teaching were primary and that parish pastoral experience was secondary’.
The virtual absence of pastorally experienced clergy in positions of leadership in the Catholic Church in Ireland has, Daly believes, inhibited the renewal promised by Vatican Two.
This is heady stuff from a senior churchman. It is not new, of course, and it’s being said before but as someone famously said about a dog walking on his hind legs, what is significant is not how well it¹s done but that it has happened at all. What the future will bring is unclear but one thing seems absolutely certain. What Bishop Daly has to say has much more to offer the Irish Church than what I saw on YouTube last week.