Seamus Ahearne OSA responds to the Visitors Report
It was a very good day (week) ‘to bury bad news!’ The Mahon report displaced the ‘Summary from Rome’ – which was a ‘blessing’ indeed! Some of us shudder in anticipation when documents are due fromRome. Rome can embarrass us and only add to our local difficulties. Their words can be wooden and disconnected from the ‘faith’ of our communities. Benedict’s letter ‘was feared’ but came as a surprise: it was pastoral and real (the end part was sadly laughable). When the Visitors from Rome were announced – some of us worried. However, when we met the Visitors – we were impressed: They listened. They wanted to hear what ‘we thought.’ It was a real conversation (which can be unusual in Church life!) The New Missal arrived and it was a disaster. It was crude. It desecrates the English language. ‘The Word’ does not become flesh in our culture. This committee product must have been finalised by non-English speakers – does Rome ever learn?. Why did our hierarchies accept it? The New Zealanders showed sense.
I recall an article by Graham Greene (1972). The title was: “The Virtue of Disloyalty.” Greene enjoyed being awkward. He scoffed at Shakespeare. He called him a crawler (or similar words!). He suggested that Shakespeare failed as a writer. Why? He was a poet of the Establishment. Greene dared to say that the minor poet Southwell (Jesuit martyr) was a ‘better writer’ than Shakespeare – Southwell was disloyal. Greene was clear – the writer has to be disloyal. He said that the writer has ‘to be a protestant in a Catholic society; a catholic in a Protestant one.’ He said that Bonhoeffer like Southwell was a greater hero than Shakespeare! The writer always stands for the victim and the victims change. An honest writer cannot be a Conformist!
The Biblical Prophet is like Greene’s view of the writer. The Prophet has to be counter cultural has to be a non Conformist. The present day Church demands Conformity and Deference. (In truth only the Roman church not the local one!) The Conformist is the model for the Establishment. The Report (Rome) says so little. It would have better if nothing was said. The generalities had to be restated and that is right. But then when the Report expresses its ‘wish’ that our students should be prepared as clerical puppets; and observes that too many priests and religious dare to differ from the Magisterium! I wonder. Is this all that is on offer to the struggling church in Ireland?
I have no idea what our Visitors sent into Rome. I respect them and know that they must have said more than we heard. The Roman summary (sterile version) does not sum up what went on here. I had faith in the Visitors. I do not have much faith in the Roman bureaucrats. A doctored document is useless. What did I expect or hope for? I hoped that the pastoral approach of the early part of Pope’s letter might have appeared. I hoped that Rome might hear from us that the clerical church/culture itself needed major change; that Rome would show some humility and realise it had much to learn. I have used this before but it still applies: Is 55 (commentary in the Jerome Biblical commentary) – “The Word comes from God, but it can be heard only when it is soaked up in human life (Irish experience) and spoken with human accents (our local accents) . “ Note: Rome.
There is a wider challenge for everyone – We must stand back and look around. Our history is wrapped up in a deep desire for independence. How could we value our freedom so little? We have ended up with a rotten political Establishment. Mahon tells us part of the story. The other Tribunals confirm the destruction. How could it happen? As John Healy said: ‘Why did no-one shout stop? ‘ (1968). Why did we accept it? Cute-hoorism seemed to be an ambition for too many and yet we accepted it.
How could it happen that the Celtic Tiger should have become so bloated that obesity collapsed our economy? Wasn’t it obvious to ‘even the dogs in the street’ that the housing boom would fall under its own explosion? Why wasn’t it noticed by our politicians, advisors, bankers, economists or media?
How did it happen that the Church in Ireland needed Ryan/ Murphy/ Cloyne? Were we blind? What did we miss? Why were so many asleep? How could the wonder and beauty of the Gospel (at the core of the culture) – miss out on so much? What are we missing now? The Church now deserves to be an object of scorn – but what is happening across the wider community? If society can learn from the failures in the Church then many others have questions to answer: the psychologists missed it (sexual abuse); the judicial system missed it; the Gardai missed it. What now?.
The phrase ‘Cover up’ is used too readily. There is a much more dangerous question: How do we miss the obvious? In the Sexual domain? In the Political arena? In the Financial sector? In the Developers’ world? In the Educational establishment? What is really going on in our schools, universities? Are people learning how to ask questions and to have the guts/imagination/stamina to keep on digging? Or are we producing robots? What is happening on RTE that no-one could see that the attack on Fr Reynolds needed to be investigated before broadcasting or the Tweet on Sean Gallagher? Who is alert with a wider perspective than the immediate? When is someone going to question our Tribunals? They too are a disgrace in themselves. They have added a little to what we already knew but the time/costs are deeply wrong. We need the non Conformist to stand up and say: Their word is not the last word and not always totally right. We need a deeply critical mind to assess their generalities, assumptions and methodology. Are legal people alone capable of such Tribunal work? Can we do better? Greene is right for all of us – not just the writers or the prophets but everyone.
I conclude – there is a question for all of us to answer. What kind of country; What kind of Church do we want to create? If we claim to be Christian Catholics – the cult of conformism or deference or bowing to the establishment, is not the way forward. It cannot be the challenge of the Gospel. IsRomefollowing the call of Christ or falling into the role of protecting a dead past? I think Christ had a problem with the Establishment also and he wasn’t a writer.
Seamus Ahearne osa
Rivermount parish, 60 Glenties Park, Finglas South,Dublin11.
26th March 2012.