Was the Visitation just another holy show? — Sean O Conaill
In preparation for Confirmation around the age of ten, Catholic children are taught that this sacrament will confer on them the dignity ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’. Are they taught how to recognise the Holy Spirit moving within them then? If their hearts were then to burn strongly for other Temples of the Holy Spirit who were violated in the past, or they were to feel a just anger against bishops who knowingly allowed that to happen, or they were to shed tears for the mothers so cruelly betrayed – would any of those manifestations of moral indignation signify to them that the Holy Spirit was now at work within themselves?
I ask this question because of the stunning failure of the apostolic visitation to Ireland to address two other questions: First, why Irish Catholic church administrators, politicians, civil servants and police officers – all also Temples of the Holy Spirit – were not moved to moral outrage and effective action by the cruelties revealed by the series of state reports into abuse: Ferns, Dublin, the Catholic residential institutions and Cloyne.
Second, why it was that the church’s clerical system did not become ostentatious in the cause of child protection until secular courts, media and state forced it to act.
The apostolic visitation to Ireland was itself the product of secular revelation but its summary report shows absolutely no sign of an honest acknowledgement of this. Are Ireland’s young Temples supposed to be forever unable to notice this, and forever unprompted by courage, honesty and love, to ask why?
Did the visitators even ask these questions of themselves? If not, how can they convince us Irish Catholics that the visitation was not in the main just another holy show, primarily designed to distract attention from those questions, and from the fact that the concealment of abuse within the church is a global and not just an Irish problem?
As a Catholic educated in the era of Vatican II, and subsequently by the Catholic children I taught for thirty years, I can say with the deepest conviction that those young hearts do indeed burn, feel anger and weep for all cruelty and injustice. But while the Holy Spirit is indeed moving those children in this way they are simultaneously being taught something quite contrary by the Catholic magisterium: deference to itself, and mute obedience to its minute theological formulae as the sine qua non of Catholic loyalty.
And this is still the obsession of the magisterium, as revealed by the passage in the summary report that insists that renewal of the church forbids dissent. What this means is that the magisterium is still not paying attention to the effect of the prioritisation of obedience to itself above moral outrage. What this teaches is not honesty, initiative, courage and love, but subterfuge, irresponsibility, fear and malice. We need look no further for the moral inertia of Irish Catholic officials who were forever afraid to act rightly on behalf of the weakest of our children.
I respectfully challenge here and now the Catholic magisterium to refute this, and to explain why the revelation and the tackling of the grotesque evil of abuse within the church had to come from the secular world. The sacraments are one thing, but the church’s governing system is something else entirely – something that frustrates the brilliant work of Catholic teachers. They too must be wondering now whether the magisterium will ever, like good Catholic children, sit up, wake up, and pay full attention. For example to the obvious fact that Catholic children have been far better served by the principle of the separation of executive, legislative and judicial power in secular society than by the church’s own vertical power system in which there are no checks on the power of the most powerful, and insufficient protection for the weakest.
And this is obviously because the magisterium has forgotten article 32 of Lumen Gentium: “Although by Christ’s will some are appointed teachers, dispensers of the mysteries and pastors for the others, yet all the faithful enjoy a true equality with regard to the dignity and the activity which they share in the building up of the body of Christ!'” The Irish church still has absolutely no structures to vindicate this principle, and no Irish lay person has a structured right to question a bishop on obvious derelictions of duty. And the summary report of the apostolic visitation ignores this problem also.
To this day there has been no response to the historical argument presented in 2010, and again here on this site, that the rescuing of Catholic children from the most depraved evil owes far more to the Protestant Reformation and the ‘Enlightenment’ than to the Catholic magisterium. (See ‘The Disgracing of Catholic Monarchism’ on seanoconaill.com )
So again I ask: how exactly is the Holy Spirit supposed to be moving the young Catholics of Ireland and globally ‘to renew the face of the earth’? I’ve been saying the prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’ all my life, and the fact is that I’ve learnt far more about how that could actually happen from Catholic clergy loyal to Vatican II (now again under covert intimidation in Ireland) and from Charles Dickens, than I have from the Catholic magisterium since 1968. If it is argued that Irish Catholic lay people need to be protected from priests who would want to explore controversial issues, has the magisterium considered the impact of this upon our morale – through the inferences that the Holy See apparently believes the Holy Spirit denies the Irish people the gift of discernment and that we are not even allowed to suppose that an Irish priest could actually be speaking his own mind?
Our own bishops can’t even have the courage to demand that the Holy Spirit be freed to enable them to determine the language of the Mass for us. What kind of leadership is this? And what kind of theology?