FIRST SESSION Naming the Reality: Garry Keogh
It is encouraging to see so many people here today, and to hear of the interest people have in today’s meeting. I think that in itself makes a statement.
I was asked to address three questions today; Firstly, what are my experiences of being a catholic, secondly, what do I feel about the Church at the minute, and thirdly, what are my hopes for the future of the Church.
I would be what some call a “Celtic tiger cub”, growing up in Ireland in the nineties and early two thousands. In this time the relationship between Church and State was changing drastically. There was a two-sided attitude towards the Church from my peers. On the one hand, there was indifference; Church teaching on issues such as divorce, contraception and sexual ethics were considered almost irrelevant. On the other hand, however, there was always a profound sense of respect for the Church. I think this stems from personal experience of the Church’s commitment to the good and the just.
This brings me to the second question; what are my feelings of the Church today? It goes without saying that the Church is in crisis. But we need to examine what kind of crisis. Although Catholicism is primarily about belief, the current crisis is not a crisis of belief. It is a crisis of commitment to the good.
The Irish people are angry at the Church, and they are angry because the Irish Church has failed to keep its commitment to the good when faced with institutional pressures. For example, the sexual, physical or psychological abuse of a child is an evil act. And when clergy were involved in such evil, the Church primarily sought to protect their institutional credibility and internal procedures, placing greater emphasis on dogmatism than morality. The Church has been portrayed as a group who see their own rituals as more important that the safety and innocence of human lives. It has placed bureaucracy over common decency.
Ironically, this is the very mindset that Jesus spoke out against…for example, by healing on the Sabbath; an illegal practice at the time. This is an example of a commitment to decency in the face of institutional pressures.
Moreover, the amárach survey commissioned by the ACP convincingly demonstrates the distance between the opinions of the Irish people and the Church on sexuality and other issues. It made apparent how out of sync the Church and Irish Catholics are. But what is truly striking is the attempts made to limit dialogue around these issues by the silencing of priests who seek to engage in such dialogue. This again relates to the stringent, dogmatic mindset adopted by the Church. Most worryingly, the lack of discussion sends a clear message to the majority of Irish people; that their beliefs on issues such as sexuality, celibacy and the role of women in the Church are essentially irrelevant. These deep personal beliefs held by millions of Irish people are ignored in favour of dogmatism. How truly Christian can this be?
This brings me to the most difficult question; what are my hopes for the future?
Since the sexual abuse scandals surfaced, there have been apologies, reports and analysis to beat the band. There is talk of reform and renewal. But there has been little pragmatism.
The meeting today sends an important message for the future, because it shows that the clergy share the laity’s frustration. Although there is probably much debate needed among clergy and laity themselves, it shows there is at least a willingness to address the various issues. Most importantly, it demonstrates that we are on the same side, and there is strength in numbers.
It is difficult to envisage how the Church can reconcile itself with the Irish people on issues such as celibacy and the role of women without major reform. These are huge issues which go beyond our domestic crisis. Yet Ireland is a big enough country to send an international message. This message is that the Irish people are not content with Church teachings, how the abuse was handled, or how progress is hindered by a lack of dialogue.
I do think that hope for the future of the Irish Church lies not in further analysis of problems, but in suggestions of solutions; a national assembly, and what potential outcomes would be, attempts to mount international pressure toward a third Vatican council, and what potential outcomes of that would be.
It seems that coming up with solutions seems to be the challenge facing the Irish Church in the future.