FIRST SESSION Naming The Reality: Phil Dunne
I am one of many Irish Catholics considered to be ‘on the margins.’ It has taken me a long time to arrive at this place.
I was born into a Catholic family and was deeply involved in my parish from childhood. In the 90’s I was elected by my parish as a delegate to what turned out to be the farcical Women’s Forum. On a wider level I was part of the core group of Pobal Dei for many years and of BASIC and helped to organise organised the First International Meeting on Women’s Ordination here in Dublin in 2001. Throughout this time I saw many people leave the church often for reasons I empathised with but I was determined to stay and work for change from within.
However 10 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. With months of treatment stretching ahead of me I had to step back from my job and remove as much stress as possible from my life. Sadly the first stress that came to mind for removal was the institutional Catholic Church. On the Sunday following my diagnosis I didn’t go to Mass, I am no longer a member of a parish.
Why did I take such a drastic step on the eve of going into hospital for surgery to save my life?
I did it because I saw it as part of the process necessary to save my life. My body was sick but to keep my spirit well and able to work towards my recovery it was necessary for me to leave the institutional church. At this crisis I could no longer deal with the ever present question ‘Am I colluding in my own oppression?’ I did not lose my faith but I could no longer bear the stress of being a woman within this church where I was always a second class member, where I had no part in meaningful decision making, a church that went so far as to tell me that were topics I might not even discuss!
I moved away from an institution that paid lip service to women while many of its practices were in contravention of basic human rights. I did not move away because of the abuse avalanche but I did move away from a church that protected its institution and power at the expense of the vulnerable children. I moved away publically by writing an article for The Furrow Why I Have Left 2 which had a huge reaction. Notwithstanding this reaction, much of which touched me deeply, nothing of course had changed so I found no reason to change my position.
Now 10 years on I still miss much that parish life gave me, the unfolding of the year’s liturgy, the community, and the joy of praying with my neighbours. Sadly I see no reason to go back to the institution I see imploding, an institution that has rowed back on Vatican 2, a church that silences rather than dialogues, a church that has excommunicated women who have been ordained yet has shielded and protected paedophiles & paedophile enablers with its pathological procedures and secrecy, an institution that has yet to own fully its own deep corruption that goes all the way to the Vatican.
I am lonely and sad for much that I have lost but I have also gained. Firstly I hope I express my faith more truthfully. I have people I regularly pray with, I have experienced Eucharist in many settings and I work for reform. I am a member of We are Church Ireland
I am a Catholic, a committed Catholic – a Catholic working for change, dialogue and inclusiveness. I will end with some words on Baptism written from his prison cell by the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1944 ‘We have spent too much time in thinking, supposing that if we weigh in advance the possibilities of any action, it will happen automatically. We have learnt, rather too late, that action comes, not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility’3.
These words describe for me what my Baptism calls me to – to take responsibility, however imperfectly, for bringing to life within me and through me the vision of Jesus for community, for sharing, for openness but above all for love and compassion.
In today’s 1st reading Paul tells the crippled person ‘Get to your feet – stand up’.3 It is my hope that today we stand up to take responsibility to move towards an inclusive and welcoming church that can embrace all of us. We have thought, we have weighed, it is late but not too late. Our baptism calls us to be the ambassador’s of this vision of Jesus and as Seamus Heaney wrote in From the Republic of Conscience, ‘no ambassador would ever be relieved’