It’s time for the bishops to start listening
LAST WEEK, there was much comment regarding Pope Benedict’s wearing of the papal fanon. The fanon was regularly used before the Second Vatican Council but then fell into disuse. On 21 October 2012, during a canonisation Mass, Pope Benedict XVI wore the fanon. The garment had not been used since the early 1980s, when Pope John Paul II wore it once when visiting a Roman convent.
In itself, it’s not earth-shattering news, nor will it contribute to the renewal of the Church, but I do find such trivia indicative of a clerical culture within the Catholic Church that is determined to ignore the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, whose anniversary is the very reason we celebrate this year of faith.
The fanon is a far cry from the disillusionment many people feel towards the Roman Church at this time. For me, there is a worrying trend that rank, title and costume remain so very important to so many Church leaders.
Enniskillen-based priest and well-known broadcaster Fr Brian D’Arcy spoke earlier this week on a BBC documentary entitled Turbulent Priest about the pressures of being a priest in Ireland amid the fall-out of various clerical sex abuse scandals, as well as grappling with controversial Church teaching on issues such as clerical celibacy, contraception and homosexuality. Fr D’Arcy communicated a sense of great sadness and real hurt in the way the established Church has effectively both silenced and crushed his spirit.
In a similar vein, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has expressed great disappointment and sadness at the response of the Irish hierarchy to its request for greater engagement with the group about the future of the Church. “We are both disappointed and saddened by this response from our bishops. It is hard to understand why, in this time of great difficulty for theIrishChurch, neither the bishops – as a body or any individual bishop – is willing to meet an association that has a membership of more than 1,000 priests.”
The organisation claimed there was often a “palpable sense of dejection, depression and sometimes almost despair when clergy gather as a group”.
The Irish Episcopal Conference told the ACP that engagement would best be conducted at local level using established structures. The Association of Catholic Priests believes that the current crisis demands real engagement between the different groupings in the Irish Catholic Church. Unless this engagement takes place, it will not be possible to plan strategically for the future of our Church.
There are many people who still value their Catholic heritage and who want the Christian message to be promulgated in a way that will challenge the values of our time, as evidenced by the large participation in the International Eucharistic Congress and in the recent ‘assembly’ meeting in Dublin by the ACP.
These are very real issues: a hierarchy that refuses to actively engage with its priests and people is indeed a frightened and distant one. Conversation is key to leadership, as is enabling all the voices of the Church to contribute to the chorus of the Gospel’s vision, which is deeply relevant and necessary at this time. It’s truly time that, as a Church, we rid ourselves of the fanon and elitist trappings that suggest pomp and triumphalism. Church leadership must stop talking the talk but humbly walk the walk.