29Sep Bishops must shun the dark to follow the leader

On the plane to Italy recently for a short break I finished reading  Tony Flannery’s harrowing account of how the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)  tried to silence him and ultimately barred him from functioning as a priest. In the telling Flannery  exposed for all to see the unjust and cruel ‘modus operandi’ of the CDF.  Defying the strictest injunction not to reveal a word to anyone, he shone a bright light on a process that has been applied in secret to several other Irish priests.  The Gospels have hard things to say about those who prefer to operate in the dark and shun the daylight . Then last week Pope Francis in his dramatic interview with  a group of Jesuit journals,  reprimanded the CDF for  its  “inappropriate behaviour”  in the censoring of priests.

This interview, covered extensively in the media, is one of a series of public statements by the Pope of his intention to  shift the whole orientation of the Church away from a focus on rigid compliance with the finer points of doctrine and unquestioning obedience to  Church directives,  under the  threat of sanctions for non-compliance, and towards a Church that is open to engaging in mutually respectful dialogue with anyone who thinks differently.

While in Italy I picked up a copy of the daily newspaper, La Republica,  known for its left-wing leanings and antipathy towards the Catholic Church, and was startled to find extensive coverage of a discussion between a former editor, Eugenio Scalfari and Pope Francis. For a week it was front page news, plus 4-5 pages inside devoted to  the Pope’s lenghty reponse to Scalfari’s  earlier open letters to the Pope, in which he described himself as a non-believer and  raised a series of questions about fundamental Catholic beliefs.

It was by any yardstick sensational stuff and it attracted  massive, largely favourable comment, precisely because the Pope signalled in the clearest possible terms a radical departure from the  dictatorial,  conceited, secretive and threatening style of the CDF and other Vatican agencies  in how he intends to engage with people who don’t share his views. Recalling the objectives of Vatican II, dear to the heart of Tony Flannery and countless other Catholics, Pope Francis describes  as necessary and precious the need for dialogue between those who believe in Jesus Christ and those who don’t. The Church has been a source of light throughout the centuries but also a repository of superstitions, he says, so dialogue with modern culture, and the consequent questioning of our inherited beliefs, is not merely a secondary accessory to the life of  believers but an intimate  and indispensible  expresson of that life. Faith and reason are  complementary cornerstones of the spiritual life.

Several commentators have seized on the Pope’s recent statements to suggest, as Dr. McQuaid did on returning from Vatican II,  that we mustn’t get carried away with any idea that the new Pope is about to depart from established Church teaching . The Pope remains a Catholic, but one who wants to show more understanding and compassion to those who are outside the fold, so to speak. He goes much further, however, than simply advocating Christian kindness towards non-believers, liberals and dissenters and in doing so he poses unsetttling challenges to those who see themselves as custodians of definitive truths and as defenders of the faith against those who would dare to challenge  established orthodoxies.

In his response to Scalfari the Pope underlined for him a quotation from the encyclical which says that because the Christian faith is essentially about love, “..the faith is not intransigent…  but flourishes in living together with others in mutual respect. The faith is not arrogant; on the contrary, the truth makes one humble…..The  certainty  (or sense of security) in ones faith  comes from the journey involving dialogue with everyone… The truth is not absolute, we do not possess it, it is the truth that embraces us.” He says to Scalfari that this is “a  journey we must make hand-in-hand together (“in sieme”), believers and non-believers.” This is not the stance of someone who believes he already has the truth and must be compassionate towards those who don’t.

The impact of the  Pope’s statement was to trigger in Scalfari, his  Director and all his  colleagues “una grande emozione”. It was more important than a mere “scoop”;  it was a signal that the time had come  to reopen the doors on a dialogue, first initiated by Vatican II, for a serious and fruitful engagement, without pre-conditions (“senza pre-concetti”). Wider reaction from thousands of La Republica readers was tinged with a sense of relief that  the great advances of Vatican II, obstructed for nearly 50 years by the likes of  Archbishop Mcquaid, had been re-asserted, with apparent conviction, by  the Pope, particularly his strong endorsement of the primacy of the individual conscience.

Most Irish bishops, the Papal  Nuncio and those spokespersons for the Catholic Church who see themselves as bastions of a smaller Church, loyal and obedient to the “Holy Father”, would do well to tune in to this seminal message from the Pope and, among other  matters, reflect on how they have treated  the likes of Fr. Flannery and countless other Catholics who had the temerity to question the Church’s teaching over the past 4-5 decades in particular.

If the Pope’s encyclical and ground-breaking exchanges published in  La Republica are to mean anything then the sanctions imposed on Tony Flannery, Sean Fagan and other priests should be lifted immediately and respectful engagement  with them initiated, a common decency denied them by the CDF . Similarly , the Irish bishops now have the clearest possible prompt to  begin the journey, ‘senza pre-concetti’, of engaging in the never-ending search for truth ‘in sieme’ with  the Association of Catholic  Priests, groups like ‘We the Church’ and wider society.  They might also persuade Veritas, the Catholic bookstore, to  change its decision not to sell Flannery’s book, A Question of Conscience.

 Eddie Molloy Ph. D is a management consultant. He is a graduate in philosophy and theology and has worked for numerous religious orders and other faith-based organisations over a period of 40 years.

11 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    What is said in the final paragraph in the above entry about the opportunity having arisen for sanctions and censures to be lifted might well be true, however, I am quite convinced, that change will come in dribs and drabs.

  2. Linda, Derry

    “the never ending search for truth”? The Truth is not a ‘concept’ but is a person…JESUS CHRIST ( I AM the Truth, the way and the life) and, to save you from wasting a whole lot of time and effort, he’s in the tabernacle.God Bless and have a nice week :-)

  3. Bob Hayes

    As an old-fashioned Leftie (political as well as religious!) I have always thought of ‘management consultants’ as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Hey-ho.

  4. Gene Carr

    Dr Molloy invites to admire and praise Pope Francis for his preparedness for open dialogue with unbelievers the editor of La Republica Eugenio Scalfari. Yet in the same week Pope Emeritus Benedict revealed a similar open dialogue with an atheist critic of one of his books. Nor is this a first; Benedict also has a published dialogue with Germany’s leading atheist intellectual and critical theorist J Habermas. To be consistent should not Dr Molloy invite us to praise Benedict. But what about his treatment of the Likes of Fr Flannery. But surely the cases are not the same. Neither Scalfari nor Habermas are ordained priests who have made solemn professions of faith and solemn vows of obedience. Dr Molloy wants the Fr Flannerys of this world to have their cake and eat it. And it should hardly need to be pointed out that issues such as the nature of the priesthood and the eucharist are not mere ‘finer points of doctrine’. Dr Molly also invites that sad bunch, the Irish bishops to tune into the Pope’s Encyclical Lumen Fedei. I hope he realises that this encyclical was written by Benedict and adopted by Francis as his own.

  5. Gene Carr

    An additional point: I found it curious that Dr Molloy uses the word “Dark” in his heading using a capital “D”. While it may be just a rhetorical ‘agit/prop’ devise it prompted me to recall the observations of the great historian/philosopher Eric Voegelin (New Science of Politics, 1987 University of Chicago). Voegelin postulated that the various strands of ‘enlightened modernity'(including theological modernism) were a peculiarly virulent form of Gnosticism (with all its innate Manichaean distortions of reality). Human existence is a cosmic struggle between the “Forces of Darkness” and the “Forces of Light”. Big Baddies like Benedict XVI and John Paul II, along with benighted bishops and nuncios belong to the “Dark” right up there along with the biggest Baddie of all John Charles McQuaid. All are trying to drag us back into the “Dark” side. Eddie and all those of similar outlook are the “enlightened ones”, who if we will only listen to them, will lead us all to salvation along the immanent arc of history. I think not.

  6. Nuala O"Driscoll

    Gene @5.
    That is a lot of theological philosophical presupposition you have extracted out of one little letter albeit a capital one. Christianity emerged when the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth collided with the myriad of Pagan cults and philosophies in the Greco-Roman world. Gnosticism and Manichaeism were two of these and Catholicism bears the marks of both. It is Gnostic in that it holds that we are made up of body and soul and the body is prone to intrinsical evil which can only be eradicated by availing of the sacraments ministered by an elite exclusive male Priesthood. Also Catholicism holds that it is the bearer of the one true religion and that there is no salvation outside of the Church. St Augustine, one-time Manichae-ist who influenced the Church on sexual morality within marriage more profoundly than any other single individual did, linked sexuality with animality and ‘the purpose of marriage is none other than the begetting of children. Indeed, our sexual desires are nothing more than the unfortunate effects of Original Sin’. The more intransigent the Church becomes about reform and renewal the more it will slide back into these dualistic tendencies. Then people of conservative dispositions and liberal dispositions will bandy about words like ‘Dark and Light’.

  7. Gene Carr

    Nuala @6: I disagree with you, but the issue you raise is central to the prevailing confusions. The fact that individuals like Augustine was influenced by Mani, and that other tendencies (like Jansenism) have been tinged with dualism does not make the Catholic Church Gnostic. The Church has never regarded the material creation including the human body as being intrinsically evil. A Church that insisted that God himself was “made flesh”, and that the human person is a fusion of body and soul utterly rejects such dualism; hence the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Even an unhappy camper like Augustine insisted that sex and marriage were grounded in biological, social and anthropological reality; the Church crowned this by sanctifying the goodness of sex and marriage as a sacrament. The most balanced account of the evolution of the Church’s doctrine can (IMHO) in an essay written, not by a theologian or a philosopher, but by an historian (Christopher Dawson in “Sex and Civilization). The best insights into the Manichaean dualism of Enlightened Modernity, and its hostility to women was written by Catholic psychoanalyst (and Jewish convert) Karl Stern with the interesting title “The Flight from Women” (Paragon House, 1985). We live in interesting times.

  8. Nuala O"Driscoll

    Gene @7.
    While we will probably disagree ‘ad finitum’ my response is not specifically to disagree with you but to try to highlight the dichotomy between the aspiration of Lumen Gentium that the Church is the ‘whole people of God’ and the reality which is a Church that is structured on a patriarchal hierarchy, whose core teaching and doctrines reflect only male experience, psychology, physiology and does not reflect the female experience, psychology, physiology. In this the Church is dualistic to its core. You point out that the Church has sanctified the goodness of sex and marraige as a sacrament. Maybe this is true from the point of view of a male. I believe that sexual relations within marriage, conception, childbirth, are tainted by sin and guilt and extreme hardship in trying to comply with the Church’s moral teaching on marriage in Humanae Vitae. It is not so long ago that women had to be ‘churched’ after giving birth. By its patriarchal hierarchical structure, its male based language, the Church reinforces the idea that men are spiritually more capable than women. Above racism, above apartheid, misogyny is the worst.

  9. Gene Carr

    Nuala @ 8: As you say we will probably disagree. However, let me point out that recognizing the ‘polarity’ of the sexes is not the same thing as ‘dualism’. ‘Equality’ should not be conflated with the ‘cult of sameness’. As for ‘Churching’ you pointed out yourself that Catholic tradition often retains relics of pre-Christian elements that were difficult to eradicate. The dualistic influence of Greek though (Plato?) and Gnosticism are cases to point. ‘Waking’ in Ireland is another example. Could it be that ‘Churching’ is another; that is; if you must feel that you need to spiritual restorative after childbirth, then go do it in a Church rather than at a pagan alter. Part of the missionary strategy of Gregory the Great was to avoid tearing down the practice of the pagans, but to substitute or sanctify as much as possible.

  10. Gene Carr

    An additional point: Dr Molloy alleges that dialogue with the world and unbelievers was “first initiated” by Vatican II. I have on my shelf a book called “Is the Catholic Church Anti-Social?”. The book consists of an exchange of letters between the noted Oxford Medievalist and Catholic Church critic Dr G.G. Coulton on the one hand, and the noted Catholic writer Arnold Lunn on the other. Coulton did not pull any punches as he launched into a long indictment of the Church’s allegedly disastrous impact on huam society, on scandals, bad Popes, the Inquisition, the oppression of women, contraception, superstitions, poverty in Catholic countries, ‘authoritarianism–you name it he got it all in. Lunn gave as good as he got in response. I don’t want to comment on the quality of this exchange, but the fact that exchanges such as these existed. For the date of publication was 1948, which according to my calendar was over a decade before Vatican II. I can think of many other examples of these types of dialogues. I remember this one because in the late 1950s our class was encouraged to read and debate the book. In the publishers covering note we learn that the exchange had been set up ‘without preconditions’. The notion that there was no dialogue with others pre-Vatican II is arrant nonsense. Church liberals have a ‘Pol Pot’ complex about the year 1963, as if everything began anew at that date.

  11. Nuala O"Driscoll

    @9.
    Oh Gene, you weave in and out of the issues ‘polarity v dualism’,’spiritual restoration after childbirth???’, ‘substitute or sanctify pagan practises’. The only issues difficult to eradicate are the Church’s exclusion of women and the the different categories of people from the ‘supper table’.

    @10.
    You are right to point out that there was debate going on in pre-Vatican II years the only reason it was not known is that the priests and theologians doing the debating were silenced and censured, for example, Theillhard de Chardin, Yves Congar, M.D. Chenu, and there are many others. Your description of ‘Church liberals’ meaning those of us who would use Vatican II as a bench mark for reform and renewal in the church is extreme.