‘Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults’ and ‘the Fall’
Soon after reading Brendan Hoban’s recent piece on the ACP site, ‘The priest: from oracle to ignoramus’, I took delivery of the recently published ‘Irish Catholic Catechism For Adults’. Costing me €25 from Veritas it tells me that its doctrinal content relies on a similar production by the US Catholic Bishops Conference.
I have merely sampled it so far, but am already totally baffled by its apparent interpretation of some of the ‘Fall’ passages in Genesis as literal history. There were indeed, it seems, historically, two original human parents called Adam and Eve, and they did indeed disrupt all creation by their original sin. It was the following sentence, however, that really threw me: “And death became part of the human experience.” (p. 78)
Knowing as they must that the cycle of life and death has been an unremitting characteristic of all species on earth for over three billion years – and that the earth itself has always been a geologically violent planet – why are Irish bishops in 2013 telling us as hard fact that but for original sin we humans (also given reproductive organs) were intended by God to be a complete exception, gifted with physical eternal life? Why are they expecting anyone to believe that the dangers of our environment began with a single human violation of God’s intent? Why do they think any aspect of Genesis must now be taken by anyone as historically and literally authoritative?
Do they really think the future of the church depends upon us believing all that?
Surely the time has come for the magisterium to realise that the authority of the church depends ultimately upon the integrity of its ministers, not on any claim that the Bible is, in part, a hard factual account of human prehistoric origins, and of the origin of evil?
I find Brendan Hoban’s short article a far more likely trigger for a renewal of eager learning in the Irish church than this book. He is wrong, however, to say that priests have lost all authority. To admit ignorance is surely a far wiser policy than to make claims that science will inevitably challenge with far greater authority. I would regard as truly wise any priest or bishop who answered ‘I don’t know! What do you think,’ to any question about the mystery of the causality of human evil. Surely we can only now discuss Genesis as a parable, an ancient and still fascinating theological hypothesis – fertile still as an affirmation of the goodness of all creation?
An episcopal dogmatism that goes wildly beyond that, and also way beyond what a loving Christian faith requires, will merely provoke incredulity and alienation. With some passages in this book our bishops have merely proven once more that there is absolutely no connection between religious dogmatism and wisdom. Far from appearing authoritative their 2013 ‘Adult Catechism’ comes across, in some crucial passages, as a baffling Christmas present for Father Dougal on Craggy Island.