05Dec We’re not ready to meet the Pope

From the visit of Pope John Paul in 1979 to the visit of Pope Francis in 2018, a period of almost 40 years, we can trace the trajectory of the stunning decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland. There are many reasons for it: the general collapse of support for institutional religion; the culture wars that ended in bitter defeats in campaigns around contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and, possibly soon, abortion; the child abuse scandals and the way they were dealt with; and, above all, a refusal or an inability to engage with the modern world.

After the extraordinary ‘success’ of the 1979 visit it seemed as if the Catholic Church in Ireland was at the start of a new golden age. Almost 90% of Catholics attended weekly Mass; in a country of three and a quarter million people almost everyone in Ireland turned out to see the pope, with over a million attending the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park; and, as well as a sharp rise in the number of babies being called ‘John Paul’, a temporary arrest in the decline in vocations augured well for the future. Catholic Ireland, for a short time, was ‘cool’.

What we didn’t contend with, of course, was that we were witnessing not a beginning of something but an ending. Grainy RTE footage of Bishop Eamon Casey and Fr Michael Cleary warming up young Ireland in Ballybrit racecourse in Galway before the arrival of John Paul by helicopter soon became a symbol of the past rather than an indicator of the future.

The gap between 1979 and 2018 is much more than 40 years, it’s unquantifiable, a tsunami that defies description. We live now in a completely different Ireland inhabited by a completely different people.

What was then is not now. The old order is changed and changed utterly.

No point in Ifs or Buts. No point in whistling into the wind. No point in pious denial in order to rally the remnants of the loyal troop. No point in circling the wagons to keep the enemy at bay. No point in the finger-wagging of a John Paul, laying down the law.  The horse has bolted. Nobody is listening anymore.

Francis brings a different perspective: don’t judge; don’t condemn; be merciful and compassionate; walk with and beside people; include everyone under a great blanket of belonging; welcome everyone to the Lord’s table; everyone is fragile; reach out to the poor; invite people in from the margins; despise elitism and clericalism; reject the virus of ambition; the Church of Jesus Christ is not a museum to be protected but a field hospital for the wounded.

When Francis comes he won’t be interested in indulging the personal ambitions of career churchmen or in meeting the Great and the Good of Church or society. He will prefer to visit Mountjoy Gaol or Our Lady’s Hospice in Blackrock and he won’t allow the papal cavalcade to rush past the poor of Seán McDermott Street as happened in 1979.

It isn’t just a different perspective. Or even a different language. It’s about tone rather than content, freedom rather than control, respect rather than direction, love rather than law, compassion rather than judgement, service rather than power, the loving mercy of Jesus rather than the cold dead hand of the institution.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man?

However, the sad and difficult truth is that we’re not ready in Ireland for the man from the pampas of Argentina or the message of mercy and compassion that reflects the gospel Jesus preached or the possibility that it would engage the hearts and minds of a new generation of Catholics.

We know better than he does what’s suitable for Ireland, cool Celtic warriors that we are. We will, of course, indulge this old man’s strange ways for a time. We will even pander to his eccentricities. We will be happy to bask in his reflected popularity. And, it goes without saying, we will canonise him when he dies.

But we know better than this deluded pope so we’ll continue to tell people what to do rather than to respect the primacy of people’s consciences. We’ll hang grimly to the old traditions, dressing in fine linen and occupying the higher seats. We’ll revert the traditional pyramid to its old order and we’ll have no truck with anyone who wants to invert it. We’ll retain the luxury papal quarters for his successor and insist that his modest Fiat 500L be placed in cold storage. And, as God is good, in due time we’ll airbrush, out of sight and out of mind, the insight and memory of Francis the First.

The terrible tragedy is that we won’t listen because we can’t hear what Pope Francis is saying or accept the direction in which he’s pointing the Church.

The sad truth is that while a defensive Church is up to its neck in denial, our people will have their tongues out for the message Francis brings and the promise he represents ­ wishing it, willing it and wanting it.

Once again, the hungry sheep look up and are not fed.

At this stage it’s not clear what preparations will be made for 2018, or even what the outline schedule for the visit. One thing we do know is that Francis won’t be trying to replicate the John Paul visit. The two-day window is short, the focus will be on Dublin and the World Meeting of Families, possibly with a flying visit to Armagh. So there won’t be another papal visit to Knock.

Can Francis give new hope and new energy to the Catholic Church in Ireland?

Will his visit arrest the spiral of decline from 1979 to 2018? Or will it encourage yet another re-visiting of the old, tired redundant solutions that have been tried and found wanting time and time again?

28 Responses

  1. Paddy Ferry

    “We’ll retain the luxury papal quarters for his successor and insist that his modest Fiat 500L be placed in cold storage. And, as God is good, in due time we’ll airbrush, out of sight and out of mind, the insight and memory of Francis the First.”
    My God, Brendan, you really are trying to depress us tonight and its not like you. I hope and pray that Francis will get time for at least two more consistories and then the numbers could well be right at the next conclave for Francis the Second. Maybe even the man from Vienna who would have been my choice last time — I wonder what age is he now — but there are, even now, already others who would make a very acceptable Francis the Second.

  2. Anne

    I for one hear what Pope Francis is saying, I believe that he is trying to tell us ,this is what Jesus would do,and that is good enough for me.

  3. Mary Vallely

    Well, Paddy Ferry, I’m not getting depressed about it because I do believe that the sleeping giant of the laity is at last growing up and maturing and that we will decide for ourselves what we think is right and just with Francis pointing us in the right direction, following in his Master’s footsteps. I wouldn’t want to go back to the days of the attitudes displayed at the last Pope’s visit. We are less naive now, we are ready to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions, less likely to be nodding puppies and to claim our right to make our voices heard. ( I can hear the cynics saying, ‘ Now, who’s naive, eh?!) I refuse to allow what is happening in the world to get me down especially in these joyous days of Advent. Let’s be positive. I would hope that WHEN Pope Francis comes to my beloved city of Armagh that he will call with the Sisters of Charity who run a hostel for people with addictions, that he will pop into our Vincent de Paul shop in Thomas Street and visit our Mary’s Meals centre in Dobbin St and the homeless centre beside it; that the visit won’t be airbrushed to make it seem as if we are all a nation of happy conventional practising Catholic families but like so many other countries a hotch potch of well meaning strugglers who desperately want to live in kindness and love.

  4. John

    Certainly not massed processions of clergy, please! Maybe the clergy could be induced to leave their vestments at home and sit among the congregation, bishops included.

  5. Sean O'Conaill

    “The sad truth is that while a defensive Church is up to its neck in denial, our people will have their tongues out for the message Francis brings …”

    So the ‘Church’ is still one thing, while ‘our people’ are another?

    I don’t identify with the ‘we’ in this piece, and seriously wonder who ever would. Mary Vallely has it right: ‘the church’ is indeed mostly the very many people in Ireland who are either turned off by or totally oblivious of clerical politics, who serve the poorest, and who are very ready for Pope Francis’s visit.

  6. Colm Holmes

    I hope and pray that Pope Francis will set in motion the structural changes to bring about his INVERTED PYRAMID structure for our church!

    A possible way forward might be:

    Step 1: Each diocese elects its own bishop who may be a lay person or a cleric
    Step 2: Our bishops elect our cardinals
    Step 3: Our cardinals elect our first woman pope by 2025

    Too radical and too fast? They said the Berlin Wall would last another 100 years! Time for the Holy Spirit to bring sweeping transformation – she will make our church more Christian.

  7. Patrick O'Brien

    Once again I welcome the clarity Brendan brings to the issues of the day. He can put into words what many of us are feeling.
    My own thoughts are that it is time for the ACP to move on from trying to get a conversation going with the bishops and focus on meeting with groups of lay people and clergy who share their enthusiasm and concern for the church in Ireland.
    Time is not on our side and many people are looking to the ACP for leadership.
    Two areas which could become the focus of regional meetings might be;
    (i) Genuine care for the clergy and
    (ii) Respectful engagement with the laity on issues of concern.
    Both areas have been insulted by a facade of attention by our bishops over the years.
    If regional ACP meetings were held with priests and lay people now it could start a wonderful moment of reform and renewal – one that would have the Irish church in a very different and positive place by the time Francis arrives in 2018.
    Social media has transformed the political landscape of our world. Few would have believed it was possible.
    The landscape of the Irish church could be changed just as quickly and dramatically if the ACP clergy and the laity came together with a real focus on those issues.
    It could well prove to be what gets the Irish bishops asking the ACP to meet with them.

  8. Aidan

    Spot on Patrick and others. We should not be two Churches, one of clergy always leading and one of laity always being led but rather one Church of the People of God working closely together and in harmony, each with their special gifts and needing the other to witness to the presence of God in their lives shinning out to others in love and service.

    I have deep reservations about the Pope St. John Paul 11 type of pop-concert style celebration of Eucharist with stage, massive crowds and warm up events. Many of those present are so far back as to be unable to see what is going on and hence find it difficult, if not impossible, to participate in any meaningful way. It tends to be for many a noisy and distracting spectacle rather than a personal encounter in word and sacrament with Jesus the Christ, as His final meal with His followers and His death and resurrection are remembered. Unfortunately the celebrant at these events rather than the Lord becomes the main focus, even if not intended.
    These ‘grand’ Masses become an occasion to have hundreds of clergy parading in full vestments at the front of the large crowd and on the stage beside the Pope and bishops, thus signalling their difference and privileged status above all the laity present. Would it not be more meaningful to have a well constructed and appropriate Service of the Word, with Pope Francis participating, surrounded by lay men and women and one or two priests, deacons and nuns, all taking participative roles. All other clergy, in their everyday attire, would stand among the people. After such a service Pope Francis could then address all those present and the wider media audience.

    Such a service would model the participative Church that Pope Francis wants to create, without taking anything away from the central importance of Eucharist but rather widening the type of liturgy to be enacted and experienced by all within the Catholic Church.

  9. Eddie Finnegan

    Sean@5, sometimes I feel that you just don’t get irony! Any of us who have known and welcomed Brendan’s contributions over nearly thirty years in The Western People, and on this website for the past six, will recognise immediately that the “we” who take over the final third of this piece are the usual Cabra-inspired and selected suspects among the bishops, “senior clergy” in the dioceses, and their campfollowers among the “laity”. Please attend carefully up there in Coleraine, and try not to let any niggling suspicion that Brendan may be tainted with some clericalist hangover from which you are totally free get in the way of a fair reading of what the man writes week after week.

  10. Sean O'Conaill

    #9 Irony, Eddie?

    As Pope Francis’ major theme is the need for the church to cease all the infighting (if it is to become a ‘field hospital’ for those in even greater misery outside of it) how come you don’t see the irony in one high-profile Irish cleric doubting publicly that other unnamed Irish clerics are ready for this same pope’s visit in 2018?

    And then yet another layer of irony in your supposed lesson in irony to me?

    To avoid adding yet another layer to this irony onion I need to acknowledge that there is a need for an outfit like the ACP to fight the cause of Irish clergy caught between a post-Christendom society and a hierarchy that hasn’t yet welcomed Pope Francis’ post-Christendom programme.

    Yet I must confess that I am deeply disappointed that the ACP itself has not grasped that to be ready itself for Francis’ visit it needs to do far more to model the collaborative church of the future – focusing on the needs of those in Irish society who have suffered most in recent decades.

    Why, for example, have we seen no follow-up to the Regency Hotel event that launched the ACP in 2012 – ‘Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church’? Why no annual similar event, focused, e.g. on the relevance of Catholic social teaching to the current vacuum in Irish secular vision, and the growing disillusionment we are seeing?

    (As argued in this:

    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2014/11/time-to-prioritise-catholic-social-teaching/
    )

    In place of a considered response to that proposal I was assured on this site that Ireland isn’t ready yet for Catholic social teaching! Not a single member of the ACP demurred!

    (The commentary on that article of mine does not now include that particularly ludicrous response, but it definitely did occur.)

    Did you demur?

    Happy Christmas even so!

  11. Sean O'Conaill

    #10 My proposal that the ACP should see the relevance of Catholic Social Teaching to the dual crisis we are seeing in Ireland – of Church relationships and secular hope – was also made in this discussion:

    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2016/01/the-ballot-be-yours/

    See #7 in the commentary that followed for the contention (by Joe O’Leary) that there is ‘no context’ in Ireland for Catholic Social Teaching. That contention was never challenged by any other member of the ACP.

  12. Sean O Brien

    # 10 & #11 Sean,
    Christmas greetings to you as well.
    This may be heading off on a tangent from your comments but from time to time I see people commenting here and berating us ACP members for not posting comments on every article or opinion that is offered on the website.
    (Usually all this means is that the author is unhappy with us for not expressing agreement with their opinions or not demurring at or not challenging opinions that run contrary to theirs).
    I suspect that like many other members I am quite happy to read the articles, look at the opinions offered, and then make my own mind up.
    I don’t feel compelled to publish every thought or opinion that goes through my brain and I suspect like most others am happy to pick what I think is useful from it all and go on about my everyday business.
    One of the things I like about the site is that you usually don’t get the adversarial ping pong back and over between opinion posters with each trying to ‘prove’ their view correct or ‘disprove’ the opinion of another. Sadly, on many sites this rapidly descends into an exchange of personal abuse. Thankfully we are spared that.
    I don’t think it’s obligatory for ACP members to have to comment on every opinion expressed. Nor do I think it correct for anyone to draw conclusions on the basis that people don’t comment.
    I think it would be very incorrect for anyone to infer a policy stance to the ACP on the basis of personal comments made by individuals on this site, or indeed to infer any such stance to the lack of comments. It might just be that not everyone is as interested in the particular topic that is exercising the opinion poster.

  13. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    I think a great way to get ready for Pope Francis would be to collectively poll parishioners to see if any of their priests mentioned anything about Laudato si’ in their homilies or spoke of the environment at all.

    It would be interesting to see what results would come of that. I can tell you one nation that is not ready for Pope Francis – the USA. It is said that the majority of Catholics supported Trump and now, by the look of his appointees, this could signal the most anti-environmental group of deniers ever assembled. So the pressure is off you all, when it comes right down to it.

    Between now and his arrival, I would recommend starting a parish initiative that entails installing solar panels around any vacant church property, reselling the power generated back to the energy companies and donating the proceeds to helping alleviate poverty. 18 months to fund-raise in each parish (a “Laudato si” calendar/planner comes to mind) and whatever is raised goes towards a community run green energy installation. It would be nice if Ireland took the lead on something like this especially with the Pope coming to town. This would make it look like you were ready. Imagine if this were an initiative born in the Associations, globally. Wow – in Canada we call that brownie points. You want to have a conversation? Now you certainly have something to talk about.

    A question for those courageous enough to answer : would this impress Pope Francis?

    Sounds like something Sean McDonagh could get behind. The Global Catholic Climate Movement is looking for a number of positions including but not limited to ‘Director:Communications and Digital Engagement, Digital Media Coordinator’. They are trying to get the message of Laudato si to 1.2 billion Catholics world-wide. They are selling themselves short. They should be aiming to get every parish in the world actively pursuing a green agenda. If the message is activity then it should only be transmitted by activity, right?

  14. Joe O'Leary

    Sean O’Conaill, what on earth are you talking about? Of course I did not, and would not ever says, that tehre is not context in Ireland for Catholic Social Teaching. Quoting two words wildly out of context is highly irresponsible. What I wrote was:

    “Care for the earthly city is particularly the responsibility of the laity acting in the world. The “solutions” proposed by the church and enacted by a committed laity are not solutions coming from the outside; they are inherent in the social order itself. That is why I say that the church’s teaching falls flat if there is no context in the social order ready to receive it.

    “But there is in fact such a context. Leo XIII did not preach in a vacuum — his teachings resonate with the entire issue of labour and capital as developed in the 19th century. Pius XII’s positive words on democracy would make no sense without the entire debate about democracy since the 18th century.”

  15. Sean O'Conaill

    #14. Re-read your entire commentary, Joe. I had asked why Catholic Social Teaching has always been a closed book for Maynooth-trained Irish clergy. (That is, why they never advert to it homiletically, e.g. in the context of social deprivation, or set out to engage our interest in it in a faith development context either.)

    The entire burden of your response was to justify that closed book.

    If you are now saying that Catholic Social Teaching is indeed relevant to both the church and the social/political Irish crises, please say so clearly – as the ACP does appear to be fixated on its internal beef with the Irish hierarchy. That’s the focus of the article at the top of this page.

    To my knowledge there has never been an ACP outwardly focused statement on the role of the church (all of us) in meeting Francis challenge to address the deprivations of those most in need on this island. How then can the ACP justifiably question the readiness of others for his visit?

  16. Padraig McCarthy

    Lloyd Allan MacPherson @ 13: You write:
    “Between now and his arrival, I would recommend starting a parish initiative that entails installing solar panels around any vacant church property, reselling the power generated back to the energy companies and donating the proceeds to helping alleviate poverty.” Amen to that!

    Current reality in Ireland, I’m afraid, discourages that. From what you write, it seems Canada promotes it better. I have had solar panels (PV for electricity – not the ones for heating water) for three years. When I had it installed, I knew that it would not pay for itself, but I did it as a gesture towards reducing emissions. Only one electricity supply company operates a scheme for “micro-generation”: Electric Ireland. They pay 9 cent per kWh. They charge 15.13 cent per kWh.

    This week they sent me a letter, saying that “During 2017, we will be conducting a review of the micro-generation pilot scheme as it is currently not commercially viable.” Extraordinary!

    In 2008 the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City was covered with 2,400 photovoltaic panels, generating sufficient electricity to supply all the heating, cooling and lighting needs of the building throughout the year. The system was donated by SolarWorld, a German manufacturer, and valued at $1.5 million. It was officially placed into service on 26 November 2008, and was awarded the 2008 European Solar Prize in the category for “Solar architecture and urban development”.

    With relatively low hours of usage of most church buildings, if panels were installed wherever the roof is suitable, there should be surplus (surplice?!) power to reduce our emissions. But it would need a scheme into which it could feed.

    Could Taoiseach Francis whisper a word to Taoiseach Kenny?

  17. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Padraig,

    I spent the better part of last year fund-raising for the acquisition of a Gothic-inspired Stone Church here in Cape Breton – a century old building the Roman Catholic Church was going to demolish. With quarterly fund-raising and inspired locals who donated to this cause, we were able to amass $40k in support very easily without any corporate donors targeted the first year. This church is in such a state of disarray that sadly, our project will require several hundred thousand dollars to finalise but we’re thinking a portion of this cost will be directed to some sort of green initiative, albeit solar or geo-thermal based.

    I guess the point is, it will take a full 18 months to raise funds for this type of installation and with members of the ACP/PI/AUSCP doing as much side-line lobbying for better conditions provided by energy companies, I can assure you that in 2018, there will be better conditions to install community run small-scale energy systems in Ireland. Your electricity companies are on board. Divestment from fossil fuels is in their agenda too so they will be quickly making changes to current legislation to spur on community/individual size energy companies.

    When 1000 or so priests look at parishioners and tell them that they are starting a round of fundraising for a “green” installation at parishes with proceeds going to help the needy in places where climate change has impacted the most, a ripple is made from Laudato si. This ripple, starting in a place where this energy generation is not perhaps the best received, is a statement. The influence of this one act will create a wave, I promise. It is the missing ingredient to Laudato si.

    Start with a thousand priests in Ireland (perhaps the least likely of locations based on current power company guidelines but a perfect test location) and see where it leads the rest of the world. The AUSCP would be on this in a heartbeat because it is a good statement to stand against Trump’s picks for secretary of state and the head of the EPA.

    I’d sooner 1000 members of the ACP whisper in the ear of Taoiseach Kenny “You have 18 months…” than Pope Francis – Pope Francis did all that was required of him by publishing his gift to all of this. Have you ever wondered how this next step in human spiritual advancement takes place? Can it really be the care for our common home and how it relates to the treatment of the poor?

  18. Padraig McCarthy

    Seán O Conaill @ 15:
    “I had asked why Catholic Social Teaching has always been a closed book for Maynooth-trained Irish clergy. That is, why they never advert to it homiletically, e.g. in the context of social deprivation…”

    Never?
    Okay, I’m not Maynooth-trained. But I do frequently advert to Catholic Social teaching homiletically (without necessarily naming it as such), and I have heard others do the same.
    Most recently, for example, last Sunday when SVP had their Christmas collection.

  19. Sean O'Conaill

    #18 Never in my over five decades of attending to the content of homilies have I heard a celebrant even advert to the existence of Catholic Social Teaching, Padraig. That pattern has continued in the wake of e.g. Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si.

    The lamentable unattention to adult faith development in my environment in recent decades, and the very apparent clerical phobia of open dialogue, have deepened the baneful effect of this pattern. On the part of lay people of my acquaintance there is absolutely no expectation of intellectual vibrancy, topicality, or challenge when it comes to churchgoing. That is very certainly part of the reason that increasingly people don’t go.

    There are bound to be exceptions to this pattern, of course. But they don’t change the pattern.

    That’s why I am certain that Pope Francis will challenge all of us in 2018 – not just the hierarchy.

  20. Joe O'Leary

    “The entire burden of your response was to justify that closed book.”

    You must be reading me though a strange prism, since I have always been urging an open book on CST and liberation theology. I seem to recall quite a lot about CST in my days in Maynooth, particularly from visiting speakers like Bishop Peter Birch and Fr James McDyer of Glencolumbcille, both of them products of Maynooth.

  21. Sean O'Conaill

    #12 Thanks, Sean O’Brien, for defending the preference of so many visitors to this site, including clerical members of the ACP, for non-participation in discussion. I have absolutely no problem with that.

    What I deeply regret is what I see as a pattern of clerical non-participation in discussions that are surely of huge importance, over a period of years – but for a very few exceptions.

    You will see an earlier questioning of this by me at:

    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2014/02/atonement-why-do-irish-clergy-avoid-this-issue/

    To his credit, Joe O’Leary responded vigorously (Feb 2014). He was, however the only cleric to do so, as is so often the case.

    Moreover, Joe gave a most ominous final explanation for this clerical reticence: (#20)

    “Sean, the problem is the phobia of so many clergy about studying theology or preparing their sermons in a serious way.”

    I left that as the final comment in that discussion, wondering if any Ireland-based ACP member would ever choose to dispute Joe’s analysis. That never happened, and that discussion is now closed.

    Your own comments on that would be interesting. The state of the Irish health service is a serious cause for concern, but just how bad would things be if Irish doctors and surgeons had a phobia about studying medicine? And what could be the cause of this Irish clerical phobia towards theology, if it truly exists?

  22. Paddy Ferry

    “What I deeply regret is what I see as a pattern of clerical non-participation in discussions that are surely of huge importance, over a period of years – but for a very few exceptions.”

    I don’t think anybody can disagree with Sean on that. And, you always have to say, fair play to Joe who will always comment no matter what the topic, even infallibility !! And, there are others too, Brendan who never stops being courageous and prophetic, Seamus, Tony, Padraig and a few others but not many.
    However, I wonder have priests a bit of the syndrome that afflicts our bishops, beautifully described by Cyril North on another tread:
    “Francis or no Francis, bishops still spend their careers looking over their shoulders for fear of being out of step with the expectations of SOMEONE [God know who – maybe just a figment of their own imagination!] whom they assume is watching them, ready to pounce at the slightest deviation from the rules.”

    Virtually every priest I discuss “church” with, in Ireland or in Scotland,  would agree with the positions that most of us who contribute to this site would hold, being, for example, to a greater or lesser extent, browned off with the new translation of the liturgy. Yet, not a public word is uttered.
    I then have to ask myself, if I were a priest and depended on the church for my position in life and, most important of all, my livelihood, would I be courageous and prophetic. You know,I don’t think I would — certainly not in the vicious 35 years before Francis.
    Finally, I remember Angela Hanley’s wonderful quote from Martin Luther King —  what a great reflection that was — on what starts to happen to us when we stop speaking out on the things that are really important to us.

  23. Sean O'Conaill

    #20 Joe O’Leary – In response to my appeal for Irish clergy to promote Catholic Social teaching at:

    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2016/01/the-ballot-be-yours/

    You wrote (#5):

    “The pressing crises of our planet can be addressed only by strengthening democratic institutions and making them more effective. The 2 year media binge on the US presidential campaign is an expensive distraction from this. Church social teaching is lame if it has not a well functioning society to address. A deficiency in civics and the ethics of citizenship cannot be made up for by the church.”

    If I was incorrect in interpreting that as a ‘no’ to that appeal, and a claim that Ireland wasn’t/isn’t ready for CST, why so?

    Surely a commitment to CST has to be present if lay people (the church in the world) are to develop civic vision and democratically ethical behaviour?

    You seemed to be completely discounting the potential impact of insightful preaching on the restoration of a community – and to be placing your trust in the deus ex machina of an external secularist programme to make up any democratic deficiency in civics and ethics.

    If I misinterpreted you, surely I had cause?

  24. Joe O'Leary

    “A deficiency in civics and the ethics of citizenship cannot be made up for by the church.”

    Of course I was thinking of what has happened in the USA, whose politics I’ve been following for the last two years.

    Christian preaching could well become a futile voice in the wilderness — at best a martyr church — when civil virtues disappear.

    I know there are would-be liberation theologians who systematically demonize the State and think the church will fill the void, but they are very unwise.

    It seems to me that Ireland had a very healthy political culture in the mid-20th century, with active FF and FG groups in every village — after centuries of British rule we felt proudly that sovereignty resided in the people at last. I am unable to assess the (lay or clerical) church’s relationship to this culture.

  25. Sean O'Conaill

    #24 “Christian preaching could well become a futile voice in the wilderness — at best a martyr church — when civil virtues disappear.”

    Can you explain what you think it is that created civil virtues, antecedent to the Gospel, in Ireland?

    Are not civil virtues implicit in, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan? If as you say civil virtues existed in Ireland in the mid 20th century can it be supposed that this had nothing to do with the sixteen centuries of Christianity and Christian preaching that preceded that period?

    If that wasn’t their source, what was it?

    My historical sources tell me that nothing like the network of social support for the least fortunate existed in the Roman world before the rise of Christianity – and this was a key cause of the latter. Isn’t that attitude of care for the neighbour the necessary bedrock of civic virtue?

    I agree completely that the state should not be demonised by Christians, but surely also it is a mistake to dichotomise church and state – i.e. to argue as though these can ever be totally separated, either conceptually or in reality. As Christian lay people are also voting citizens in a modern state – and often do get elected to state office – churches (in the wider sense) and the state must necessarily inter-penetrate.

    Why you think that Christian preaching could not therefore directly influence civil society – and could in any circumstances be ‘futile’ – is a complete mystery to me. Should Christian missionaries to e.g. Africa and China have waited until some mysterious antecedent civilising force had made things ready for them?

    From what I read the same kind of social support networks that developed in ancient Rome are now growing in China – and the state, despite, its hostility to Christianity, is increasingly dependent upon such networks (e.g. to address the chronic problem of neglect of elders due to the one-child policy).

    I honestly cannot think of where I would start to develop civic virtue in Ireland today, if not with Gospel texts and values. It seems that you believe that civic virtue has some other source – so could you please tell us what you think that is?

  26. Joe O'Leary

    “Should Christian missionaries to e.g. Africa and China have waited until some mysterious antecedent civilising force had made things ready for them?”

    This touches on a very depressing topic, the role of missionaries in Africa — the barbarity of King Leopold’s Belgium in the Congo is only the best-known example of what the European powers were doing everywhere. Some missionaries spoke up, but the man who made the world wake up to “the horror” was our own Roger Casement. Sadly, I asked several Congo friends did they know his name, and none did…

  27. Sean O'Conaill

    #26 Thanks, Joe.

    As a diversionary response to #25, and in the absence of any other contribution here, that will serve very well as an explanation of my deep disappointment with the ACP.

    More than enough already. Christmas supervenes.

  28. Joe O'Leary

    “Can you explain what you think it is that created civil virtues, antecedent to the Gospel, in Ireland?”

    Well it can’t have been the Romans, since they never touched our sacred sod, but the Roman Republic, to whose ghost Cicero clung, was a repository of great values and virtues, and no one was considered virtuous who did not give his talents to building up the society. Augustinian pessimism prevails among the demonizers of the State that I referred to earlier, but Augustine had absorbed a lot of Roman ideals and a lot of Stoicism, an aspect of his thought that might profitably be highlighted.

    Do we know anything about preChristian values in Ireland. Certainly the awesome site of Newgrange makes one wonder if they were a great society.

    “If as you say civil virtues existed in Ireland in the mid 20th century can it be supposed that this had nothing to do with the sixteen centuries of Christianity and Christian preaching that preceded that period? If that wasn’t their source, what was it?”

    Well, the architects of the ideology of 1916 may have been more influenced by secular sources such as the French revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848 than by Pearse’s somewhat strange Catholicism. The idea that Irish civic virtue could only have a religious, Catholic source is very questionable.

    “I honestly cannot think of where I would start to develop civic virtue in Ireland today, if not with Gospel texts and values. It seems that you believe that civic virtue has some other source – so could you please tell us what you think that is?”

    There are relatively autonomous traditions of civic virtue that the Irish were poorly formed in because of the dominance of religion in their ethical thinking and teaching. The breakdown of Catholic authority when such a solid civic ethical culture is not in place is highly dangerous. Indeed morality itself has “some other source” than religious authority and the church itself insists that this is so. Were you not complaining earlier that Irish bishops were authoritarian and never told people to use their conscience? Conscience and natural law are universal ethical foundations, there are also universal political and civic values — is that not just basic common sense?

    I recommend St Thomas Aquinas, who had a good sense of these things, and fought against the integrism to which Augustine, taken in one sense, could give rise.


Scroll Up