22Jul Maybe it needs someone like the Taoiseach and words of the force that he used to get through to them


A PRIEST’S VIEW: PERSONALLY, I was happy with the Taoiseach’s statement on the Cloyne report. I presume not every member of our association was, but those who rang me about it were delighted.

Many of us priests are very frustrated with the way the Vatican conducts its business. To hear someone in the position of the Taoiseach speak so strongly, so eloquently, and with such dignity, in challenging the Vatican was good.

I know you could quibble with some of the points he made, and he could have acknowledged more fully all the progress that has been made towards better child protection systems in the Irish church. But the Vatican is a very entrenched institution, and it would appear increasingly to have an agenda of dismantling the progress of the Second Vatican Council, and returning to the authoritarianism of the Tridentine church.

Maybe it needs someone like the Taoiseach and words of the force that he used to get through to them. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Many reforms are needed in the church, and there is little or no discussion allowed at any level. It is clear that one of the big problems in Cloyne was the appointment of John Magee as bishop of the diocese. His appointment ignored the views of the priests (the lay people, of course, were not consulted at all), and he was put in there to suit some Vatican agenda that had nothing to do with the needs of the church in Co Cork.

When decisions like that are made it is not surprising that sometimes the consequences are serious. But there is no indication that the Vatican is learning, and beginning to rethink its method of episcopal appointments. Until it does, nothing very much will change in the Irish church, or I suspect, internationally.

We of the Association of Catholic Priests are almost a year in existence, and have over 500 members, but our efforts at having any worthwhile discussion or dialogue with the Irish bishops has been frustrated. They meet us, but ignore the points we bring up; we write to them and get a reply four months later that is patronising in the extreme. All of this is happening at a time when the church is going through the worst crisis at least since the Reformation. Unless all the different groups within the church in this country can come together and face our difficulties honestly and openly we will make no headway.

The recent developments raise serious questions about the proposed Eucharistic Congress next June. Would it be possible for the Irish bishops to make a decision that, in view of all that has occurred, this is not a suitable time for such an event, and inform Rome of their decision? Along with showing clearly that they realise the seriousness of the situation we are in, and the need for repentance for the wrong that was done, it would also show a degree of independence from Rome among the hierarchy.

This would be of great help in working out a better future for all of us. It would signal that they no longer need to look over their shoulder at Rome before they made decisions. If they cannot do that, and if the congress is to go ahead, it is crucial that there be no trace of triumphalism about it.

This will involve a very different style of celebration than the one that appears to be in planning. We cannot have any event dominated by a phalanx of mitre-wearing bishops surrounded by large groups of clergy. A gathering like that, even with the best will in the world, is going to look and sound triumphalist in the present climate in Ireland.

Whatever else you could say about the celebrations of the Eucharist in the early church, there was no trace of triumphalism in them. So, in this context, anything that can shake up the Vatican, and get them to begin to think in new and different ways is good. They cannot silence or remove a Taoiseach like they do theologians and bishops who speak out.

For those reasons I was glad to hear Enda Kenny say what he did, and in the way that he said it.


Fr Tony Flannery is on the administrative team of the Association of Catholic Priests

12 Responses

  1. Declan Foley

    G’day from OZ Fr Tony,

    How delightful to read your article and to read in The Sligo Champion of two priests in Sligo also issuing great truths on the issue of abuse.
    The tragedy is that these small number of people who (ab)used the Catholic church for their own devious practices have destroyed the faith of innumerable people. Worse is the attitude by some that all clergy are the same.
    What many fail to do is try to understand the history of some of these clerics: a number of whom entered the church because of family pressure. I know one former Marist Brother who said he had lost his religious vocation, but would not leave because he had taken a vow. A great man sadly fell to abusing some young students.
    There are people who can be celibate and there are others who cannot.
    In my own opinion the Catholic Church requires another Reformation.
    With every good wish to you and your colleagues on forming this association.
    Declan Foley (once of Sligo)

  2. Joseph O'Leary

    Diarmuid Martin has a measured response: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/homepage/nel-mondo/dettaglio-articolo/articolo/irlanda-ireland-pedofilia-pedophilia-6067/ (also reported by McGarry in todays Irish Times)

  3. Joseph O'Leary

    I am uneasy with Tony’s use of this issue to do a broad rehearsal of our usual complaints. I see Msgr O’Callaghan as to some extent a wily church player, but also to a large extent as a compassionate man; several of the cases he is said to have mishandled were very difficult ones, where you had to choose, like Portia, between the “pound of flesh” approach and the “quality of mercy”.

  4. Association of Catholic Priests

    I take your point about Denis O’Callaghan, and have no doubt his motives were the care of priests; and that in some cases the allegations were of a doubtful nature. And I am also in total agreement that the rights of priests needs to be protected in this time, and that is not an easy thing to do.(I am on record on that; and currently we have a team of senior legal people working with us, and dealing already with about five cases. And willing to do more as they come in) But the Monsignor’s methods of going about what he wished to achieve were very faulty. In this area, maybe more than any other, we need to be “wise as serpents”

  5. Gerard Flynn

    There is dysfunction in Rome’s behaviour towards local churches, the Irish church in particular now. That dysfunction is systemic. It’s most baleful effect is felt in the way bishops are appointed here. It is no longer appropriate that a group of 40 plus men should appoint church locally. The Church of Ireland has a model system. It’s time we introduced some form of local consensus to the process. The Killala clergy tried that almost ten years ago. Their action then was prophetic, even if it met with no success then.
    The Vatican’s behaviour towards Irish bishops and the Irish church, in relation to the sexual abuse crisis, is paralleled almost exactly in the case of the new interlinear translation of the Roman Missal. The Roman curia inverted the procedure agreed after the Second Vatican Council, whereby local bishops’ conferences were given the right and responsibility to produce vernacular translations, which were then to be approved of, or not, by the curia. Now, with the interlinear translation, it’s the Vatican who has produced this dreck – as it has been called, which was then presented to the Irish bishops for their approval. Having received their approval, the text was subsequently altered by, it has been calculated, more than 10,000 changes – changes which have not been approved by the Irish church.

  6. Gerard Flynn

    No one is arguing for a break with the Vatican. The question is one of a redefinition of the balance between a centralised system, which exists at the moment, and local churches claiming their rightful level of autonomy. And the issue which is most affected by this imbalance is the appointment (not election) of bishops. This is a debate which Joseph Ratzinger and Walter Kasper engaged in, on different sides, more than ten years ago.
    There is a need now, and an opportunity, to revisit that debate. It is the local bishops, not the Vatican curia, who are successors of the apostles.

  7. Ruth Miller

    I, for one, would welcome a break from the Vatican by the clergy in Ireland. Not, perhaps, with the aim of being forever separate, but there must come a time when the dedicated and the faithful stand up and say that they have had enough.

    If the Vatican is not willing to allow reform and if they are unwilling or unable to properly punish abusers within the Church, then, for me, the onus lies on the rest of the clergy here to clean their own house. And I believe that, in Ireland, there would be a lot of support for such a move.

  8. Rory Connor

    “I know you could quibble with some of the points he made …!!
    That is putting it rather mildly Fr Flannery.

    Enda Kenny said:
    “Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic … as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.”

    First a minor “quibble”. The phrase “as little as three years ago” is tripe. A Government spokesman later explained this did not refer to any specific event, but described the cumulative effect of the Vatican’s actions. As Kevin Myers commented “Quite so: what need of accuracy when the mob is abroad?”

    HOWEVER the main point is that Enda Kenny is denouncing the Vatican for not introducing Mandatory Reporting into its canon law which the Government itself declined to introduce it into civil law. Kevin Myers again – “To remind you: in February, 1998, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that mandatory reporting of child sex abuse would be introduced within the lifetime of that government. Yet here we are, thirteen and-a-half years later, and this has still not happened.”

    It was not a question of inefficiency or the State having other priorities either. During the second half of the 1990s there were debates in the Oireachtas and the media about the merits of Mandatory Reporting. The idea was supported by the ISPCC and Barnardos; these are advocacy groups that demand changes in the law and Constitution to protect children etc. It was opposed by organisations of social workers and care workers. These are the people who actually deal with troubled families and would be the ones required to report allegations to the police and then face enraged parents if the claims turned out to be false. (After all the family would still be troubled and now would have a GENUINE grievance against “interfering” social workers.)

    It was decided at the time NOT to introduce Mandatory Reporting, so for more than 10 years, State procedures were actually LESS rigorous than Church ones. The Government is now going to introduce this measure in a fit of anti-clerical hysteria – and at the same time is denouncing the Vatican because it objected to procedures that the Government had decided not to implement! This kind of lunacy will do nothing to benefit children. Neither will postponing the Eucharistic Congress Fr Flannery. It fact the latter measure will just reward and encourage the hysterics in our society.

  9. Joe O'Leary

    Although I thought the Eucharistic Congress was untimely and somewhat retrograde, I now agree with Rory that it must go ahead as planned and as a demonstration of the unchanging Catholic faith that has been the backbone of Irish experience since 461 AD. The abuse of young people in the 20th century is not a clerical issue only, but part of the entire society (the institutions in the Ryan Report were the products of the entire society); it is not a good reason for rejecting the Church and its blessings, or for trashing Irish history by demonizing all its religious referents.

  10. Joe O'Leary

    If the Germans can celebrate Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Hegel, Beethoven and Brahms, despite the horrors of Nazism, I do not see what Ireland and the Church cannot equally celebrate their glorious past despite the shadows of the child abuse scandal.

  11. Fr Gabriel Burke

    OMG for the second time in a week I find myself agreeing with Joe.

  12. Eddie Finnegan

    So long as that glorious past includes what another son of Cloyne, An tAthair Donnchadh Ó Floinn (Ceann Tuirc is Fearmuighe) celebrated in his ‘Integral Irish Tradition’ – not just the ersatz and imported past following 1795 & 1829, copperfastened by that Kildare Roman, Paul Cullen, from whom we’re still trying to recuperate.

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