13May Scottish perspectives on the ACP’s agenda

HE certainly doesn’t see himself as an apostate priest or a heretic, but Edinburgh’s Father Mike Fallon is taking a quietly strong stand against the power of the Vatican by asking for a debate on two of the most dearly held principles in the Catholic Church: the vow of celibacy and the ban on ordaining women.

“My fundamental disagreement would be that there is no discussion allowed on either of the issues,” says Fallon, whom some might see as being at the forefront of a simmering progressive rebellion againstRomewithin the priesthood. “Whether there is change or not is another matter, but there has to be debate.”

Fallon is not alone in his views. Last week Fallon attended an unprecedented meeting of more than 1000 priests and churchgoers inDublinto discuss the future of the Catholic Church. As revolutions go, it was a relatively sedate affair, but the gathering sent a spasm through the church after attendees called for debate on controversial topics such as married priests and the ordination of women.

The challenge to the Vatican’s authority by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland comes against a backdrop of disintegrating respect for the Church – particularly in Ireland– over child sex-abuse scandals. The issue of paedophile priests has been reignited by accusations that the head of Ireland’s Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, failed to act on abuse allegations when he was a priest in the 1970s.

This has arguably accelerated the calls for Church reform. Some priests who have spoken out on the issue have reportedly been “silenced” by theVaticanand banned from writing about such issues. Father Tony Flannery, an Irish founder member of ACP, was advised to go to a monastery to “pray and reflect” on his views.

Back in Edinburgh, Fallon believes there is support in Scotland for ACP’s call for debate on Church reforms, but few have spoken out about it. “I believe there is a latent support,” he says, “and it exists among people who are ‘thinking Catholics’ and people who keep themselves informed about Church affairs and who keep themselves aware of what exactly it is the Church teaches.”

For now, Fallon and his fellow travellers seem to be sticking to the centre ground. He says that while he is not for the ordination of women or the abandonment of the rule of celibacy, neither is he against them.

“The fact of the matter is I can’t make an informed choice until there has been debate – open and honest dialogue conducted in a spirit of true discernment,” he adds.

Fallon also attacked some Vaticanofficials for vesting themselves with “far more authority” than they are meant to have. He said the lack of “sound management” of abuse cases and the “imposition” of a new English translation of the Roman Missal – the prayer script used for Mass – indicated a “wilful pursuit of control and power”. He said: “My concern would be anyone who goes along with the diktats of a dysfunctional leadership is doing exactly what Cardinal Brady is being accused of having done – looking away and allowing injustice to flourish and evil to continue.

“That is not to say that I think all Vatican officials or bishops are wilful and pursuing unjust agendas, but there is an ecclesiastical culture that appears to lead people of good faith [to the point] where they come to believe that it is more important to be loyal than it is to have integrity.” According to a recent survey carried out by the ACP, 90% of Irish Catholics said they would support married priests. It also found 77% want women to be ordained, while over 60% disagreed with Church teaching that gay relationships were immoral.

The issue of reform has been brought into focus by the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which opened in October 1962 and aimed to reflect on the place of the Roman Catholic Church in the modern world. For some Vatican II – which took place a century after the First Vatican Council – promised real reform and liberalisation.

Werner Jeanrond, a Catholic theologian and professor of divinity at Glasgow University, said priests’ thinking had been increasingly coming into line with the majority of their congregations in the wake of the abuse scandals and other issues such as shortages and overworking of priests.

He added: “When I lived in Ireland, in the mid-1990s, we had the priests, the bishops and the Vaticanon one hand and the laity on the other. But this has changed. Now we have priests and laity on one hand and the bishops and the Vatican on the other. That shift I think is significant.

“We are living in a time of enormous change for the Church. I see this not as a sign of collapse, it is a sign of change and transformation and hope.”

Jeanrond said the Catholic Church inScotlandhad always been influenced by what happened inIrelandandEnglandandWales, despite being independent.

“It has not been known for any major doctrinal rebellions or anything like that,” he said. “But here too [in Scotland] we face a generational change. Most of the bishops have been or will be replaced in the next few years, including the Cardinal [Keith O’Brien, Archibishop of Edinburgh and leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland].

“If an increasingly well-informed Catholic laity inScotlandwants to participate more actively in the governance of the Church they will ask themselves why on Earth – when you look at church history in the last 150 years – the worldwide Catholic Church accepted an absolutist model, a model which is not necessary to the Gospel.

“You cannot ask someone to live in a democratic country – especially a country facing a democratic decision about its future – to then reduce them in terms of their faith, without their exercise of reason.”

PROFESSOR John Haldane, professor of philosophy at St Andrews University and a Vatican adviser, said the actions of the priests in Ireland was partly about the clergy wanting to instigate change. However, he argued there was also an element of trying to ingratiate their way back into Irish society.

“To be a Catholic clergyman inIreland now is hardly a high-status social position, so there is just a bit of self protection,” he said. “The second aspect is if you look at the generation of those priests, they are what would be called Vatican II priests. They believed somehow everything was going to change. I think that was a deep mistake as anyone who knows the history of the Church knows that it is a deeply conservative institution; it couldn’t be other than that, given its own understanding of itself.”

Haldane argued that the situation inIrelandcannot be directly translated toScotland, where Irish Catholics had historically faced discrimination and the Church inScotlandhad not become such a “discredited institution”.

He added: “One of the most interesting things about the Scottish Catholic Church is that there is almost no dissent within it. I think the Catholic Church inScotlandhas had to keep its head down a bit historically.”

Haldane said the Vatican viewed Ireland as a “basket case” and was more concerned about similar groups of priests in Europe in Austria and Germany, who have also challenged the church’s teachings on issues such as contraception and celibacy.

Valerie Stroud is co-ordinator of theUKbranch of the laity-led organisation We Are Church, which started in Austriain 1995 and aims to encourage discussion about reform of Catholicism. She claimed people were often frightened to speak out and their group was even barred from using Catholic Church premises as it was viewed as a threat.

“People don’t want to rock the boat too much,” she said. “If you say something out of turn and exception is taken, it is not just you who would suffer, it is quite possibly your family. Your children wouldn’t get into Catholic schools, and maybe if your daughter wanted to get married, little obstacles would be placed in the way.”

She added: “The only way things will change is by dialogue and, of course, dialogue is something which Vatican II talked a lot about, the bishops talk a lot about. Unfortunately, dialogue to them is ‘we will stand and tell you what to do’.”

The Catholic Church inScotland declined requests from the Sunday Herald to provide any comment on the ACP meeting in Irelandand how it could impact Scotland. Sources in the Church said the issue was viewed as specific to Ireland as a “foreign country” and not relevant toScotland.

Pat Brown, of Catholic Women’s Ordination, which campaigns for women priests and yesterday held a meeting to discuss “Whatever Happened to Vatican II”, is also concerned about the stifling of debate.

“The Church is moving backwards at the moment,” she said. “It is getting more dictatorial and not listening.”

‘We never claimed to be a democracy’

SISTER Roseann Reddy, co-founder of Glasgow-based order the Sisters of the Gospel of Life, believes reform is not necessary and issues such as falling priesthood numbers are more to do with modern culture than the rules or scandals of the Church.

She said: “In many other churches you can marry and have women ministers and all of that and their numbers are falling just as dramatically as ours.

“If you are a member of the Catholic Church we are not a democracy and we have never claimed to be a democracy.

“We are not unaware of the problems but there are a whole lot more good things going on within the Church and certainly I wouldn’t think the answer is married priests or woman priests. I think not having it but staying true to what we believe will encourage people to the Church.”

She added: “For those who are in the Church, we stay because we want to stay. For us it is good to continue having this discussion and I am always very open to discussion, but it is just the same old stuff over and over again.

“You know the Catholic Church doesn’t allow married priests, you know the Catholic Church doesn’t allow women priests: if you don’t like it leave the Church. But don’t assume that those of us who stay want change.”

Reddy said the issue of priestly celibacy was a discipline and as such could potentially alter, although she added she would not back such a change.

But she added: “Something like women priests will never change because of the nature of the Catholic priesthood, which is that Christ was a man. “We believe that when the priest is officiating at the sacraments he becomes in the person of Christ.”

‘we never claimed to be A democracy’

Lack of discussion is ‘bizarre’

MIKE Mineter is a Catholic in his 50s from Edinburgh, who set up a blog to encourage people to participate in a vigil of prayer for the future of the Church.

He is among those who grew up in the wake of Vatican II and is concerned the vision and openness it promised is being lost.

“We used to be encouraged to explore future possibilities,” he said.

“But now an imposed uniformity is replacing that diversity, and that seems to me to be causing stress that is bubbling under the surface.

“I was involved last month in bringing some people together. We held a vigil of prayer out of concern for the growing gulf between the institutional Roman Catholic Church and some of the people who are active in the Church and also leaving through being disillusioned.

“The idea that priests are told not to discuss the possibility of women priests or married priests seems to me bizarre, when we actually have married former Anglican priests, and I see such effective women ministers in the Church of Scotland.

“Yet this is not the deepest issue here – I think that concerns ‘What are we for as Church? What is our ministry to the world, and what should our priesthood look like in the future?’.

“That is to do with far more than sustaining the current class of the ordained, upon which the Vatican places so much focus.”

Lack of discussion is ‘bizarre’


16 Responses

  1. Christine Lynch

    The whole issue of women priests and married clergy boils down the the acceptance or non-acceptance of authority. If clergy, religious and laity find it impossible to obey the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church of Rome then they need to ask themselves some serious questions. An egalitarian church will not last very long (as Martin Luther found out in the 16th century) and HE found it necessary to found a teaching authority.

    My question is therefore: what ultimate authority will those who speak out against the official Magisterium be accountable to? If the Bible – then (as shown by our Protestant Brethren) this leads to so many diverse interpretations that there are now thousands of “Protestant” churches; if to our individual consciences – then isnt everything up for grabs? and everyone is free to do what their “conscience” allows. Everyone knows that this is a recipe for disaster.

    So, in my opinion, the Church in Rome is not perfect (and probably never will be) but the question is: what is the alternative?

    An obedience to official Doctrine leaves us all free to engage in our mission of helping and saving souls (at great personal cost sometimes, as I myself know).

  2. Frank

    “One of the most interesting things about the Scottish Catholic Church is that there is almost no dissent within it.”
    True enough. However as Irish catholics living in Scotland who have recently moved sideways to join the Episcopal (Anglican) Church my wife and I were surprised to find 3 other people from our area who had done the same thing…..

  3. mike o sullivan

    To bring the issue down to acceptance or otherwise of authority is far too simple, the issue is not obedience the issue is renewal, allowing the Spirit to move freely within the church so that All may be inspired, that all may be accepted that all may be welcome, surely such renewal built on honest and open dialouge can only be good for the church

  4. Mary

    In my opinion this is the answer – I do believe that there should be as much room in the Church for women as there is for men. I think that we need a new ministerial position created just for women – “ministers of The Word” in ref. to Mary Magdalene being “Apostle to the Apostles”. So just as the men are ministers of the Eucharist, women would be ministers of the word. I think that this would honor women in a way that would be pleasing to both God and man. Equally, the curia should be composed of both men and women – just the same as Mary was with the Apostles and prayed together waiting for the first Pentecost.

  5. Mike Mineter

    I was grateful that Judith took such effort in trying to present a really complex set of issues from a number of viewpoints. I would however like to correct just one detail.

    The vigil in Edinburgh continues – its not something that happened and is done. People pray each night at 6:15pm – some do so outside the RC Cathedral and others, unable to get there, pray where they are. See http://fortydaystopentecost.blogspot.co.uk/. This continues until Pentecost.

  6. Martin

    Mary, this business of jocking for positions was condemed by Our Blessed Lord. It’s not about us, or about the women; it’s about God and about what honours and glorifies Him. Not us.

  7. Christine Lynch

    In reply to Mike – unfortunately (or fortunately) it is very important to look at the future consequences of non-acceptance of authority. If people are to be allowed to use personal conscience to dictate actions then the scripture reference to “salt having lost its taste” will apply to the Catholic Church.

    The Catholic Church inspires great respect BECAUSE of its strong and authoritive teachings. The Church of England inspires little respect – it is constantly being “Renewed” and nothing in it stays static.

    Anyway, the present Catholic Church is already divided and positions are (I imagine) pretty entrenched on both sides. But as Jesus said to Saint Faustina, obedience is of most importance…. obedience, obedience obedience.

  8. Wendy Murphy

    In reply to Christine – ‘if people are to be allowed to use personal conscience to dictate actions’
    What on earth do you mean by this? Who allows me to use my personal conscience pray?
    Jesus (allegedly) ‘said’ ‘Obedience’ to Saint Faustina – Really? Where is this in the Gospels please?

  9. Kevin Walters

    Christine taken from your comment (But as Jesus said to Saint Faustina, obedience is of most importance…. obedience, obedience, obedience)
    God’s Word (Will) is inviolate and God’s church on earth must be obedient to it.
    These words have been given to God’s Church on earth and accepted.
    The Churches action affirms this.
    First apparition as recorded 22nd February 1931.
    As she knelt Our Lord Spoke.
    “Paint a picture according to the vision you see” and with the inscription: “Jesus I Trust in Thee”
    I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world.
    The first part of the vision is a Command from God directed at her and her only. Sister Kowalska to” paint a picture according to the vision you see.” Sister Kowalska. No one else can paint this picture. (No one else can see what she saw).
    A picture is now in God’s House on earth but it is not the picture commanded by God. It is an image made in man’s own image. Blasphemy, in God’s own house.
    It bears the inscription “Jesus I Trust in Thee” God’s word taken from the revelation to Sister Kowalska. Now confirmed as Saint Faustina .
    God’s word in God’s House is not open to debate His word is inviolate.
    From the very start her superiors had no Trust in her vision. If her superiors had been spiritual they would have accepted her attempt no matter how poor her picture might have been. But it did not fit their earthly concept of (beauty, goodness) so they portrayed God in their own image.
    Earthly hands violated Gods word to fit their own earthly vision of goodness their actions were blasphemous
    Her original attempt must become the picture on display.
    The official picture on display is made in man’s own image it relates to earthly beauty (goodness) it pertains to the senses and is blasphemous.
    The original picture to spiritual beauty (goodness) it pertains to humility.
    “The pure (humble) in heart shall see God.
    God’s Word is Inviolate our Christian faith is based on his WORD
    It cannot be misunderstood it cannot deviate from the truth. God is truth.

    In Christ

  10. Martin Harran

    “if you don’t like it leave the Church”.

    That seems to be more and more the attitude these days among those opposed to change, encouraged, no doubt, by Pope Benedict’s apparent view that we have to work towards some sort of a ‘leaner and fitter’ Church.

    That is the antithesis of the responsibility that Christ gave to St. Peter and his successors, their primary mission was to take Christ’s message into the wider world and draw as many sheep into the fold as possible.

    Acceptance of a smaller Church is a complete abandonment by the Vatican of the fundamental responsibility that Christ gave them.

  11. Mike Mineter

    Christine made some heartfelt comments. May I try to respond to one or two of those? Christine, if you could join us in the prayer vigil outside the Cathedral in Edinburgh you might find that those who pray there do not think that they know what the Church should become. Last night we were drenched, but not entrenched. Our views are varied, and rarely exchanged. The silence matters here.

    In the silent prayer we join many others who beg the Spirit to come and be with us all, somewhere far deeper than any words or the sources of current difficulties. We do also ask God to be with those silenced, and those doing the silencing; we ask for guidance for our leaders. This prayer vigil feels intensely in tune with this period from the Resurrection to Pentecost: we all want to live in the risen Lord, but we need the Spirit, so that we know what that means for us now.

    That being said and that being dominant, I am following twin tracks of prayer and also of an attempt to deepen my understanding of the facts and of my reactions (in englishmasstext.blogspot.com) and this has led me to protest. I feel that the new Mass text, the silencings and the calls to obedience from many Bishops (e.g. in demanding adoption of the new translation) tend to pull me towards the role of being a passive consumer of religion and away from what I feel to be vital.

    I suggest that it is the lives of Catholics that also generate respect – lives of love and of active response to God in the world. Yet it is for striving for this that people are being silenced and disciplined in Ireland and the US.

  12. Joe O'Leary

    In a future assembly of the Irish Church what topics should be on the agenda?

    I suggest that the first meeting should consciously exclude all of the following topics: women priests, celibacy, contraception, gay marriage, sexual ethics, the abuse scandal, abortion. These topics are bound to lead to sterile confrontation, and there is little chance that the stalemate can be broken. Instead, let a framework of constructive discussion be established, and then these topics can be taken up calmly. There is much confusion in the minds of people on both sides of these debates. People’s thinking is slowly developing and we must allow time for this process. We need to set aside for a better occasion issues that are likely to generate an ‘us against them’ ‘culture war’ scenario, a showdown among the usual notorious Catholic obsessions, rather than the image of the people of God advancing in wisdom together.

    What topics should be taken up instead? I suggest that the agenda of Vatican II is still more important than all of the above topics. (1) Vatican II was very concerned with bringing the faithful a richer understanding of Scripture, a more meaningful and creative liturgy, and better preaching. These remain crying needs of the Irish Church. (2) Another major concern of the Council was with the life and structure of the Church itself, the promotion of the laity, episcopal collegiality, redefining the roles of priests and religious. These are topics that everyone has an interest in broaching as we try to solve together the problems of a dysfunctional church. (3) The Council opened the Church to the world and its problems. Against the danger that recent crises and disputes will make the Church turn in on itself, we need to give prominence to the question of what good news we have to bring to the contemporary world, with reference to such pressing issues as the ecology and economic disparities.

    To tackle these questions a lot of study and spiritual reflection is needed and the web of consultation must be cast wide. Abstaining from the hot button issues will provide the space and freedom for this. Only if we know who we are as a Church can we address the delicate issues that divide opinion and about which it is so easy to become opinionated.

  13. Mary O Vallely

    There is much wisdom in what Joe says. There are indeed “hot button” topics which are so controversial and divisive that I do not think we are really ready to tackle them yet. Joe says that the Agenda of Vatican II is more important but is it more important than the vital issue of getting to understand the root causes of the abuse and the cover up and why it happened? I don’t think so. That would be my priority, I think. I honestly believe that learning to listen to each other and allowing some sort of safe place for people to express their very validly held emotions is a priority at present. Perhaps a temporary abstaining from the emotive issues like women’s ordination, ending of mandatory celibacy etc; might give people time to allow reason to reign for a while.
    I do see Joe’s point. Thinking all day of the prayer, “Lord, help me to accept the things I cannot change, give me courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” A tough one, eh? I look forward to a debate on Joe’s comments but I also understand that for some people one or two of the “hot button “issues are hugely important for their spiritual well-being. Come Holy Spirit into our hearts and enlighten us. How do we move forward?

  14. Kevin Walters

    Re. your quote:
    “I suggest that the agenda of Vatican II is still more important than all of the above topics’:
    I have to disagree. My post number 9. God’s Word (Will) is inviolate and God’s church on earth must be obedient to it.
    God’s Word is inviolate. If our theologians do not uphold this sacred belief the establish church will be lost.
    In Christ

  15. Mike Mineter

    I don’t know how we might move forward in any such meeting, be that in Ireland or where I am in Scotland. I’m unsure if avoiding the hot buttons will keep the temperature cool: those are symptoms not the key problems (I think!), and any discussion would tend towards key issues that seem to me to relate to:
    – how do we imagine God? (potentate; both immanent and transcendent;…), which affects:
    – how does that God engage with us, and we with God? (thru the Church only, or thru all that is?)
    – what did/does Christ do for us? How do we imagine Christ and the Spirit active today (in the Church alone and thru the sacraments?!)
    – what is scripture and how does it become the Word of God for us (not by literalist interpretations of verses out of context with the whole)
    – what do we think Church is? (from that comes the approach to liturgy, authority and teaching)
    – how much diversity is healthy in the Church? Far more than the intended monoculture we are being pushed towards…. Each of the above questions has multiple answers in our tradition. Only the more impoverishing of the answers is currently being heard through the institution, I contend!

    My concern is that all of these issues underpin the polarisation between those who are happy with the recent Vatican actions (Mass, silencing etc) and those who are not.

    So do we accept that we are in a confrontational protest? Is it enough just to pray, pray and pray again? Prayer without action, when it is possible, never feels right!

    Might initial meetings alternate periods of silent prayer and of sharing in response to a question such as, “In our faith journeys what do we feel to have been creative for us, and do we know why?” so we get away from the abstract statements and discussions, and so that different perspectives are explored from experience…
    Perhaps an outcome would be, for those there, further acceptance of diversity of approach and of the importance of experience. Might it be a basis for a next step that is unclear now? I don’t know. This is too narrow perhaps; I don’t know how to join this with Mary’s thoughts.

    I welcome the struggles in discussion that this site facilitates, and the existence of a group for whom such things deeply matter.

  16. mike o sullivan

    In response to Mike Mineter’s excellent piece, the kernel is as he said.. how much diversity is healthy in the church? At this point do we have a healthy, vibrant and functional church or do we have a church suffocating and slowly losing it’s very life? The other side of diversity is being inclusive and the other side of speaking is listening. Maybe it is time to listen and pray, maybe the time has come to speak about “hot button” issues in a calm and reflective manner, avoidance of dialouge in any relationship is never healthy.