The Apostolic Visitation to Ireland has started in earnest. Two nights ago a public meeting was held in Drogheda with the Visitator to the Armagh Province, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. I was not there, unable to go due to a previous engagement, but my friend Christopher was and he gives us a good summary of what happened on his blog Catholicus.
To be honest, when I heard of a public meeting, I was a little afraid because I know what those meetings can turn into and who will turn up, and reading Christopher's account it seems my fears would have been partially realised. I have no problem with meetings, there needs to be a forum where members of the Church can get together and talk with their pastors, but there is also the problem that these meetings can become dominated by the dissenting who feel the Church must change to suit their opinions and variant lifestyles, moral and immoral. And it seems there may have been a few of them there at the Drogheda meeting. I also notice the press was there to get a few salacious quotes for their, no doubt, already written, biased articles. I see from Christopher's report the usual media suspects were sent, neither known for their fondness for Christianity.
The meeting seems to confirm one thing: that those who are looking for reform in Ireland see the only option as being a secularisation, permissivisation and protestantisation of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The only way to prevent the recurrence of child sexual abuse is to allow priests to marry, ordain woman and shift the running of the Church over to the laity. Interestingly these matters have nothing to do with the child abuse crisis, nor would they prevent abuse from occuring.
First of all the vast majority of those abused, 95-97% , are abused by non-celibate men and women, most often family members. Going on the statistics if one is comitted to celibacy there is a less chance one will abuse than if not committed to it. So celibacy seems to be a safeguard against the temptation to abuse. It is is prejudice and pure ideology (and even hatred of priests) which will not allow certain people to see this basic statistical fact.
Secondly, with all due respect to all my women readers out there, being a woman is no safeguard against abuse: plenty of women abuse, and in institutions dealing with allegations of child abuse, women have been as guilty as men in covering up. Just last year a German Luthern woman bishop, Maria Jepsen, was forced to resign because she failed to deal with abuse allegations. She was the first woman bishop in Germany, ordained to great applause and made an icon for the campaign for women priests. Well, she wasn't such a great icon after all - she was no better than some of the Catholic bishops who are presently being reviled for their failures.
Finally, the laity running the Church. Would that stop abuse? No, I do not believe it would. Like anyone else, when people get a hold of power they mean to hold onto it at any price and I have seen that all too clearly among certain laity who have been given positions of authority in the Church. Not branding everyone with the same stick - there are many good, virtuous and competent lay people in Church positions doing great work and long may they remain. But I have also seen the opposite, of people who manipulated their way onto committees, who do not the share the Catholic faith (as even Pope Benedict has pointed out in his recent book), and these are as corrupt and power-hungry as any ambitious cleric, and just as capable as covering up to save their skins and privileges. Being a layperson is no guarantee of virtue or expertise, nor any special wisdom a cleric would not have, so we have to move from a naive belief that all goodness, wisdom and holiness resides in the lay state.
Even though those calling for reform reject it and ignore it, the last point made by Chrisopher is the solution to the problem: living our Christian calling properly. Vice has always been with us, and will always be with us, it is only the naive who think that a system can change fallen human nature. Original sin has been denied for years, our sinfulness has been swept under the carpet with peals of affirmation and nice, wooly talk, and now faced with concrete evidence of human sinfulness we do what atheistic philosophical materialism always does: change the structure, create a climate of suspicion, dehumanise human relationships and inaugurate Big Brother policy and that will solve the problem. That is just naive. Do we need safeguards? Of course we do. Do we need to know those who are in a position of trust? Of course we do. But if we are relying entirely on that we are not going to get to the core of the problem because sinners will always find a way around the moral law and will always have an excuse to justify it. That is the weakness of the effects of Original sin. Coming the heavy with an inhuman system will cause more problems that it will solve if we are placing all our trust in it, and as Christopher has pointed out, we are starting to see some of those problems already.
Real reform in the Church will not happen when Catholic Ireland is "cut free from the shackles" of Rome and embraces the culture of dissent, it will only happen when we take the Gospel seriously and struggle to live it; when we obey the commandments, when priests are faithful to their vows and the doctrines of the Church; when our religious are back in community, in their habits, praying together and serving the Church humbly. When the laity realise that they are called to be saints and strive for personal holiness, safeguarding their families, playing an active role in their local parish and community, and participating in prayer and apostolic activities to help build up the Church. When they support their bishop and local clergy and not get narked because the local priest would not allow them run riot through the liturgy as if it was their personal fiefdom. When those members of our parish who are public representatives realise that they cannot divorce their professed faith from their public service and instead of becoming instruments to attack the Church and her moral teachings, instead become people who remind the secular state that the Church does have some interesting teachings that can actually help the state and the citizens build up community, serve the common good and respect the inherent dignity of every human being.
So the reform of the Church in Ireland is not as simple as putting a system in place and sticking to it, it is not about forcing bishops to resign or even appointing competent, orthodox ones, it is not about transparency: it is all of these and more - it is about Catholics in Ireland (clergy, religious and laity) waking up to the fact that they are Catholics, and that this is a way of life and not a cultural label used to get privileges when they want them. Being Catholic means we must live the Gospel faithfully in union with Peter and strive for real holiness even if it means renouncing the comforts and conveniences we have enjoyed for years. In Ireland we have alot of soul searching to do.
The soon to be Blessed Pope John Paul II said it all in his life's work and writings: the ordinary means of Christian living is that of heroic virtue, anything less than that is not wholly Christian, through if we are striving we are on the way. When we stop striving, then we go backwards, and as Pope Benedict pointed out in his letter to the Irish, that is what happened in Ireland. Not only did we take the eye off the ball, we went backwards, and given the nature of human weakness, sin and temptation, when you go backwards there is always the danger that some will wallow in land of evil and degeneracy.