Monday, April 30, 2012

Vatican Goes after Irish Priests and Theologians: Jesus or the Church Again

I've had a bit to say in recent days about the Vatican mandate that American religious women be "reformed" (though, curiously, no such mandate has ever come down requiring reformation of the hierarchy itself, as it has hidden and protected priests raping minors).  The crackdown on the LCWR in the U.S. is not the only aggressive action Rome has taken in recent weeks to claim unilateral control of the Catholic conversation, however.

As Olivia Kelly reports in the Irish Times today, a silent vigil of lay Catholics, priests, and nuns took place yesterday at the papal nunciature in Dublin to protest the recent silencing of five priests in Ireland.  The graphic at the top of this posting is from Kelly's article, and is a picture of one of the protestors, a Dominican nun.

Michael Kelly reported last week in National Catholic Reporter about some of what has been going on in Ireland recently.  In particular, he focused on the recent Vatican silencing of Redemptorist priest Fr. Tony Flannery, who defended Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2011 when Kenny blamed the abuse crisis in the Catholic church on the "dysfunction," "disconnection," "elitism," and "narcissism" of the hierarchy.  

The Vatican also has in its sights the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, which Flannery helped found and to which 20 percent of Irish priests now belong.  The association is calling for reform in the Catholic church, as polls indicate that 

  • almost 90 percent of Irish Catholics think that divorced or separated Catholics in a stable second relationship ought to be able to receive Communion at Mass
  • 87 percent disagree with the requirement of obligatory celibacy for ordination 
  • 77 percent believe the church should ordain women 
  • and 61 percent disagree with the magisterial teaching that any sexual expression of love between members of a gay couple is immoral. 

After it was announced that Fr. Flannery had been silenced, word came down later in the week that the Vatican has silenced yet another Irish priest-theologian, Fr. Brian D'Arcy.  As Patsy McGarry reported last Friday in the Irish Times, predictably, Fr. Darcy has earned the ire of the men in Rome for publishing articles calling for open discussion of women's ordination, of why Catholics are leaving the Catholic church in droves, of why Catholic officials must take full responsibility for the mess the church has become due to the hiding and shifting about of priests abusing minors, and of homosexuality.

Hence yesterday's protest: as Olivia Kelly reports in the article to which I link first above, at the vigil, Brendan Butler of We Are Church Ireland, which helped to organize the event, handed out a statement that said,

[t]he treatment of these priests goes against the teachings of Jesus Christ and the church founded by Jesus. These are outstanding priests and people are outraged by the disrespect that has been shown to them.

And that statement brings us back to the discussion Andrew Sullivan has provoked by publishing his Newsweek article earlier this month calling on those who find the church an impediment to their discipleship to forget the church and follow Jesus.  Sullivan's proposal is resulting in, if not soul-searching, at least some mild discussion among American Catholics about how to address the massive bleeding of members from the American church in recent years.

Mild discussion like Fr. James Martin's plea right now at the America blog site to Catholics (and other Christians) to stick with the churches in this time of transition and turmoil.  To which at least one respondent, a devout Catholic, responds by ridiculing the notion that one might choose a church other than the Catholic church simply because the other church welcomes, affirms, nurtures, frees, and accepts--since the Catholic church tones up the constitution, this commenter implies, by demanding rigor and muscle of its adherents.  None of that welcoming, affirming, nurturing, freeing, and accepting stuff . . . . 

And that response makes me wonder all over again how so many of us have stepped so far from the example of Jesus himself and from the gospels, that we could imagine any definition of Christianity that doesn't center on loving--on welcoming, affirming, nurturing, freeing, and accepting--is defensible.  Is viable.  Is true to the core meaning of Christianity.

As Andrew Sullivan says in a posting today at his Daily Dish site responding to Dale Martin's book Sex and the Single Savior, if it's not about love, then it's not about Jesus or the gospels at all.  And zeroing in on love as the central mandate and norm by which the quality of Christian life is to be assessed requires us to move beyond doctrine to experience, as Sullivan further notes.

It's not enough for the men on top to hurl down one mandate after another shoring up pure doctrine, when their own lived demonstration of what that doctrine means is so often at gross odds with the very core of the gospels--with love.  With welcoming, affirming, nurturing, freeing, and accepting others.

The elephant in the living room that the mild appeals to Catholics to remain churched keep avoiding is the problem of how we Catholics continue to present the gospel in a lived and embodied--in a sacramental--way in the world.  As long as we keep doing this in a way that not only falls significantly short of the example of Jesus in the gospels, but that actively and rabidly contradicts the very core of that example, we won't staunch the bleeding of members from our church.

And we surely won't attract new members.  

Talking about these matters requires implicating ourselves in the conversation.  And it requires opening the conversation to everyone--and, in particular, to those we've shoved to the margins, have refused to welcome, nurture, affirm, free, and accept.  Those whose voices we least want to hear when we ask what's wrong with our church today, that is to say.  Those we imagine we can write out of the conversation with impunity when we posture as the objective, non-ideological center that stands above the fray and deplores the excesses of left and right, including, lamentably, the witness of those harmed by the powers we continue defending in the name of defending objective, non-ideological centrist truth.

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