Saturday 16 December 2017

Garry O'Sullivan: Vatican investigation may well change the Church as we know it

Standing in front of St Peter's Square for a photoshoot, Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Clifford did not want to answer questions about the terms of the coming Vatican investigation into them and their dioceses. "It will be a pastoral programme" they repeated when pushed by this journalist.

However, behind the Church-speak lay the truth of what happened between the four Archbishops and the Vatican -- this inquiry would not be limited to child abuse and the seminaries as the bishops wanted. Even the body language of the two men suggested that things hadn't gone their way.


After three long minutes, their media handler briskly moved them off.

It is amazing that a process which is apparently something positive for the Irish Church is treated in such a cloak and dagger fashion, with journalists resented rather than applauded for bringing the news to the Irish back home.

While a priests' organisation in Ireland wants to blame the Vatican, the truth is that the Vatican is pushing the Irish bishops and is not allowing this to be confined solely to child abuse.

As usual, the language used is carefully chosen and critical for understanding what is coming -- a pastoral programme means that there are a number of issues agreed which will be covered.

The language is code and we have a good idea what those areas are.

The Vatican believes that the culture that set into the Irish church in the 1960s onwards weakened the faith in Ireland and led to a loss of respect for the Church and its teachings. The investigators will want to look at this.

In Rome practices such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats are normal and were at one time in Ireland. How to restore these here will also be on the agenda.

The training of priests will get in-depth scrutiny and there is much nervousness among seminary directors on this.

It is a subject close to the Pope's heart; the thinking is that poor formation led to poor behaviour in priests.

This is likely to be at the top of the investigators' list and it is interesting to note that many of the current bishops in Ireland were at one time or another involved in the teaching in seminaries or their management.

Another issue of priority will be to bring real healing, as much as is possible to the victims of abuse.

The visitors will want to establish how their fellow bishops allowed such a catastrophe to happen?

Why were people not believed? What was the culture that allowed such neglect?

There has been much talk about Canon Law and many see it as an obstacle but the Vatican believe that the laws were there for action to have been taken against abusing priests -- but it wasn't.

The investigators will want to know why. Again, they will want to look at the governance of the bishops. Why were priests not trained sufficiently in Canon Law?

What was, and what is, clear to the Vatican is that a new vision is needed to inspire future generations of Catholics or else lose the next generation, even maybe lose Ireland as a Catholic country much the way the UK is 'lost' to secularism.


That new vision is not coming from the men who stood in front of the Vatican today.

The logical conclusion of the visitation seems even at this early stage apparent -- fewer bishops, more accountability.

An opportunity now presents itself to widen this whole issue from the area of child abuse to how we as lay people and clergy interact with the institutional Church. Those in power would like to keep the laity in a pray and obey mode.

Rather than boycotting mass, Irish catholics of all views and hues need to be seen and heard in the weeks and months ahead, it is time to put up or shut up on the Church in Ireland.

To borrow a phrase, we need change we can believe in and the time for that change may have arrived, finally, 40 years after Vatican II.

Garry O'Sullivan is Editor of The Irish Catholic

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