Archive for December 5th, 2009

Who Needs Bishops?

The Catholic church is in disgrace.
We do not know how many priests have molested children but we know that hundreds did. The old argument put up in defence of the church, that a child was in no greater danger from a priest than from any other type of person, is now invalidated. Children were in danger at the altar rails, in the sacristy and in schools.
Still, it is likely that more priests – many more – did not offend than did.
There is no excuse for some of the craven whinging from priests who tell us that they suffer now for sins they did not commit, drawn low in general esteem by the behaviour of others.
That behaviour suggests that they want to cash in on what victimhood is going and preserve the old relationship with the people and their children. They just don’t grasp the fact that it is the whole church that is tainted.
For, if there are many innocent priests, there are not so many innocent bishops.
Aside from Bishop Diarmuid Martin’s heroic breach with the institutional secrecy of the church, which made the Murphy report possible, there may not be a single other bishop above suspicion of criminal cover up and collusion.
We have now had two diocesan reports, in Ferns and in Dublin. The pattern of abuse and secrecy is the same in both. It may be presumed that the same pattern covers the whole island, and perhaps the whole Catholic world.
So, this is about a collapse of moral authority.
For many ordinary Catholics it must feel a bit like the fall of communism did in Russia. Archbishop Martin’s contribution was Glasnost, candour. It was timely and it was called for, but nothing that follows from it is reversible.
This is at least like the moment when Kruschev disclosed the sins of Stalin to a shocked populace, and made them nervous about how to reconcile their conditioned reverence for the Great Leader with the newly comprehended reality.
The question facing Ireland now is, who needs bishops?
The management of child abuse by the Vatican and the refusal to co operate with the Murphy commission, remind us that Rome is a foreign state exercising power in other countries. Indeed, the excuse for not co operating was precisely that it would only accept communications on a diplomatic, state to state basis.
It sees the relationship with Ireland as political.
There is only, however, a theological basis for an arrangement whereby appointed emissaries of Rome should excercise power in Ireland, govern schools and hospitals and direct the expenditure of government money. That basis is that the Catholic hierarchy is legitimate legatee of Christ’s apostles, dispensing divine authority.
If people don’t believe that, why would they concede any authority to a bishop?
The irony is that ireland has been preoccupied in the last century with the fear that it was being treated like a colony by Britain while Rome had its unanswerable consuls and footsoldiers in every parish and school.
And they took their orders from the top, even orders to contravene state law, as when in 2001 the Pope demanded that all complaints against priests be first referred to him, and that even this order should be kept secret.
Bishops are an unecessary stratum of authority. That they be removed is all the more urgent given that they have abused that authroity and conspired against the people. But who is to remove them?
The Taoiseach says that the sacking of bishops is for the church to decide on, even though his government shovels money towards the church for the administration of services which are government responsibility.
The Catholics of Ireland wouldn’t know how to ditch their bishops, even after they have lost all respect for them.
The priests have pledged obedience to the bishops, and when they have been at odds with them, they have cowered docilely away. This happened when the Conference of Priests of Ireland disbanded,two years ago, demoralised by a sense that the bishops were paying no attention to them.
And anyway, the dispute there was that the priests were angry about the main measure the bishops had put in place to assert their concern for abused children. They had ruled that any priest accused of abuse would be immediately suspended. Priests, who depend on the church for a roof over their heads, wanted this rule reversed.
Anyway, usurp the bishops and Ireland becomes protestant.
But the rapid fall off in the numbers of priests will change the character of Catholic Ireland soon, and shift the centre of influence to the laity. Some then will see the Bishops as the enduring link to a global church; some others may see them as a superfluous burden.
The behaviour of Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick, cited in the Murphy report for ‘inexcusable’ handling of a paedophile priest during his time as an auxiliary bishop in Dublin, is an illustration of how reluctantly these men are slouching towards full realisation of their responsibility and shows us what pathetic moral champions they make.
Bishop Willie Walsh has been defending Murray on the grounds that somone who had read the report had explained to him that Murray’s offence was slight. Walsh conceded he had not read the report himself.
So his immediate instinct in the face of a moral challenge was to close ranks and patronise the rest of us. It was ok for him not to have read the report but the rest of us should lay off poor Donal Murray until we had.
In no other walk of life would such disemblers and bumblers be deferred to as figures of authority, and what Ireland is contemplating now is the possibility that those who covered up for paedophiles, on secret instructions from their master in Rome, should continue to wield power, run services, administer schools and hospitals and appoint the clergy and exact total obedience from those clergy.
This would be an almost inconceivably inappropriate and unjust outcome from the disclosures that they conducted themselves like a criminal mafia against the people from whom they exacted reverence.
But who will step forward and take responsibility and power away from these disgraced men?

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