Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weakness of Faith and the Irish Church Scandal

The Pope's meeting with the Irish bishops over the pedophilia scandal did not bring closure to the crisis.  Nor could it.  This is the long task for the Irish church as it is for the U.S.  From reports, the Pope pointed to a "weakening of faith" as the cause of this crisis.  This seemed abstract to many, even "shocking" to one victim advocate, as most are looking for more resignations and rules.  On the contrary, it is the incisive key not only to the past but to the future where the temptation to power lurks in so many forms.

Faith in Christ engenders the community where trust flowers as in the best of families.  Conversion as a life process is fostered in fellowship and with the sacraments.  Formalistic roles and rituals without the heart of faith resist the change that every human heart requires for healthy relationships.  John Waters, who has been following this crisis at, describes this loss of the practice of faith in recent decades:
Irish Catholicism had long since ceased to offer a coherent version of Christianity to the generations it had itself educated out of poverty and ignorance. Despite the fervent shows of devotion at the time of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979, the writing was already on the wall. Although now speaking to one of the best-educated populations in the world, the Irish Catholic Church was still pushing the same limited and simplistic moralism it had promoted in the dark days of post-Famine Ireland, an essentially fear- and rule- based religiosity that achieved no productive engagement with the freedoms that had become available to the generations born after the middle of the 20th century. The scandals of the 1990s and after, therefore, provided the perfect alibi for those generations to reject the Church and all it stood for, exposing Irish Catholicism to charges of rank hypocrisy and enabling many of the formerly faithful to dismiss certain inconvenient elements of the Church’s teaching.
The victim's work is a challenging one.  There is the human need for acknowledgment and for some form of justice, something admittedly in short supply in the real world and even where it should first be found, among believers.  This is owed to those the Church is responsible for in her ministries.  Then there is the need to practice forgiveness, for the good of oneself as well as another, which particularly given the seriousness of the offense can hardly be done without the help of the innocent One who offered himself for every last one of our sins.  This can be a very long process which demands our patience and prayers.

But as Waters points out further on, a scandal is always most convenient for all those who would project all evil outside themselves.
 There are, of course, elements of disingenuousness about these responses. Reports of sexual abuse by priests have been deeply shocking for many people, but few can say that they were unaware of the picture outlined in last year’s Ryan Report, concerning physical abuse and maltreatment of children in church-run institutions over many decades. But, far from relieving the Church’s situation, this has made things worse, because the society now seeks to find ready scapegoats for a cultural phenomenon in which many more people – judges, policemen, social workers, child protection officers – are implicated than are now willing to admit to their roles. For as long as the church remains the centre of attention, the other guilty parties will be able to avoid the wrath of a culture seeking to purge its guilt and shame by expressing as much outrage as is humanly feasible.
The forms of violence that we practice today are not so easily recognized and reviled, but we will be called to account for them later and may not be found innocent.  Speaking of children alone, with abortion as the obvious and catastrophic pinnacle:  we also accept the severing of families as normal; we hand our young people over to "safe sex" practices, short-cutting the maturing process they need for lifelong bonds; we push and stress out and over-medicate kids to produce an image of ourselves that we could never be.  Without faith, which admits that not we but Christ is the answer to our wobbling hearts, we will do all this and more.

Photo: Crucifix, La Mercè Basilica, Barcelona

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