O Ireland

O Ireland

The author is in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families. With all the troubles now roiling the Church, will the pope bring a strong message when he comes?

Ireland seems to have two kinds of weather. Either it’s raining, or it’s about to rain. At least that’s how it’s been the past week as the residual wind and water from Hurricane Ernesto made landfall in the West.

I’ve been hiking there – my annual summer strategem to come down to earth is to spend some strenuous days outdoors, as far away as possible from the news cycles and turmoil in the Church and the world. The skies held off enough that we got in a great long loop through the high rocky hills known as the Burren and a simple walk along the Cliffs of Moher. Today it will be the walking pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick.

Geologic time isn’t eternity, of course, but when you put yourself in vigorous contact with natural features that have taken hundreds of millions of years to form, it puts human things in different perspective.

A very good thing, too, because all this is prelude to the events that will take place later this week in Dublin and Knock. Events (plural), because in addition to the ill-timed and partly ill-conceived World Meeting of Familes (WMOF), there are also various “alternative” gatherings. I myself will give the concluding lecture at one of them in support of the traditional family (along with Cardinal Burke, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, Edward Pentin, and other friends). More about this, I hope, in special reports, later in the week.

The WMOF has been rocked, before it’s even begun. The new abuse revelations caused Cardinals O’Malley and Wuerl, scheduled speakers both, to withdraw. Over 10,000 people signed a petition calling for the disinvitation of Fr. James Martin, S.J., well-known advocate of “building bridges” to people with same-sex attractions and other disorders. That hasn’t happened. But the negative publicity probably caused the conference organizers to keep two LGBT groups from renting booths. The excuse: they didn’t know how much space would be available for exhibitors. Nothing to do with Catholic doctrine, of course.

A spokesman for one of the groups opined that Pope Francis wants to accept gays, but shadowy conservative forces in the Vatican are stopping him. That’s not at all clear. The pope has urged Italian bishops not to admit men even suspected of homosexual tendencies to the seminary. And has even wondered aloud how so many have entered the priesthood.

It’s true that Cardinal Kevin Farrell, a native of Ireland who as head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life was responsible for organizing the WMOF, gave a glowing endorsement to Martin’s book Building a Bridge, saying that it would “help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

But no. The Church is not theirs – or his, or mine. It’s Christ’s. He and a long tradition have left us pretty explicit instructions about this and many other matters.

Meanwhile, Irish gays and dissident women have been publicly lamenting that they don’t mutually support each other enough. Women have been organizing, though. On Saturday, the day Pope Francis arrives, Trinity College’s School of Religion will be hosting an independent event, “Voices Pope Francis Will Not Hear.” But it would be difficult for anyone these days not to have heard these “voices” since they are speaking on progressive subjects so familiar that they’re miles beyond banal: the Church’s marginalization of women, vilification of LGBT Catholics, contraception, abortion, the abuse crisis.

The program for the official WMOF doesn’t break much new ground either. Most of the topics seem to be the kinds of things people professionally involved in family work do on a regular basis. No harm in that, of course, and it’s always a good thing when even two or three are gathered in His name. But the Irish just voted, in large numbers, to give themselves the right to kill their own children in the womb. Yet so far as I can see, the word abortion does not appear in the title of any session.

None of this seems likely to make a difference to the global crisis of the family – and the global crisis of the Church at the moment.

Whether this WMOF is going to have an impact will largely depend on what Pope Francis says and does. His concluding homily at the previous (2015) World Meeting of Families, in Philadelphia, was startling. He turned the Gospel of the day – he who’s not against us is with us – into a rebuke of Catholics being too “narrow.” I was covering the event for EWTN and it didn’t quite leave me speechless – if only because you can’t be speechless live on air. But it was clear – we were in the midst of the two Synods on the Family – that he was trying to stretch things in the directions we’ve since seen him take.

There were 40,000 people from all over the world at that event and he did eventually speak, as is his wont, of little acts of kindness and affection within the family, and the larger realities of the covenant between man and woman. But the way he set the tone – introducing ambiguity and even criticism of strong ideas about family – colored everything else.

In a similar vein, someone in Ireland or Rome (or both) approved a WMOF banner that is set up in almost every Irish Church this week. It quotes Pope Francis: “How much better family life would be if we used the words . . . Please, Thank you, I’m sorry.” Good counsel, in its modest way.

But given the immense and undeniable storms striking the family – everything from legal and cultural norms that encourage easy divorce, the demographic collapse of virtually every developed nation owing to contraception and abortion, the deliberate blurring of male and female, the creeping validation of same-sex relationships within the Church Herself  (and the damage sex abuse has done to the Church’s credibility), Ireland – and the world – need a much stronger message.

I wonder what we will get?


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One comment on “O Ireland

  1. [Opposition from the “other” side]

    Secular Protests of the Papal Visit to Ireland

    JOHN P. MCCARTHY – 8/20/18

    The closer we get to the visit by Pope Francis to Ireland and specifically to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin the greater seems the criticism, then distrust, and outright hostility to the Church and even to the pope.

    No doubt, much of it is the accumulated effect of the dramatic loss of Faith by so large a portion of the Irish population, reflected by declining Church attendance, that contrasts with the enthusiastic reception given to Pope John Paul II on his visit in 1979. The loss is attributable to many things—economic prosperity, media atmosphere, and academic secularism (first on the university level but increasingly on all levels of education despite Church nominal management of most elementary schools).

    However, what especially ignited the decline, which was well under way, were various scandals connected with Church figures, ranging from bishops, through priests, and religious. These scandals ranged from personal sexual affairs, sexual abuse of young people and even children, cruelty in the treatment of children in schools and orphanages, to maltreatment of girls and young women who had become pregnant out of wedlock.

    Exposés of these appeared in the late 1980s, the 1990s, and into this century, and culminated in both Church managed and public inquiries. The guilty parties reflected an admittedly small portion of clergy and religious, and a large portion were historic—that is applying to decades before. That scarcely diminished the shame it brought to the Church and certainly provided a reinforcement for the increasing disinterest in religion on the part of many.

    Probably the most defining indication of the weakened position of the Church in Ireland were two constitutional referenda for which the electorate voted overwhelmingly in favor that approved questions quite contrary to Catholic moral positions. In 2015 approval was given to same-sex “marriage” and this year an existing constitutional amendment against abortion was repealed enabling the Irish legislature to enact laws allowing termination of pregnancy.

    It had been thought that the Papal visit might prompt a strong manifestation of a continued commitment to the Faith by great numbers of Irish, even among many who had voted affirmatively in the recent referenda. However, signs appeared very early this year that both the Meeting of Families and the Papal visit were to be subjected to controversy.

    A leading figure provoking this has been the former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who served from 1997 to 2011. Subsequently she did graduate study on Canon Law in Rome. Some commentators suggested she might be the first woman to be named as a cardinal by the seemingly liberal and innovative Pope Francis. However, she was not included as a participant in a Vatican conference marking international Women’s Day earlier this year, about which she complained without satisfaction.

    Some suspect McAleese’s exclusion was a consequence of her endorsement of the same sex referenda in Ireland in 2015. (She also supported the more recent measure facilitating abortion.) Besides championing modification of the Church position on homosexuality, she also advocated the ordination of women and has criticized the Church practice of infant Baptism, arguing it should be reserved until the age of reason.

    She also felt aggrieved that her request for a meeting with Pope Francis prior to his coming to Ireland was not acknowledged and more recently complained about a 2002 suggestion made to her by then papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, that the Church and the Irish government agree on the destruction of church documentation regarding clerical sexual abuse.

    She also shared the disquiet of LGBT groups that their form of family would not be included among those gathering at the forthcoming World Meeting of Families.

    Accordingly, she will not attend the meeting, nor go to any of the functions at which the pope will appear, and thinks the pope should replace his scheduled visit to the celebrated Marian Shrine at Knock, County Mayo, with a lengthier visit with victims of clerical sex abuse.

    Another critic of Pope Francis is Ian Elliot, who had been the chief executive of the Irish Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children from 2007 to 2013, which had provided a definitive statement on the extent of clerical abuse and with which the Irish hierarchy had cooperated. More recently he has found shortcomings in some episcopal cooperation with him, and has concluded that Pope Francis’s record on child protection “has been a dismal failure.”

    His work on clerical abuse in Latin America, Australia, and with the Church of England, have made him doubt “that bishops, the clerical hierarchies, are capable of exercising the sort of judgment that is needed in order to have confidence that the vulnerable will be protected.” His skepticism about bishops and hierarchies might be partly related to his own Presbyterian beliefs and might have helped prompt his conclusion, five years after he had led an inquiry in Ireland, that the problem was not being managed effectively anywhere by the church. The reason was deference to the hierarchy from within.

    He concluded “Canon law is badly in need of reform. It’s archaic, it’s ineffective. The whole canonical disciplinary system is ineffective and it needs to be scrapped. There needs to be mandatory reporting,” and “There needs to be independent scrutiny, independent monitoring. If it’s not going to be done by the state—a body has to be created.”

    Another critical commentator on the papal visit is Colm O’Gorman, the Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, who himself was a victim of clerical sexual abuse. His own first instinct was to be out of Ireland when the pope would come, because he would “find it particularly galling to be here.” He asserted that “no pope, including this pope, has ever acknowledged the simple proven fact that the Vatican orchestrated and facilitated the cover up of the rape and abuse of hundreds of thousands of children at global level.” As a protest he has promoted a gathering of victims of clerical abuse on the Garden of Remembrance in the heart of Dublin simultaneous with the Mass to be celebrated by the pope at Phoenix Park on Sunday, April 26.

    O’Gorman’s organization has been the recipient of a considerable amount of financial support from the George Soros organization, Open Society Foundations, and has supported the cause of same-sex “marriage” and abortion in Ireland. The prevailing international view of Amnesty International has been as an opponent of totalitarian regimes, genocide and war crimes, rather than combatting clerical abuse or advocating same-sex “marriage” and abortion.

    The closer it gets to the actual date of the papal visit, Irish radio and television seem to emphasize the transportation and logistical difficulties many, especially older people—the age category very likely to be attracted to the Papal Mass at Phoenix Park—will have. Naturally there has also been discussion of the public cost of the event, even though at least half is being born by the Irish Catholic Church and its special collections, and the public portion is comparable, if not less than that incurred upon the visits to Ireland by President Obama and Queen Elizabeth.

    The media and the establishment have been doing their best to dampen popular reception for the pope and they have been helped by the Church’s own failings. But, taking the view of an historian, the Church has endured its own scandals as well as external, often violent, assaults. The recovery of the institutional church has happened in the past, and Irish have often played a significant role in such. This may well happen again. What is ultimately most important is that the Faith will prevail.

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