Yes apparently it’s time to bin the Church. This sentiment was expressed just the other day. What surprised a lot of people was that this idea was expressed in the National Parliament, Dáil Éireann, by not only one of our publicly elected representatives, but one of our very own local representatives here in Ballyfermot. I must say I was further surprised by the source of this comment, not that I thought we would agree on everything, but I thought with a lot of the new TDs there was a great commitment to justice and general fairness. I would not have expected such a sweeping and indiscriminate statement. I was disappointed. That said I was more than disappointed because I think such statements are more serious that just being irksome, especially when the responsibility that goes with leadership lends weight to the statement itself. With this in mind, and the fact that it has caused much hurt to the faith community in St. Matthew’s, Ballyfermot, not to mention the potential damage to the Church, I have decided to address the issue here in the ‘rumblings’. I presume the reader can trust that I only do so after appropriate prayer and reflection. I mention this in the hope that I both undertake, and execute this task with both prudence and charity. I have no desire to stoke a fire, in fact its the opposite I would hope to make a small contribution to peace and understanding.
If I may I am going to start with the ‘understanding’ piece first. In my considerable experience of conflict, both causing and resolving it, there is usually, in the middle of the mess, something to do with understanding. Not, I might add, so much misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is a different thing, and usually happens in the middle of or at least after some mutual exchange. The wrong words are used, people can be sloppy about words, or sometimes we hear what we expected to hear, rather than what the person actually said. In the middle of it all we often do not actually here the words being used, because we are putting a lot of energy into our intended defence, or even preparing to attack. Of course when we add in ingredients such as hurt and the ensuing anger we greatly diminish the possibility of the meeting of minds that would lead to personal growth. In fairness I cannot comment on whether hurt was an active ingredient in what was said the other day in Leinster House, but I am confident that anger was a key component. Now I do not subscribe to the notion that anger is always wrong. There is a thing called the anger of the just, it is the righteous anger of the oppressed. I have no difficulty with anger expressed towards God, he can handle that, and of course is in no way diminished by it. Have I a problem with anger towards the Church? Certainly not, in general much of it is deserved, and we bring on ourselves, and personally I have a good bit of myself.
So perhaps the words spoken in the Dail the other day fell into the category of righteous anger? Yes I think there could be a good part of that. I am sure there was an anger about abuse of power, cover up, the treatment of women and hypocrisy and you know we as Church can put our hands up on this. We have hurt. We are responsible. Yet with all this I still have a problem with what was said. You see what brought it out of the category of the anger of the just was that it lacked proportionality, it was indiscriminate and it caused the very thing it purported to attack, namely damage to the vulnerable. So what may well have started as justifiable rage ended in hurtful, abusive invective. Many of those most hurt by this tirade were women, some elderly, more of them vulnerable. In the brokenness of their lives, their God and their Church is their shelter, their solace, their rest. When we approach this area we need slippers on, not hobnailed boots – nor stilettos! Sometimes I criticise Church leadership for lacking an essential ingredient, namely the prophetic. I heard people say the words spoken in the Dail last week were intolerant and populist, which may well be, for me it was a case once again of the key ingredient being missing. The ingredient, often, not always, but too often missing from public life is called honour.
The enemy of good leadership in the Church is clericalism. The enemy of good leadership in the State is careerism. Honour leads to service, honour parks popularity and self interest and playing to the gallery. Leadership with honour inspires people to be their best. It does not incite. Honourable leadership is fair and just to all, even, perhaps especially those we do not like. So are we going to the bin? For all the women and men whose faith is important to them, no we are not. For all the lives of dedicated selfless gospel service, no we are not going to the bin. We remain dedicated to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and so no, no bin, not anytime soon! Any chance of an apology? Perhaps not, but let’s be clear, the contribution in the Dail lacked any shred of honour.