Catholica Editor, Brian Coyne, has been noticing a new assertiveness on the part of mainstream priests to speak out about the crisis institutional Catholicism is in today. In this commentary he directs your attention to a number of places where this new, more assertive voice might be found. Will it be enough to save the institution from sinking below the waves under the assault perpetrated on it by this small remnant minority who seem capable of only dealing with their insecurities in one way — a craving need for certitude and authority figures?
Have the mainstream priests of the world begun to find their voices again?
The great silent majority of priests seem to be finding a new, more confident and increasingly public voice. The recent editions of The Swag, the journal of the National Council of Priests of Australia, are increasingly meaty carrying articles that not too long ago would have probably only been found in the pages of Catholica or some of the other independent Catholic media around the world. The Tablet this week carries an address given to the first Annual General Meeting of the newly formed Irish Associaton of Priests which challenges the raw deal many priests feel they have been dealt in that country in recent times. We hardly need mention the "rebellion" that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has been trying to tame amongst his priests in Austria.
The myriad of "we are so faithful to the magisterium" websites around the world seem to be going into some sort of meltdown over some of the developments. Benedict seems to be heading the right way to splitting the Catholic Church like it has never been split in its history before. In fact in the latest edition of The Swag, Peter Keightley, asks just that question: Is there a schism in the Church today?
Is it not reasonable to claim that the reigns of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have seen the church led into its greatest schism since the Reformation? On what basis can such a claim be made?
Peter, who is a lay member of the Mt Martha parish in Victoria, then goes on:
In contrast, the voice of the conservative minority who deem themselves "true catholics" seems, not only to be heard, but to have open access to the highest levels in the Vatican — no doubt this access comes through some of our local hierarchy.
I can only recommend to all readers of Catholica to read Peter Keightley's article in full and also at least peruse the latest edition of The Swag and see for yourself the growing confidence that our mainstream priests seem to be developing to counter the strident voices of the tiny minority who have literally been drowning Catholicism for decades in their own hangups and personal insecurities. That the priests of Australia have chosen to feature a provocative article by an articulate lay person like Peter Keightley in their journal is an indicator that something is happening — a tide seems to be turning.
Of particular note in the Spring 2011 Edition of The Swag is Bishop Geoffrey's Robinson's homily delivered at St Mary's Cathedral recently in tribute to the late Fr Chris Sheehy, and Good Samaritan Sister Patty Kawkner's article, "Towards an Adult Church". Let me quote just one paragraph from Sr Patty:
I recall that the Church came to birth amidst the unfolding tensions between, paradoxically, the conservative Peter and the liberal, boundary-pushing Paul. Without a liberal component, life petrifies; without a conservative component, the centre doesn’t hold. We need both preservation and transformation.
Fr Kevin Hegarty's address to the Irish priests...
In this week's Tablet there is also a copy of the lengthy keynote address given by Fr Kevin Hegarty on 4 October 2011 in Dublin at the first annual general meeting of Ireland's Association of Catholic Priests. Let me just quote four paragraphs to whet your appetite to read the full address:
There is torpidity about the Catholic Church in Ireland today. Take the preparations for the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress. Whatever else can be said about the Dublin Congress of 1932, and much can be said, it was a festive fusion of triumphant Catholicism and Irish nationalism that engaged hearts and minds. Now earnest emissaries from the Congress office are travelling throughout the countryside valiantly trying to drum up some enthusiasm. I am reminded of the observation made of Willie Whitelaw, when he was making a tour of constituencies as deputy leader of the Tory Party that he was going around "stirring up apathy". Or the exhortation of a now deceased Bishop of Meath, who in advance of the canonisation of Oliver Plunkett in 1975 asked the prosaic priests of his diocese "to horse up some piety" for the event.
While this new development seems most heartening I am not confident that it will be enough. What I believe is most needed is firm leadership from the very top of the institution that instead of constantly trying to appease the insecurities of the small remnant elements in both the priesthood and the lay church starts to lay down the law a bit and show them where the line in the sand is drawn beyond which they dare not spill their inescurities and paranoia. The trouble is the top leadership of the institution has been decimated in recent decades by the promotion of this curious alliance of bullies, politicians and mummy's boys who don't seem to know which way is "up" in the world. There is simply nobody left at the top capable of standing up to the bullies or the mummy's boys in the lower ranks of the church. Perhaps the new-found confidence that mainstream priests are exhibiting to "speak out" — as Dr Hans Küng urged them, and bishops, to do from his interview played at the recent American Catholic Council — might offer some late reprieve for the institution before the remnant element succeed in sinking the institutional church completely below the waves?
Brian Coyne, 14 October 2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?