Today's commentary came as an attachment to a disturbing email we received a week or so ago from an Irish priest who has worked in Papua New Guinea for 30 years. Now in his late 70s Fr John Glynn has had a tough row to hoe judging from what he reveals in his story. In the Catholic Forum we have posted the covering email [LINK] from Fr Glynn which provides further context to what you will read in this commentary.
The experience of an Irish priest in Papua New Guinea...
Early in 2010 I received a letter from the Papal Nuncio. It was a formal letter, sent out to many priests around Papua New Guinea seeking opinions on proposed candidates to become Bishop in one of our country's vacant dioceses. I was asked to make my comments and return the entire contents of the envelope to the Nuncio. I wrote a note to His Eminence telling him that I was possibly the priest least qualified in the country to comment on who should, or should not, be a Bishop. To support my contention, and to give him a little information on exactly who I am, I returned all he had sent me and enclosed the following article which I wrote especially for him. I have brought the article up-to-date a little, but have not deleted anything, or altered it in any significant way. It gives a mere outline of my thirty years of priestly experience.
Our Poor Bleeding Church
My name is John Glynn. I am Irish; I am a priest; I am 75. I have lived in Papua New Guinea since 1963 when I arrived here to be a Primary School teacher with the Australian Administration of the Territory, as it then was. This country achieved its independence from Australia in 1975 and I went to study for the priesthood in Sydney. I was ordained for the Diocese of Kavieng in Papua New Guinea in 1980 and later became a naturalised citizen. I have never considered myself to be a missionary. I am a Papua New Guinea citizen and a diocesan priest.
The missionary Bishop who accepted me for his diocese died at the time of my ordination. The Missionary priests of the diocese never accepted me, and told me repeatedly that they could not do so because 'you are not one of us'. My experiences as a parish priest in some very remote areas was quite simply glorious; the adventures were endless, and my acceptance by the people I ministered to was wholehearted, joyous and unrestrained, which is why I eventually became a citizen. My experiences with the missionary priests and my Bishop were always strained and sometimes extremely unpleasant.
In 1997 I spent six months on a spiritual renewal course at Hawkestone Hall in Britain. Half way through the course I received a letter from my Bishop telling me that he did not want me to return, and that I would not be accepted if I did. I returned, was advised by letter that I was now retired, and was forbidden to exercise my faculties in any way without my Bishop's express approval. This applied even to concelebrating Mass. I was denied any appeal, any explanation, any discussion. All appeals for an explanation, or for help, support, advice, intervention of any kind were ignored or refused by senior priests, Bishops, Canon Lawyers, and two successive Papal Nuncios for the next two years. I lived in enforced laicisation on a friend's coconut plantation during that time. On Sundays I attended a village service conducted by the village Catechist and received Holy Communion from his hands along with everyone else. Our Parish Priest was the Vicar General who would not speak to me - 'you are not one of us.'
Finally I wrote to Bishop Willie Walsh, of the Diocese of Killaloe in Ireland -he is now retired -who invited me by return of post to come and stay with him in Ennis. For eight months in 2000 I was a protégé of Bishop Willie, for some time taking care of Kilanena Parish and then assisting in Toomyvara. Bishop Willie exchanged three letters with my Bishop in Papua New Guinea, and then in a state of bemusement asked me what I had done, and why did my Bishop hate me so much. These were questions I could not answer then, and still cannot today.
I returned to Papua New Guinea to take up a teaching post -very well paid -at a private school in the capital, Port Moresby. I realised that, with the scandals rocking the Church in every country, there was no way I could explain my pariah status in the Church to anyone in another country, but here my life has been an open book for almost 47 years now. The legions of my former students, parishioners, colleagues and friends in Papua New Guinea know me better than I know myself, so where else could I live?
The Archbishop of Port Moresby — since retired — accepted me, granted me my full faculties and allowed me to assist in Parishes. He sought an explanation for my treatment by my Bishop, but got nowhere with his queries. I spent only a year at the private school and then took up a post as Chaplain and Counsellor at Jubilee Catholic Secondary School in 2002. I still occupy this position today.
I have rebuilt my life. I have a responsible position at school; I assist in our local parish; I am a Board Member of the PNG Chapter of Transparency International; I am a member of our Independent Media Standards Committee -a sort of Ombudsman Committee for the national media; I am a Board Member of the Digicel Foundation; I am founder of a national youth movement, the Youth Against Corruption Association (YACA); I am founder, and now Patron, of the Foundation for Women and Children at Risk (WeCARe!) which provides support for Care Groups in the city settlements that look after 500 orphaned and vulnerable children, and we pay school fees for over 300 of them; I am invited to speak at University forums, to address professional bodies, to speak at school graduations and other ceremonies; I have a one hour programme on our Catholic Radio Station once a week; I have received an award from Rotary and another from the State. I am rejected by the Church.
The Church is not involved, and does not support any of the work I do, although the present Archbishop is very happy for me to continue in his diocese as a sort of 'priest in private practice'. He once asked me to write a formal letter explaining that none of the work I do in the settlements amongst the poor is endorsed by, or in any way the work of the Archdiocese. I refused, and continue in the hope that he will one day ask one of his priests to join our Board, as the Anglican Bishop has. He has rejected my appeal to be accepted as a priest of the diocese. He has answered my request to be incardinated by saying that it cannot be done because I am 'too old', and might become a financial burden.
My school provides me with a stipend and free accommodation. I do not receive any support from the Church, have no pension, no health insurance, receive no Mass stipends. Nevertheless the support I receive from friends is considerable, and I lack for nothing. I really have a very good life. Although I have recently undergone medical treatment — including surgery — in Ireland and suffer from slowly failing eyesight and a touch of arthritis I am in very good health and should be able to trundle along for a few more years.
I am resigned to knowing that I will go to my grave never having discovered what it is about me that makes me so unacceptable to Church authorities — what were the reasons for my rejection by my Bishop — why the Church has never been able to answer my appeals for justice (nine Canon Lawyers in Ireland, England, Wales, Australia and Papua New Guinea, all were unable to help me!) — why, in all these years of begging for help, I have never been offered consultation, or counselling, or received any expressions of concern for either my spiritual or my material well-being, with the glorious exception of Bishop Willie's support.
I have felt encouraged to write this by the reactions of Catholics in Ireland following the release of the Ryan and Murphy reports by the Irish Government. I am encouraged by the evident realisation by most people that the morally, spiritually, psychologically deranged clergy and religious who carried out so many acts of despicable and evil abuse against children for so long were in fact allowed to do so, and were indirectly encouraged in their evil, by the feudal, hierarchical system of governance that has held the Catholic Church prisoner for centuries, and that is in the process of destroying the Church. The Bishops themselves are the victims of this archaic and anti-democratic system of governance. It is time for the Church to accept the principles of democracy and to accept the separation of powers within its structure. As I have discovered for myself — as the victims of abuse have long experienced — Canon Law exists to protect the power structure of the Church. It does not provide any measure of justice for those of us with a grievance.
All of us, and especially our Bishops, need to be protected from the morally corrosive effects of an imposed feudal system of governance in the age of democracy. It wont work any more. May God help our poor bleeding Church!
Fr. John M. Glynn OL
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 update...
Of course, until now this paper has not drawn a response from the Papal Nuncio, nor from any other senior priest who has read it. Since the capacity to offer me counselling, advice, practical support, help in achieving reconciliation with my Bishop and with the priests of my Diocese, simply does not exist in the Church, what response can the Papal Nuncio or anyone else make? It has been the same for the victims of abuse and their families, in Ireland and elsewhere, down through the decades. This is an autocratic Church with an Imperial structure of governance that finds the basic principles of democracy inimical to its understanding of how God wants his Church to be.
In the two and a bit years between my being retired and suspended by my Bishop, and my return to Ireland to stay with Bishop Willie Walsh, I lived in isolation on a small coconut plantation.
As I found myself excluded from the Church in my Diocese — forbidden to be a priest and effectively denied the sacraments — I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I felt that everything could be sorted out easily between my Bishop and me over a nice cup of coffee at the kitchen table, and so I repeatedly sought an interview with him, to no avail.
One day I went to Mass at the nearby Mission Station, where the Bishop was administering the sacrament of Confirmation, and a family I was friendly with had asked me to stand as sponsor for their son. When the Bishop saw me in the body of the church his face seemed to swell and he looked absolutely furious. I was shocked and appalled by his reaction to my presence, and I quickly apologised to the family, stood up and left the church.
For all the time I lived on my little coconut plantation, I was not merely forbidden to act in any way publicly as a priest, but I was effectively excommunicated. The only available priests, whose Mass I might attend, or to whom I might turn to receive the sacraments, were all American Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who made it quite clear that they could have nothing to do with me, and didn't want to know me. Some of them had for years referred to me amongst themselves as 'Mr. Glynn', refusing even to acknowledge my priesthood. In vain I looked at my brother Priests for evidence of the faith that Paul and James write of so eloquently — faith expressing itself through love [Gal 5:6].
So why on earth did I hang on? Why did I not simply pack up and leave the Priesthood, the Church, the country, and return to the real world — as some of my family and friends told me I should. The Anglican Bishop of Port Moresby at that time was a former Catholic Franciscan Priest who had once been a classmate of the Catholic Archbishop of Port Moresby. Perhaps I could become a priest in the Anglican Church as he had done?
A number of scenarios suggested themselves to me — including suicide in my darkest moments — but I rejected all of them, electing instead to remain in New Ireland as a layman — a neutered priest, so to speak — denied the sacraments or any of the consolations of the institutional Church. After all, I am a Catholic — this is my Church — and if others, even if they are my superiors in the Church, decide to ignore the requirements of Canon Law, and turn their backs on the most fundamental teachings of the Gospels, this Church is still mine! And leaving the Church or the Priesthood would mean leaving my friends, my parishioners, my students, catechists, the voiceless and much put-upon faithful laity. And so I hung on, and still hang on, despite my seemingly unique understanding of Church. (About this time I began thinking of myself as The Last Catholic.) I must add that there were a few occasions during those years when I did say Mass. On some occasions, when the Parish Priest was away on patrol, I went to the nearby Mission Station and said a quiet Mass with the Sisters in their Convent and had a meal with them.
On another occasion a documentary film team from the Irish national broadcaster, RTÉ, came to do a story about me. For eleven days I took Jim Fahy and his team on a tour of New Ireland and they filmed me saying the Mass of the Shark Hunters at the remote village of Kono on the west coast of the island. The documentary Paradise Ireland went to air in December 1999. Nowhere in the film is there any reference to the problems I was having with my Bishop, or to my being a suspended priest. I did not want to embarrass my Bishop or to cause a scandal for the diocese. At the time I still lived in hope of reconciliation. That hope has long gone.
Fr. John M. Glynn OL. Submitted to Catholica 24 Feb 2012
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