Break with Rome isn't end of world
The Vatican's silencing of highly respected Irish priests can only distress many believers, writes Ulick O'Connor
Recently two Irish priests were silenced by the Vatican for their views on priests marrying and opening up the church to the laity. On Thursday it emerged that the Vatican had also censured Fr Brian D'Arcy, the highly respected broadcaster.
The sense of rebellion among clergy here had already reached the grass roots. The Association of Catholic Priests, which has 800 members here, had previously issued a statement reproving the Vatican for its stance towards the Irish clergy, and asked them "to go up and treat people with dignity and due process. We are not a small cohort of Catholic priests; we are at the heart of the church committed to putting in place the reforms of the Second Vatican Council".
An essential factor in enabling Irish clergy to make such a statement was the Taoiseach's remarkable speech in the Dail in November when he threw down the gauntlet to the Vatican on the subject of the clerical abuse revealed by the Cloyne Report.
"For the first time in Ireland a report into child sexual abuse opposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago... And in doing so the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism... the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day. The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and 'reputation'."
This historic pronouncement will take its place with other great political addresses in Irish history in the category of De Valera's reply to Churchill and Michael Collins's speech in the Dail on the Treaty. It should encourage those in the Catholic Church in Ireland to continue to pursue what they consider to be their rights.
Take for instance, the law of clerical celibacy which allows only unmarried men to be ordained to the priesthood. There are a number of churches in communion with Rome -- Alexandrine, Armenian, Byzantine, Georgian -- which allow priests to marry. It could therefore be possible for the Catholic Church in Ireland to accept married priests and still remain in communion with Rome.
If this was achieved, the question of ordaining women for the priesthood could be considered, and the implied insult that their sex is unfit to perform the duties of the priesthood done away with.
If married priests are permitted in Ireland, it would not be the first time here that the church here has differed from Rome. In the 8th Century, when the Catholic Church at the Synod of Whitby in England ruled that the date of Easter as dictated by Rome must be accepted by all members of the faithful, the Irish monks of Iona, along with St Colman of Lindisfarne, refused to accept the decision and returned unrepentant to their monasteries. This brought what became known as the Celtic Church into being -- which nevertheless remained in communion with Rome.
Today there remain sections of the Church of Ireland who hold that they are in apostolic succession to the early church and that this line of descent was not broken by the Reformation.
I asked Dean Victor Griffin, the much-admired former Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, how he thought Patrick, our patron saint, would look today on the church he had founded in the 5th Century.
"He wouldn't, I believe, have championed papal decrees and doctrines which had no warrant in holy script. For him the 'centricity' of Christ was what mattered -- inebriated by Holy Scripture. Christianity in Ireland in its Celtic form liked to do things its own way." (Dean Griffin has outlined his views in his fine memoir, Enough Religion to Make Us Hate, published in 2004.)
What is important now is that the Taoiseach has taken the stance that he has done. That he speaks for the Irish people is demonstrated by a recent poll which shows that 87 per cent of the population believe that priests should be allowed to marry, and 77 per cent are in favour of the ordination of women.
Such statistics would include many who each year climb Croagh Patrick in penance for their sins and in memory of our patron saint. They should be listened to.