| 4.8°C Dublin

Catholic Spring?

Dr Thomas O'Flynn's thoughtful reflection on the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland (Irish Independent, January 18) is a very honest attempt to redeem the past and nurture the development of a renewed church.

The clerical abuse scandal led to a considerable loss of confidence in the probity of the institutional church. Sadly, as Dr O'Flynn notes, all the priests and religious have been tarred with the one brush. At the heart of this is an absurd tendency to expect the church to be perfect.

The church is not some kind of abstraction from the messy business of human living. It is corrupt and corruptible as we all are in some measure. It is fallible. The church is not a finished product. We have to work at it. Unfortunately, the acknowledgement in our religious services that we are all sinners tends not to rise above the level of ritual incantation. It is sometimes hard to accept that all of us are a work in progress.

The declaration of the infallibility of the Pope in the 19th Century added to the growing belief that the church could do no wrong. The fact that some priests engaged in aberrant sexual behaviour should sadden, shock but not totally surprise us; it is understandable, forgivable but not excusable.

However, it gives no grounds for the vilification of all priests. There are hundreds of deeply committed, dedicated and hard-working priests who continue to give their lives in the service of our people. It would be a huge injustice if they were written off.

The priests are in the best position to guide us away from the seductions of the three contemporary gods of riches, social and celebrity status.

It is expected that the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress will somehow restore the faith of our young people and cleanse us from the stain of recent history. This looks like a case of digging for gold whilst ignoring the diamonds under our feet. There is a real willingness amongst the Irish priests and people to engage more honestly and openly with what they actually believe, in the hope that church leaders' faith in their critical voices will be strengthened and inform more radically the future direction of the church.

Philip O'Neill
33 Edith Road, Oxford

Irish Independent