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Keeping faith

• I write in response to David Quinn's article as a critically thinking Catholic, thanks to Catholic schooling, who is upset by the silencing of priests and theologians and is tired of being dismissed as "a la carte".

It seems any criticism of church practices or even discussion of them is equated with tweeting the 95 Theses, and hell hath no fury like a hierarchy scorned. (If only the real threat from paedophiles had prompted such swift sanctions.)

The usual analogy is that the Catholic Church is a club with rules and if you don't like the rules, you can get out. But rules in clubs change and are debated. Of course, the point is then made that they are God's rules and so cannot be changed, even though Jesus, God, said nothing about contraception, women or married priests and, as a Jew, would have followed rules like not eating pork, because His Father, God, insisted on that rule.

His silence in that instance was interpreted as allowing God the Father's rules to be changed. Besides, the concept of sin means this club is different since it is accepted the rules will be broken hourly and yet the club functions because of its forgiveness rule.

And the analogy with political parties does not stand either since party members do not get expelled for debate -- the lifeblood of democracy -- while party leaders allow ultimate dissent in the secret ballot.

So what does the church do when a majority of Catholics surveyed agree with the main suggestions made by the silenced priests? It seems they favour re-education of the priests and retrenchment of the church. But neither will deliver what they want without a fundamental re-evaluation of the Catholic approach to baptism, marriage and funerals.

Therein lies a dilemma. Even if the church retrenches, there are radical reform implications. Does it vet parents before, during and after baptism? Deny marriage to cohabiting couples? Deny a funeral to a person who has not attended X number of Masses but allow a funeral of a murderer who was a daily communicant?

How do you police the rules when we are all sinners breaking them daily? What even is the hierarchy of sin and heresy these days?

Perhaps the church has answers to all of this and is waiting to communicate it to us through the censored and re-educated. But there remains the problem of excellence in Catholic schools.

I say problem because the education, provided by the Catholic schools, which David Quinn so often defends as I do, has developed critical thinking skills in Catholics and increased their knowledge to such an extent that it has opened up possibilities for dissent from traditional Catholic assumptions.

Students as young as 12, in Catholic classrooms, are posing real moral dilemmas like why let someone give another person HIV/AIDs instead of wearing a condom? Why should my gay brother not be allowed to get married to the man he loves? Why do I need to confess to a priest when I can talk to God myself? Why should priests be celibate and lonely when family is so important? Why are our sisters not allowed to be priests when Jesus was born to a woman?

A good few 'Catholics' will openly declare in class that they don't believe in God at all. Some may link this 'dissent' with the indifference of parents, the weakening of religious ethos, 'liberal bias' of the media and 'anti-Catholic' agenda of some politicians.

Far from the indoctrination that many secularists and atheists assume, Catholic schools are thriving centres of curiosity, debate, challenge and dialogue. This is thinking, not heresy. It allows growth and is healthy. It offers real potential for renewal, but its consequences are clearly being seen as a threat and the church does not share this interpretation of thinking as indicative of growth or of health.

But what's the logical conclusion? Are the educating religious orders to be vetted from now on, their teachers' lesson plans inspected and the national curriculum neglected if it develops skills and knowledge that are deemed inimical to Catholicism?

Can reform happen from within at all or must we become Protestant even though we value the seven sacraments? Is the church afraid for Christ's message or for their 'authority' to relay it and is this not a case of the horse having already bolted?

I, for one, would appreciate answers and debate.

Yvonne Campbell
Sallins, Co Kildare

Irish Independent