Saturday 16 December 2017

Criticism will not tear the church apart


ASA result of what I wrote in last week's column about Cardinal Dolan and clerical dress a local radio station invited me to discuss the topic on a lunchtime programme.

And then the following day I received a text message from an elderly lady, who is a friend of mine and very kind to me. But she always tells it as it is. In her text message she wrote: 'Why r U always giving out about the Catholic Church? What it needs now is support?'

Of course I listened to what she said. I always do. Indeed, I telephoned her but in the meantime something else had happened within the church that had annoyed me and her too, I think. I take my friend's point. But I certainly would hate to belong to a church of sycophants and 'yes-men'.

Intercom is a pastoral and liturgical resource magazine published by Veritas Group, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Commission on Communications. The magazine appears 10 times a year. Many priests use it as a help in preparing their liturgies and sermons. In a short question and answer section on topics for last Sunday's Mass Fr Silvester O'Flynn OFM Cap writes: ' Open debate is one thing but open dissent is another. There are enough critics outside the Church without critics from within tearing it apart.' Had I not come across that comment I might well have taken the advice of my elderly friend and covered over the cracks and be 'real nice' in the column this week.

I think Fr O'Flynn expresses a terrible ghetto mentality. I don't believe the church, the people of God, should see itself as being attacked from outside. Surely the message of the Gospel is one of kindness, love, persuasion and gentleness. The church is not an organisation, surrounded by watchtowers, protecting itself from the world. Any cursory reading of the Gospel will rid the reader of such banal ideas.

Some weeks ago I heard a commentator on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) claiming that the church had every reason to be triumphalistic. That sounds horrible to me. Surely the church founded by Jesus Christ is a church for the marginalised and always in support of the weak, the fragile, those who are poor and in need of care, love and support. So it is in that context that I spotted a church related topic during the week that made me wonder about the church into which I was ordained a priest 38 years ago on Saturday next.

The Vatican became the first foreign state to recognise the hastily installed Federico Franco as President of Paraguay, after Fernando Lugo, a former bishop, was forced from office. Experts say Lugo's removal from power is both a 'coup' and a ' legal act'. In his four years as president Lugo had established free health care, extended free education by three years, given increased funding to schools and introduced financial support for families whose children were begging on the streets.

In a letter written by the Dominican Order from Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, we are told that: ' The Senate removed Lugo in a political judgement totally rejected by the citizens, who are in favour of those social changes which were opening a way towards a more dignified life for all.' The letter goes on to say that fortunately: 'In the midst of the unacceptable situation taking place in Paraguay, we have the support of the international community.'

The foreign secretaries of 12 countries, which form the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) were present in Asuncion and expressed their complete solidarity for the people of Paraguay, and they back constitutional President Fernando Lugo. MERCOSUR, a trading partnership of four South American countries meeting last weekend suspended Paraguay from participation in support of ousted President Fernando Lugo The Dominican letter finishes, thanking fellow Dominicans around the world who have shown them solidarity and support.

And then we learn of how the Vatican is the first state to recognise the new man. This is followed by a picture in the international press of a bishop warmly embracing the new president, Federico Franco. In last week's Tablet, which is a an International Catholic weekly magazine, published in the UK, Irish Dominican Larry Kelly, who spent many years working in South America, writes a succinct and clear letter arguing that the 'coup' must not be allowed succeed.

Now according to Fr Silvester O'Flynn, criticism from 'within' tears the church apart'. Mmm, I'm not sure about that. Indeed, I would have thought dialogue has to be part of any institution or organisation that would ever claim to mention the name of Jesus Christ.

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