Church is approaching breaking point
The way I see it
THE LONG awaited Vatican Report into the Irish Church was published last week. A couple of weeks ago, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin was quoted as saying that the Church in Ireland is at breaking point.
The statement was of course headline fodder for the newspapers, and reading the reports of the interview he gave in the US, one can easily see why such a statement would raise eyebrows. To think that the Church is at breaking point is quite disconcerting, and really I suppose it could be perceived as a very negative idea.
But I feel that while Archbishop Martin is right in some ways, the truer overall picture isn't quite so bad. The institutional church, the hierarchy, and the perceived 'all-powerful church' is of course a shadow of its former self. But this needn't necessarily be a bad thing. What had evolved, particularly over the last couple of centuries in Ireland, was an institution, which had strayed hugely from what the church should be all about.
When Jesus Christ founded his church on the Apostle Peter, I don't believe he envisaged what happened in Ireland, in fact I think he would have been as disappointed with what it had become, as anyone else.
The church is the people of God, not buildings or clergy or anything else. It is a community founded upon the Truth of the Gospels, and, I believe, THAT church is nowhere near breaking point. At present in Ireland, thousands of people are looking forward with a great sense of joy to the Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Dublin in the summer.
At present in Ireland, there are numerous charities that spread the gospel and live out the full meaning of church every day. At present in Ireland, there are countless gatherings of communities of faith that personify the ideal and vision of those early Christians. The Catholic Church may be much smaller today than even ten years ago, and certainly the practice rate is eons away from what it was in the hey-day of the early 20th century, but it is not, by any means, done-for yet.
In saying that, there is a breaking point which has either already passed, or which is fast approaching. That breaking point is unavoidable, and it is the breaking point of disillusionment with the leadership of the church. The biggest problem that today's Church in Ireland has, is the lack of leadership and the style of leadership.
People feel abandoned, they feel let down, neglected and dishonoured. For many ordinary Catholics, the very things which they sacrificed themselves for all their lives, and dedicated themselves to, are all being shown a lack of respect by those who should respect it. My parents' generation trusted, believed, followed faithfully, and were let down badly. For Diarmuid Martin, or any Archbishop, to say that ' their' church is at breaking point, does those people a massive disservice.
I want to draw a parallel with the church in Ireland and the church in the United States. In the past month or so, President Obama's Administration mandated that employers, including faith-based entities like hospitals and universities must provide employees with free birth control as part of their insurance packages.
The mandate will also force such groups to pay for sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs which are approved as "contraception". This was vehemently opposed by Church leaders in the US, who were not shy in coming forward to defend their rights, and the freedom of religion. Now, the American Bishops weren't in any stronger a position than their Irish counterparts when it came to their mishandling of sexual abuse, but yet they didn't lie down and allow an anti-faith agenda take over. They stood up for what they believed in, and despite their damaged moral standing, the truth of the gospels was still to be defended.
If the church is at breaking point it's because there are no leaders anymore, and the breaking point is being leader-less. When faithbased schools are being attacked, church leaders are silent. When the Taoiseach attacks the Vatican in a Dail speech, church leaders are silent.
When a Labour Party TD wants to discriminate against Catholics and screen them before employing them as civil servants, church leaders are silent. When the Tanaiste closes the Vatican embassy, church leaders are silent. When The Obama administration attacked religious freedom in the United States, the church leaders were far from silent. There was a response, and it was a very loud response.
While the leaders of this Irish church are quiet and cowed in hiding, ordinary members are hurt and feel let down, and gradually they are beginning to let their voices be heard. Because there are plenty of people who love God and their faith, and their church, and they are a community of believers. In the vacuum of silence, the faithful are beginning to speak, and their church is nowhere near breaking point.