Thursday 14 December 2017

Crazy to say Ireland has gone secular


ASERMON given by the bishop of Raphoe Philip Boyce at Knock received some coverage in the media last week. It was reported that Dr Boyce referred to a godless and secular society. The bishop is reported to have said that the Catholic Church is experiencing a testing time, having been rocked by the barbs of a ' secular and godless culture' on the outside and the ' sins and crimes of priests' within.

I did not see the entire sermon, so maybe I am at a disadvantage, but in what is reported there is no mention whatsoever of the monumental cover-up that the church perpetrated. It is that cover-up that has made people so angry and even mad. And understandably too. Bishop Boyce talks about the ' sins of priests', it is unfortunate there is not a word about the sins of bishops and their cover-up.

Reading the report of the sermon in the newspaper one would get the impression that the institutional church is being attacked by a godless world and a more godless media. It would be interesting to ask Dr Boyce who is the church. Surely the man realises that all of us who have been baptised are church and so many of those baptised in Ireland are right now feeling great anger with their church.

Essential to an open and healthy democracy is a free media. Newspapers, television and radio are messengers and if they tell falsehoods then one has the right to sue. Every one of us is entitled to our good name and no media can damage that in a democracy and get away with it.

What exactly is a 'godless culture and a secular society'? I don't for a minute believe I am living in a 'godless culture'. Of course I see and experience nasty things. People can do terrible and wrong things. But people also do great things. Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union tried to develop godless cultures but to talk about modern Ireland being a ' godless culture' is crazy and in many ways devious, nasty too. It's alarmist and in some ways playing to a particular gallery.

A former work colleague of mine, who was baptised and grew up in the Catholic faith now sees the panoply of Irish Catholicism as an irrelevancy for him. Sometimes he gets angry, especially when a new scandal surfaces. For the last three years I have been parking my car outside his house and every Thursday evening on my arrival back in the town he kindly has the car waiting for me at the rail station. He does it with a smile. Every now and again I give him a bottle of wine for his kindness.

I certainly feel respected by the man and there certainly is a fellowship, a camaraderie between us. I'd even go as far as saying it in some ways imitates or suggests the presence of God in both our lives. I leave my car outside that man's house because I was refused entry to the garden of a religious community with which I have links. Not in a million years would I expect anyone in that house to leave my car for me at the rail station. It would never even cross their minds.

When Bishop Boyce preaches about a ' godless culture' I really wonder what he means. Was he simply talking about people who share different views than he, people who feel alienated from an institutional church that really does not get the message?

Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary said that, 'We are all called to be saints'.

Priests and bishops certainly have no exclusive rights on the mystery and wonder of God. And it is about time they took that reality on board.

It is extremely dangerous language to talk about a 'godless culture'. I for one find it disrespectful and unhelpful. The presence of God is to be seen all around us. It is our privilege to help bring about God's presence in all its challenging manifestations.

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