by Marc Morgan
In very recent times we have been reminded of the sacredness of the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy. We have also learnt that there are two sides to the dogma the Church seeks to profess. Indeed, as Paddy Agnew writes in the Irish Times, what recent Vatican revelations highlight is a division between “church law” and “God’s law”. Putting this into context, the Vatican’s latest censuring of the Irish priest, Fr. Brian D’Arcy, depicts an institution struggling to preserve its dogmatic teaching even among individuals of the Church’s own making. Fr. D’Arcy is the fifth Irish priest to have been censured by the Vatican this year.
The censuring comes at a time when the Church, especially in Ireland, is facing increasing pressure for active responsibility in the damages caused as a result of the child sex-abuse scandal. Much of this pressure has come from a new BBC documentary which details the inaction of the Church towards abuse allegations that were brought up by victims during and since the 1970s. Calls have been resonating throughout Ireland (including in its parliament) for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, the highest Catholic representative in the country.
For the newly silenced Irish priests, their spiritual upbringing during the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s must almost seem alien to them now. Vatican II was supposed to enact a reformed church, opening up and adapting to modern mentalities, leaving behind its strict authoritarian practices; engaging in dialogues and negotiations on how to address questions of repressive power and poverty. For these priests it was not hard to imagine, at the time, that come 2012 they would be part of a democratic and tolerant church. What their recent fate has only reminded them of, is how hopeful their expectations were. Of course, censuring ‘outspoken’ employees has been a prominent feature of the Church’s business even since the promising days of the Vatican II council. Child sex-abuse has also been prominent during the same period, everywhere from Ireland to Australia. But while dissidence has been clamped down, rape has been cast a blind eye. And it is revealing to note that the man who currently presides over the entire Catholic kingdom took active part in Vatican II’s reforms.
The dissidence which the Irish priests are accused of, concerns matters which most Irish Catholics actually stand by. Fr. Brian D’Arcy, for example, just recently received an anonymous letter from the Vatican, after 14 months of being under their official censure, which silenced his ‘liberal’ views on celibacy, women priests and homosexuality; topics on which he regularly wrote about in The Sunday World. Surveys have found that, almost 90% of Irish Catholics would support the introduction of married priests, while 77% would be in favour of women priests. Furthermore 75% of Irish Catholics believe Church teachings on sex are irrelevant. In his articles, Fr. D’Arcy was also critical of the Church’s handling of child abuse, using legal procedures to cover up its responsibility, and called for a reform to the Church’s structure; again issues which most Irish Catholics would not disfavour.
Addressing the Irish Times, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi was reported saying that it is “normal” that, when priests publically take “positions… not compatible or coherent with church teaching”, there would be repercussions on behalf of the Vatican. This seems to be the main point of defence on the part of the Church and of the more fundamental Catholics. And this is understandable, given the ‘sacredness’ of Church teaching, derived supposedly from the word of God; the same source that has repeatedly informed the Church’s hierarchy that child rape can be covered up. So, it is argued, that if these priests wish to commit to their personal views they must do so in private or either leave the institution. The latter point is easier said than done. As Irish writer and journalist, Fintan O’Toole states, “that would be to walk away from the only adult life they’ve known. It would be to write off decades of work and sacrifice – to accept that the most profound decision of one’s life was based on a delusion.”
On keeping their views to themselves these priests face a wall of hypocrisy and contradiction. Is Benedict XVI saying that it was reasonable for Vatican II reformers to question concepts like ecclesiology, liturgy, the interpretation of Scripture and the giving of Mass but not for current priests to question church teachings on celibacy and women priests? This brings us back to church law trumping a benevolent God’s law. And, when children were being raped for decades by ‘messengers of God’ it was ok for the Church to sit and look at each other wondering what to do, but when a few priests begin to talk about gender equality in the Vatican and gay marriage, suddenly a committee is formed to “pore over The Sunday World with a magnifying glass, looking for the minutest speck of heresy.”
This said, when spreading the Christian faith into new lands it is business as usual for the Church’s hierarchy. Priest censorship is forgotten. This was evident from Pope Benedict’s trip to Cuba in March. At a mass preached on La Havana’s Revolution Square, with Che Guevara’s silhouette looking down on the masses, the Pope issued pleas for continued steps to be taken “to enable the church to carry out her essential mission of expressing the faith openly and publicly”. The Pope went further and said that “Cuba and the world need change” as well as the recognition of the basic rights to religious freedom and freedom of expression. He expressed that the role of the church must be to “count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace.”
Closer to home, the Catholic Church seems to respect none of the freedoms that it professed in Cuba. This is only as true as the latest censorship of the five Irish priests, most recently Fr. Brian D’Arcy. If Church dogma is what the Vatican seeks to protect then it should at least do so consistently and universally. Its adherence to a set of dogmas only shows that what it professes as Church law in some areas is markedly different from what it preaches as God’s law elsewhere. It is about time that the Vatican adhere to social justice in human affairs, and leave its pseudo-dogmatism as a feature of its past.