(Email addressed to the ‘Letters’ Editor, The Irish Times, Dublin, Dec 12th 2018)
Could your editorial, reporting and commissioning staff seriously consider discontinuing and discouraging usage of the term ‘the Catholic Church’ as though there were still in existence a unitary entity in Ireland that can coherently and fairly be so described? (As in, for example, ‘The Wrong Country review: fluent study of modern Irish writing’, by Claire Connolly – November 12th 2018.)
Irish Catholicism has been to my eyes (and many others) for some years in fact a Diaspora – so divided within itself that no single part of it can justly claim to represent, or to speak for, the whole.
This is especially true of the Irish Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has never even attempted to measure the degree of Irish Catholic alienation from itself that has burgeoned here since 1994 – or even the effectiveness of Irish Catholic schools in forming faith. No Irish Catholic diocese – not even the archdiocese of Dublin – has developed those regular structures for internal communication between bishop and people that were clearly envisaged by Vatican Two over half a century ago.
This makes even Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s references to ‘the Catholic church’ either a synecdoche or far more self-referential than good Catholic theology should permit – given that ‘the Church’ is defined by Vatican Two as the whole people of God, and far more baptised Irish Catholics are now tuned out – for very good reasons – from what any Irish Catholic bishop has to say than are tuned in.
The clear indifference of the Irish Bishops’ Conference to what Pope Francis is saying about the need for radical change – in the direction of genuine co-responsibility of clergy and people – is further reason for discontinuing the practice of referring to those bishops as though spokespersons for ‘the Irish Catholic Church’. Increasingly they speak only for, and to, themselves – a situation arising out of a crippling fear of any assembly that they cannot be sure of controlling, right down to parish level.
When baptised Irish Catholics have been at last convened in every parish and diocese, and allowed to express their true feelings about all of the clerical skeletons uncovered since 1994, and their bishops and clergy have at last become accountable to them on a regular basis – as, for example, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is currently advocating – it may again be sensible to attribute some specific generalisations to ‘the Catholic Church’ on the island – other than that it is now in critical disarray.
Until then, when all baptised Irish Catholics have at last been convened, listened to and trusted by their bishops, what their bishops say on any subject, (including ‘sin’, e.g. ‘Teachers and the belief barrier’ – Barry O’Rourke, Nov. 11th 2018) should surely be attributed only to themselves.
It is misleading and increasingly absurd to have a major Irish secularist newspaper referring daily, in so many of its news reports and commentaries, to the separated clerical head of a disconnected church body (the largest on the island) as though there was no disconnection whatever.
(On querying with the Irish Times Religious Affairs correspondent the failure of the paper to publish this letter, I learned from Patsy McGarry that, in his view: “the general reader … would see each church and indeed faith grouping as “a unitary entity”, and relevant clerics as valid spokespeople“.
And: “It is how the RC, other churches and faith groupings describe themselves that we follow in the main and which would be our house style. Should they or membership change this, we follow suit.”
How, I wonder, would ‘the membership’ go about this – other than by writing to the Letters Editor of a national newspaper? Comments please!)