Disillusionment as Faith Formation

Apr 5, 2022 | 1 comment

Archbishop Eamon Martin – defending organised religion

In the wake of global institutional failure, can Catholic faith any longer be, essentially, faith in an organisation?


When will Irish church leaders begin to speak creatively and convincingly about Christian faith in the wake of Christian institutional failure?

Speaking in February 2022 in defence of ‘organised religion’ to the Oxford Union Archbishop Eamon Martin declared:

“Gathering together in faith offers a crucial community of support and accompaniment; in moments of crisis it helps us confront together the most emotionally-charged problems of life such as the mystery of suffering and the inevitability of our death.”

He finished by acknowledging the impact of institutional corruption but then offered the prospect of institutional recovery:

“Religious community can only regain its attractiveness when its leaders and members are true to their calling and coherent in their witness. This is the challenge that continually lies before me, and all of us in organised religion.”

There is another more important challenge. Archbishop Eamon missed an opportunity to say that the saving grace of Christian organised religion is that it is centred on texts that warn us of the need for a faith that can survive even total organisational failure.

Put not your trust in princes‘ we are warned by Psalm 146. All ‘sons of Adam’ are included in that admonition. In the wake of the example of US Cardinal McCarrick it is time to acknowledge that not even princes of the church can be excluded.

Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.’ (St Peter – Acts 5: 29)

Ecclesiastical Groupthink

Archbishop Eamon argued:

It (organised religion) offers a challenging – hopefully prophetic – voice and provides an important balance to the uncritical acceptance of facile “groupthink”.

There is indeed such a thing as liberal secular groupthink, but was there ever a more disastrous example of organisational groupthink than the global consensus of Catholic bishops that clerical sexual abuse of children must be concealed from the families of the people of God?

In that case the hierarchical church needed the separation of church and state of the USA – and its independent secular courts and media – to begin revealing the hierarchy’s own disastrous groupthink to itself.

And was there ever a more devastating critique of ecclesiastical groupthink than Jesus’s response to his own pharisaical critics: ‘You look to each other for glory‘? (John 5:44)

Still stuck today with a catechetical model centred on the schooling of children and young adults, we Catholics in Ireland have yet to experience leadership that will confront, honestly, the impact of decades of clerical aloofness and scandal upon adult Catholic faith.

It is as though the informed Catholic Christian faith that is possible in 2022 is still supposed to be the Irish Catholic faith that was typical in, say, 1962, or even 1979.

Disillusionment Reshapes Faith

It is time to admit the necessity of a dis-illusioned Christian and Catholic faith – because all illusions are deficient and unreliable stages of faith – the ‘houses of sand’ that Jesus spoke of. Our bishops have themselves unwittingly taught us that Christian faith can no longer be dependent upon faith in any particular organisation.

When this has been admitted Irish Catholic organised religion will at last be truly open to external prophetic voices – even among the young –  who can point to its greatest texts when organisational failure threatens

Yes, we do indeed need to be organised to meet together in faith.  We must also hope and pray that clergy will be ‘true to their calling and coherent in their witness’.  However there cannot be a restoration to the clerical institution of the level of trust once placed in it.

The scale of failure of that institution has surely taught us something about faith that must never be forgotten.  It was the unquestioning trust that we Catholics once gave to the clerical church that corrupted it.  To be secure and mature our faith in the Trinity needs from now on to be of an entirely different order from our faith in any human corporation.

With the issue of administrative accountability still unresolved our trust in the Catholic clerical institution must also be in suspense.  The church as a community preceded the emergence of that institution in the fourth century and can, if necessary, find other ways of organising itself.

Sean O’Conaill
6th April, 2022

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Walters

    “It is time to admit the necessity of a disillusioned Christian and Catholic faith – because all illusions are deficient and unreliable stages of faith” ….. Formation

    But the longing to know the goodness of God our Father in heaven who gave of Himself in His Son who then walked the ‘Narrow way’ (One iota) in humility, while growing in Wisdom, this was not a delusion rather it is the shared reality of a lived spiritual life with the Holy Spirit who leads us into His joy/peace which the world cannot give or take away.

    For ‘wide is the way’ of relativity/delusion as the denial of goodness/Truth to make it dark is to lose one’s heart/ Soul. Make no mistake about this because for a professed Christian to knowingly and persistently deny the Spirit of Truth is to walk the wide way of relativism which eventually leads to the destruction of the soul.

    The statement below in italics if looked upon ‘honestly’ will reflect the state of your own heart before God. If you say to yourself, it is too idealistic then as yet you have not started upon the spiritual pathway of Truth which leads us out of the fog of self-deception (Sin). As Individually we cannot hide behind the term, we ‘are all sinners’ rather

    “A humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its shortcomings, and in doing so confers authenticity, as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth) first, before any other”

    So, will anyone unreservedly bear witness to this statement for if you do so you will step onto the pathway of spiritual enlightenment one that honestly confronts His living Word within your own heart as this will induce you to acknowledge your human weakness/sin in humility before our Father in heaven which is the basis of Faith formation As this will cause the divine spark within you to be amplified, as in, at that moment in time you will harmonize with our Creator/Truth the essence of Love and in doing so you will receive the reciprocal love of His Holy Spirit permitting you to penetrate the fog of deception (Sin) and grow spiritually (Grow in Wisdom as He did) while becoming gentle and humble of heart which is reflected in this Our Lords teaching

    “Take my yoke (One Iota) upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    kevin your brother
    In Christ


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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