“In recent years in Ireland many bishops have organised assemblies, gatherings and deep-listening processes in their dioceses to help encourage a more synodal, missionary Church throughout the island – a Church which fosters greater ‘communion, participation and mission’ for the benefit of all.”
Currently meeting with their own lay people on their own ‘synodal path’ Germany’s Catholic bishops will be astonished to learn from the above claim that Ireland’s bishops are way ahead of them when it comes to preparing for a 2022 Vatican synod of bishops on ‘Synodality’ – roughly to be translated as ‘local collaborative decision-making’.
But so will the Catholic lay people of Ireland – who have never had the privilege of their German counterparts – of being invited into frank and open discussion of the many profound questions arising out of decades of heart-wrenching revelations, not least the questions of restoring broken trust and ensuring the continuity of faith and of Eucharistic celebration
Not even in their darkest year, 2009 – when two state inquiries revealed the appalling sufferings of children at the hands of abusive clerics in Ireland’s major archdiocese and multiple residential institutions for children in other dioceses – did the Irish Conference of Bishops squarely face the most obvious questions of their people – despite being called upon by Pope Benedict XVI to ‘establish the truth of what happened’.
Already the Ryan Report of 2009 (on the residential institutions) had attributed the sufferings of those children to ‘ the deferential and submissive attitude of the (Irish State’s) Department of Education’ towards the Catholic religious orders that had run these institutions.
Although this obviously called for a frank discussion of the ongoing dangers of deference to clergy in every diocese and parish on the island, that never happened either. Pope Francis’s many references to the dangers of ‘clericalism’ – the clerical expectation of endless dumb compliance from lay people – have similarly fallen on totally deaf ears. Never has it occurred to Irish bishops even to admit frankly that the safety of today’s Catholic children in any church-related setting rests squarely on the rejection of deference to clergy by all who have responsibility for children.
Most tragically, the deep triangular schism caused in the Irish Catholic Church by the abuse issue has never truly healed. In no Irish diocese has it happened that the broken relationship between clergy, victims of clerical abuse, and people has been squarely admitted, faced up to and talked through together. If Catholic bishops have made any studied attempt to assess the current well being of all of those harmed they have never revealed the results to the rest of us. We simply do not know how the many Irish victims of Irish Catholic clericalism are faring.
It follows that whatever few ‘assemblies and gatherings’ are being alluded to in the above quoted ICBC statement, they have been clerically designed and controlled – restricted by clergy in almost every case to topics considered entirely safe by the same clergy – and therefore both inadequate and resting on the same expectation of lay submissiveness. The iron grip of Irish clericalism on the discourse of the Irish Catholic Church has never been either frankly admitted or relinquished by those who claim to lead it.
For decades, for that very reason, ‘communion’ in the Irish church has been vastly outpaced by alienation – and especially the alienation of younger generations. Sexual abuse by clergy, and the turning of blind eyes to that abuse by generations of bishops, was obviously an abuse of power and contrary to the Gospel – yet, as late as 2020, we are all expected to defer to that continuing denial of accountability also.
And although students in Catholic schools have been ready for decades to respond to systematic research on their reasons for choosing any vocation other than that of ordained priest or professed nun, no such research was ever organised by the Irish Catholic educational establishment. If Irish bishops have ever systematically researched any of the major problems confronting the Irish church they have never disclosed their findings to the rest of us.
As for the bishops’ encouragement of ‘participation’, they could not even bring themselves in 2019 to respond to the submissions made on October 1st at Maynooth by ACI – the Association of Catholics in Ireland, re the typical absence of lay co-responsibility in Irish parishes due to clericalism. They cannot yet even declare their support for Article 37 of Lumen Gentium (1964), the church’s charter for the right of every baptised catholic to have a voice in their local parish. The irony of this was clearly revealed on June 15th, 2020 when the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland called for parish pastoral councils to take responsibility for the opening of churches in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
On the day that the ICBC released this claim of readiness for synodality on June 12th, 2020 it had not even then responded to these submissions by ACI – which could not have been more timely.
Deference is also therefore also plainly expected of us lay people when it comes to interpreting the above claim that the demands of ‘communion, participation and mission’ are being met presently by our current leadership. As usual, weasel descriptors such as ‘many bishops’ and ‘throughout the island’ are preferred to specific, verifiable claims. In sum, we are, as always, expected to agree that the sun is rising on the Irish Catholic Church, when there was never a darker time – even before Covid-19 hit the country.
However, in 2020 very few Irish Catholics are in any danger of disbelieving their own experience. The claim that Irish bishops are truly committed to open assembly, communion and participation is as transparently false as that of Sean Spicer, President Trump’s Press Secretary, that the crowds attending President Trump’s inaugural address in Washington on January 20th, 2017 were ‘the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.’
This practice – of official insistence that people must believe the ‘alternative facts’ preferred by those in office to the evidence of their own experience – is now advisedly called gaslighting – derived from the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton and the subsequent 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. The young wife of the drama is so in thrall to a controlling husband that she is in danger of losing her mind when he alters the brightness of their home’s gas-lit globes while insisting that no change has occurred.
Irish Catholic clericalism would do well to log the fact that gaslighting is now also a recognised term for a form of psychological abuse – yet nowadays those Irish Catholics in greatest danger of believing the assurances of Irish bishops are the bishops themselves. Gaslighting clericalism is now a truly creaky Irish movie – and the snapped celluloid is flapping hopelessly as the reels fly.
Sean O’Conaill, June 16th, 2020