Time to prioritise Catholic Social Teaching?

Dec 2, 2014 | 29 comments


In an article for the Tablet of Nov 8th, 2014 Brendan Hoban describes the Irish Catholic church as ‘on the edge of the abyss’. His argument is unavoidable and stark: while the last window of opportunity for addressing the severe clerical manpower crisis is swiftly closing there is still no sign that Irish bishops want to find an alternative to their present strategy for tackling it. This boils down to maintaining the current recruitment requirements, more intensive prayer, and trust in God – with, in Brendan’s phrase, no ‘Plan B’.

The Irish Association of Catholic Priests, which Brendan Hoban founded and helps to lead, obviously needs to be deeply concerned about this vital issue – but equally it needs to give a focused attention to something else. The drying up of Catholic clerical vocations is itself surely indicative of an island-wide loss of confidence in the relevance of the church to the other deepening Irish crisis – the crisis of secularism, north as well as south. A clergy concentrated exclusively on its own survival can only confirm this scepticism by deepening the disconnect between the internal Catholic crisis and the wider acute crisis of Irish society.

In the Irish Times of Nov 11th, 2014 Fintan O’Toole declared that we cannot now even depend upon the Irish political system to maintain the stability of the country. No single political party, and not even any coalition of parties, may be sufficiently strong after next year’s general election to form a stable government. The growing Irish preference for independent candidates speaks of a disillusionment with all of the ideologies that underlie the major parties – and even of a distrust of the constitution as it presently operates. Where is the political vision called for by the Church of Ireland primate, Archbishop Richard Clarke, in late October – and who can quarrel with his major contention: “there is a hopelessness in our land that we must also challenge in the name of Jesus Christ”?

Addiction, depression, homelessness, fear of violence, loss of meaning – all these are rampant in Ireland now – and not just in Ireland either. One top US intelligence professional with thirty years of experience declares that all of the conditions necessary for revolution are present in the US and the UK – lacking only a ‘precipitant’ such as the Tunisian fruit-seller whose self-immolation set off what became known as the Arab Spring in 2010. Confirming that diagnosis, Thomas Fox of the US National Catholic Reporter has declared in the wake of the mid-term congressional elections that the US political system has effectively been bought by the anonymous oligarchy that funds the major parties – with the connivance of the US supreme court, which flunked an opportunity in 2010 to make that impossible.  The long-standing argument that income inequality is a necessary spur to endeavour has given way to a revulsion at the scale of self-indulgence of the ‘1%’.

It follows that if the Irish Catholic church is facing an abyss, so is the secularist dream of no-cost inevitable progress and prosperity on the heels of the market. And right at the core of that growing secular crisis is the fear that our human susceptibility to personal corruption may triumph over all political idealism in the end – that no political movement can be trusted.

This in its essence is a spiritual crisis, with the future of the planet itself also at stake if humans cannot find an abiding integrity. For Christians the obvious route to that integrity is through a radical and penitential regrounding of ourselves in a deeper commitment – to ideals such as the common good, the protection of the weak, communal solidarity, equality of dignity, subsidiarity, simplicity of life, personal accountability and transparency.

CSTprinciplesIsn’t this where Catholic Social Teaching is deeply relevant, if all of us could simply agree to get our heads around its passionate essence? Ireland’s deepest clerical problem is surely the almost total lack of interest shown by clergy in that teaching – and their failure to engage their people in a vital discussion of all of the illnesses of modern culture. This is surely the basic reason our church cannot currently capture the idealism of most of Ireland’s younger people: the latter cannot see what the church is for, beyond levering the state to impose its own pelvic moral priorities on everyone else.

If the Irish hierarchy is to remain solely focused on those ‘culture war’ issues, and the Irish priesthood can think only about the problem of its own survival, who is to address the question of the church’s relevance to the wider spiritual and moral crisis of Irish society?

Pope Francis is surely right in believing that until we abandon an exclusive inward focus on what’s wrong in the church, and turn outward toward the greater suffering of an abandoned multitude, we cannot heal ourselves. If the Irish Catholic Church cannot address the wider crisis of Irish society why shouldn’t it disappear altogether? Discovering its mission in that regard – and as soon as possible – should surely therefore be its greatest priority – if it is ever to heal itself.

Sean O’Conaill – 12th Nov, 2014


  1. Prodigal Con

    In a situation of social inequality, hopelessness is of little value.

    At Mass last Sunday our priest reminded us of our sins of omission regarding our failure to see Christ the King in the poor. Fr Paul Ludden in west Dublin insisted that demonstrators against water charges must make their protest peacefully while warning that politicians must listen to the concerns of ordinary people. In his Erasmus Lecture Archbishop Chaput stated that any Catholic who fails to help the poor will go to Hell. I have heard clerical exhortations related the poor recurrently, and rarely heard those concerning the pelvic issues. If it were just a matter of reminders at mass of the plight of the poor or of those who suffer, the problem would have solved itself years ago.

    If the “abyss” asserted in the article is for real, then it correlates with a full complement of priests in the country. This suggests that the situation would not be much different with far fewer numbers of priests!

    Anyone with involvement in a local charity knows how hard it is for some to make ends meet especially at moments of unexpected necessary expenditure. But hopelessness is not an option for them. These people repetitively lift themselves. Our Bishops constantly demand that governments make our society more equitable. They cannot wave magic wands to create a socially charitable public. It’s time for the Catholic laity to become leaven in the society with less emphasis on the acquisition of clerical power. “… failure to engage their people in a vital discussion” takes two.

    Our church “cannot currently capture the idealism of most of Ireland’s younger people” because the bulk of them have not been catechized or evangelized. They have not been exposed to the teaching of the Church. They do not know God

    In terms of vocations the primary call is one to a special relationship with Christ.

  2. soconaill

    Thanks, Prodigal Con.

    Catholic Social Teaching is of course founded on the basic Christian principles of care for the poor, the common good etc, but amplifies those principles for the consideration of all with the power to influence or implement those principles at societal and political level – which we all do in a democracy. It is therefore intended for discussion among adult Christians, with a view to social and political implementation – but this never happened as an essential component of Catholic adult education and faith development in Ireland. The reason for that is the low priority given to it, the concentration of our educational effort in schools – and, above all, the fact that we are assembled regularly as adults only for non-dialogical (i.e. liturgical) purposes.

    What we have been teaching our children therefore is that Christianity is basically a childhood rather than an adult concern – because the silent passivity of their parents was always the unchallenged norm that teenagers observed at every assembly, a situation preferred and fostered by those who determine our undeveloped church structures.

    There is no such thing as adult catechesis without dialogue, and it is adult catechesis that is now required. It is the clerical fear and denial of dialogue above everything else that has prevented the maturation of the Irish church.

    As for inequality, that arises out of status anxiety – known to the Gospel as worldliness – our tendency to think we have no value unless we have impressed others. That’s something else that in my seventy-one years I have never heard a homily about, or had an opportunity to discuss with clergy.

    Finally, it is impossible to have a deep relationship with Christ that can reconcile us to non-dialogue – the Chinese wall between people and clergy that is still maintained by liturgy-only non-dialogical assembly. That situation speaks unmistakeably of fear, not faith.

    • Prodigal Con

      Given the restricted space here I will have to reply in two parts, if such is allowed.

      Part 1
      One is tempted to start a dialogical process here with your good self to see how far it gets us. I think the dialogical process is not of fundamental importance.

      The great catholic social teaching implementers (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Fr Richard Ho Lung, Edmund Rice, Catherine McCauley, Frederic Osanam, Bishop John Hughes, Oscar Romero and many more) did not wait for the dialogue to happen. It was a case, among other things, of vocation, heroic virtue, sensitivity to need, trust in God. The motivation derives from a combination outlined in Acts 2,42 – the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.

      The poor? Sure, in general people feel a sense of responsibility. For the most part people think about themselves: their needs, interests, and desires. And when we break out of our cocoons of self-interest, it’s usually because we’re thinking about family or friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. But how many want to engage in dialogue about the poor who are remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of peoples’ own lives? How many will turn up?

      That we suffer our own type of poverty is highlighted by Lumen Gentium 31, 2 a reminder that “they [we] live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.”

      How to make room for the poor among the not-so-poor.? By way of illustration I submit the material in part 2 of the reply.

    • Prodigal Con

      Part 2 of reply to Sean O’Conaill
      This is not to promote Opus Dei (I am not a member) but I find it symbolically significant that in 1975, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who could be said to have died for Catholic Social Teaching, wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI asking for the beatification and canonization of Msgr. Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. He said that he was grateful “for having got from [Msgr. Escrivá] encouragement and strength to be faithful to the unchangeable doctrine of Christ and to serve the Holy Roman Church with apostolic zeal.” And further, “People from all social classes find in Opus Dei a secure orientation for living as children of God in the midst of their daily family and social obligations. And this is doubtless due to the life and teaching of its founder.”

      In his September 6, 1979 Diary entry, Archbishop Romero says that Opus Dei “carries out a silent work of deep spirituality among professional people, university students and laborers…I think this is a mine of wealth for our Church—the holiness of the laity in their own profession.” This is Acts 2, 42 raising its head again. Holiness, the action of grace is the first requirement.

      Poverty is not only material; it is also moral, cultural, and religious (CCC 2444), and just these sorts of poverty are painfully evident today. In this regard I suggest you read “How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish” (http://www.city-journal.org/html/7_2_a2.html).

      This is the type of apostolate I think was attempted by Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. In other words God has to be put at the centre of all activities. Otherwise Labour Parties around the world, many of whom genuinely seek the elimination of poverty would have solved the problem decades ago.

      The social teaching of the Church has suffered more form lack of communication than for a lack of the dialogic.

      For what it’s worth, I consider myself well catechised with little or no dialogue. Its unfruitfulness is due to a lack of dialogue with God!

      • soconaill

        Thanks, Prodigal Con – but I don’t understand the distinction you make between communication and dialogue. Surely communication must at times be bilateral, and therefore dialogical. How is it possible to catechise a person who has questions without entering into dialogue- and mustn’t we allow for the probability that people will have questions?

        • Prodigal Con

          Absolutely right. (Blame lack of space!) I support high levels of clergy/laity group interaction in the context of belief if the latter desire it.

          Clarification and dialogue in its several forms go hand in glove. But as a predominant process dialogue is far too cumbersome. It would have been unmanageable in the case of Bishop John Hughes’s second evangelisation of the New York Irish.

          Our bishops have spoken often enough about social equality. If it’s communicated to the laity, it’s up to them to respond. It’s a big challenge but not an impossible or complicated process. Three ideas from the saints:

          St Francis of Assisi: Start with what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

          Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

          St Augustine: Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.

          When faithful to Christ, and to her own traditions, the Church can spread anywhere, endure anything as with Bishop Hughes. As you say, the social teaching is an absolutely necessary constituent.

          But the current large number of admirable secular charity groups suggests that the social teaching alone doesn’t necessarily lead away from secularism to faith. (You don’t assert that it does so). Indeed the cultural tipping points we have elapsed suggest a profound need for faith and the dissemination of its teachings.

          • soconaill

            I still am not clear on what you mean by dialogue, and on why it should ever be ‘too cumbersome’. The ordinary meaning of the word, surely, is verbal interchange – as distinct from monologue, in which there is only one speaker. Monological catechesis is an impossibility in a modern society where people rightfully require that the principle of equality of dignity be reflected in the mode of communication.

            We also appear to mean different things by ‘Catholic Social Teaching’. I am using this term to refer to a body of verbal teaching initiated by Leo XIII’s ‘Rerum Novarum’. You will find a fairly good summary at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_social_teaching.

            Designed as it is to help anyone understand how to implement the principle of social justice in a modern industrialised society – especially those involved in employment or political action – Catholic social teaching is not simply ‘Christian action’ in the style of Mother Teresa. However, the latter is what the phrase seems to mean to you – so we are not communicating yet.

            If there is not constant dialogical interchange between clergy and laity – teachers and learners – how can learning happen? How can the ideas advanced so seriously by popes from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI – e.g. the need for employees to share in profits – be communicated except by dialogue, and how can the church become a real community and a leaven in wider society – influencing even political policy in a democracy?

            I am writing in a context of constant liturgical monologue – a lifetime’s experience of never having heard a homilist attempt to explain the meaning of the Creed for people living in a modern society. Inevitably it is a context in which the church is – quite unnecessarily – dying. Meanwhile outside people are dying for lack of warm Christian community – because of the boring, ineffectual, monological style of worship inside. I simply cannot understand why you seem to think there can be a monological solution.

  3. Prodigal Son

    Part 1 A lot of issues to deal with.

    I regard dialogue as communication between people where what is said is heard, but where agreement is not guaranteed. As in the Northern Ireland peace process different sides take time to prepare for dialogue. The cumbersome can cost.

    We may have different starting points. My background is partly in economics, I was a member of St Vincent de Paul. We may not be communicating, which may illustrate the cumbersome nature of the process. That’s just between two of us with some inclination to engage. Cumbrous processes are necessary and fruitful however in the appropriate context. I would probably support your initiatives to develop the dialogue you suggest outside of Mass time.

    The Wikipedia reference shows our Church has no deficit in Social Teaching. A contributor in the ACP website is apt:

    “The Church’s social teaching addresses society in general and Catholics as individuals. Despite intermittent efforts in many parts of the world, no sustained political economy formula for solving the problem of the poor has been found. The Church doesn’t have the capacity to provide a political economic solution either. The best it can hope for and indeed must do is to urge/influence governments to provide sufficient economic protection for the poor and to ensure that they not become economic victims in times of recession. Irish bishops do that repeatedly”.

    The Wikipedia reference outlines the Church’s efforts over the years to prioritize the dignity of the human being, according to the Church’s “global vision of man and of the human race.” (Paul VI) ) Many in the Church seek dialogue with a view to changing the latter, triggering disagreements on economic proposals. Another source of cumbrous.

    • soconaill

      You quote the following: “The Church’s social teaching addresses society in general and Catholics as individuals.”

      Why that distinction? CST clearly addresses Catholics ‘in general’ also, inviting them to collaborate dialogically in influencing the political and social climate they inhabit. Again, the confinement of Catholic assembly to occasions when dialogue is impossible couldn’t be better designed to make that unlikely. Further, for most Catholics the weekly homily is their only conduit to what the church teaches, and since Catholic social teaching is rarely referenced there, a huge deficit in the reception of CST at ground level will inevitably follow. For Aristotle no teaching takes place until someone is taught, and in that sense CST simply hasn’t been taught in Ireland at ground level.

      There is absolutely no reason why dialogue on CST should be ‘cumbersome’either, and every reason now why that dialogue should take place, given the ‘vision vacuum’ and huge potential instability in the Irish political system. A focus confined to ‘culture war’ issues will ensure this opportunity continues to be missed, and the social relevance of the church underdeveloped and under-appreciated . It will be left to the VdeP, Peter McVerry and other NGOs and individuals, to fly that flag.

      As far as I can see not one cleric has yet responded to this article on the ACP site in response to my question ‘who is to address the question of the church’s relevance to the wider spiritual and moral crisis of Irish society?’ The deadly reign of the disconnected monologue seems set to continue.

      • Prodigal Son

        The distinction.
        Our bishops address the Government some of whose members are atheists. As such it appeals more to humanist than to theological principles. The address to Catholics is different. For example in his recent Erasmus Lecture Archbishop Chaput said that Catholics who do not help the poor will go to hell! One of the reasons Governments decline to heed the Bishops is their confidence that the laity are unconcerned. Thus the necessity of specifically addressing the laity on Gospel principles.

        Poverty is not just a money issue. The lifestyles of some of the poor add to their poverty. Income distribution alone fails to solve their poverty, particularly that of women. Most of the ideas you offer contextualise poverty as an aspect of rights within culture. The current Pope clearly views social protection as including all aspects of what you term the “culture wars.” Unless Catholics and Catholic NGOs start heeding him the efforts of the latter may well become even less significant.

        Ask the ACP about the response of clerics.

        • soconaill

          Bishops addressing the people monologically is not communication or teaching – it could be replaced with a recorded message. That’s what’s wrong with the phrase ‘church teaching’ also, as in ‘church teaching says x, y and z’. No teaching has taken place until someone is taught – i.e. has been convinced by the teaching. Most Catholics were never convinced by Humanae Vitae, and if bishops had thought that document capable of convincing us they wouldn’t have given up trying long ago.

          Very few people in Ireland in my experience think celibate bishops are credible on sexual and family matters – especially in the wake of the abuse scandals. Any expectation now that monological addresses will ever solve this problem is simply doomed in my opinion.

          I believe that Pope Francis is entirely correct in arguing that the emphasis has to switch from what ‘church teaching’ says ‘no’ to onto the social gospel – the implications of the Great Commandment for our duty to the poor. Otherwise the church frames itself as fixated on minute bishop-control of sexual behaviour – which definitely wasn’t Jesus’ emphasis.

          Yes of course self-harm is rife among the deprived – because of loss of self-respect. The church will never address this problem until it has understood that its present structure denies its verbal teaching – that all are equal in dignity. Francis’ abandonment of the papal apartments represents a recognition of this – but dialogical denial is also a denial of equality of dignity – the reason Francis is telling his bishops they must get close enough to the people to smell them.

          Let’s see if that really happens in Limerick, and dialogue also.

  4. Prodigal Son

    Part 2
    Catholics within the Church can hold different legitimate views on how to apply what you perceptively term the “verbal teaching.” Assume that Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum were 4 parishioners taking part in a parish dialogue. The first pair would propose remedies significantly different from those of the latter pair on the basis of economic theory and of their “vision of man.” Similar outcomes would emerge at the level of many parishes around the world. True, the dialogue could raise awareness at parish level of Catholic teaching, but the actual provisions would have to devolve to the political process.

    Blessed Teresa and the others mentioned previously, didn’t and don’t delay for such processes to work themselves through. They got to work, making significant difference. Similarly, I estimate that Mass goers in my diocese contribute around €1m annually to social and charitable organizations through gate collections alone! Blessed Teresa et al remind the laity of their special vocation “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will…. It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.” (CCC 898)

    I agree that it behooves the priests to encourage the laity to pursue their special vocation by seeking to influence national legislators and those who exert sizable influence on the economy and on social policy. The Knights of Columbus in the US are this Christmas working with clothes manufacturers to provide “cool” clothes to over 200,000 poor kids. Parallel with this they promote Catholic charity and piety in the homes. “Christian action” addresses both the system and individual cases in line with the Church’s “global vision of man and of the human race.”

    • soconaill

      Yes of course there would probably be differences of emphasis in any discussion of social and economic issues between Catholics in Ireland also – but why should this possibility stand in the way of dialogue at a time of the deepest crisis – e.g. of homelessness and spreading addiction and depression? Why prejudge the issue and say ‘No’ – simply on the basis of extremes such as Santorum, Pelosi et al? The Irish church is nowhere near as polarised as that.

      I get the strong impression that your general ‘narrative’ is that we cannot do any better than we are doing at the moment – despite the almost total absence of younger people from our liturgies, the looming disappearance of the weekday Mass and the growing secularist contention that Catholicism is more of a hindrance than a help. And that you think we must simply pray for the emergence of heroic creative individuals to advance the reign of God.

      I find that narrative complacent and a sure formula for continuing decline. I also see in it an unnecessary fear of dialogue, the root cause of the decline, and the greatest challenge to faith. There is nothing in the least heroic about a denial of dialogue. It speaks conclusively of lack of vision and loss of nerve.

      That Limerick should be holding a synod, and intending wide representation at that, suggests that at least in one diocese the dialogical deficit has been recognised and may be addressed. Would you encourage, or discourage, that as a pattern for all dioceses?

      • Prodigal Son

        “I get the strong impression that your general ‘narrative’ is that we cannot do any better than we are doing at the moment – despite the almost total absence of younger people from our liturgies, the looming disappearance of the weekday Mass and the growing secularist contention that Catholicism is more of a hindrance than a help.” On reading your article I assumed that this represented your view. The ACP website censored my first response to your article. It began with: “In a situation of social inequality hopelessness is of no value.”

        In relation to polarization, how about Fr Brian McKevitt OP recently describing the ACP “as a body that actually was, in itself, a cause for discouraging vocations.”

        There have been eras of false optimism about resurgence of the Church. New vocations were always absent. I focus on those pockets of renewal in Europe and the US characterised by increases in vocations. They model real progress on the ground and create real hope and confidence as to the future of the Church. They provide a positive vision on evidence of a reality that can be imitated which is more convincing than a priori transitory social theories. But there is no quick fix.

        Prayer and good works are the key. Blessed Teresa et al were heroic creative individuals who advanced the reign of God, with the grace of God; saw themselves as the clay rather than the potter. The Pope regularly urges all Catholics to engage in prayer et al in order to offer the wisdom of the Church, the hope of Christ, to the political process. In fact I think you and I would make much more progress in this obviously cumbersome process if we got together for a week’s prayer.

        Bishop Leahy emphasized that the Limerick synod should be conducted within the teachings of the Church. Splendid idea this, and the dialogue of the many who wish it!

        • soconaill

          I am quite agreeable to meeting up for prayer, Con – certain that you will be ready for a little dialogue over shared bread on top of that. You are helping me think – and I assure you I do pray hard as well, all the time in fact. But, bunged up with a cold, I must leave it at that tonight. God bless and keep you! More tomorrow. (You will also find a direct email at seanoconaill.com if you would prefer a more private exchange.) Sean

        • soconaill

          The ACP speaks for over 1000 priests – far more than Fr McKevitt O.P. does – but their morale seems to be generally low in relation to the notion of a new evangelisation. Very few participate in discussion on their site and none protested when one of the few who does told me that priests generally have a phobia about theology. That is a very strange and unpromising situation. It suggests that many have little enthusiasm for what is usually implied by the phrase ‘church teaching’ – i.e. the rules relating to sexuality, especially Humanae Vitae – and are therefore caught between the hierarchy and the people. At any rate the prospect of open dialogical situations does not appeal to them. They fear a hornets’ nest resulting from that.

          The fact that none would respond to the challenge of stating a case for the relevance of the church to the issues that so many are facing in secular society – especially hopelessness and depression – speaks volumes to me.

  5. Prodigal Son

    Part 3 Sorry!
    I imagine you would agree that dialogue without action becomes self-referential.

    I know from personal experience that both “monological catechetics” and “monological style of worship” can be very beneficial,- for a “prodigal” at any rate. Dialogue is part of both – the response being an attempt at faith, prayer and good works in a series of recurrent interactions with God. It necessarily leads to social interaction. I would avoid a Mass which involves discussion between priest and laity. Meaningful attention to the “we”, “us” and “our” prayers at Mass leaves one in little doubt as to one’s social, community and ecclesial responsibilities.

    Of course one can’t generalize from oneself; as in all social science, conclusions and assertions are best dealt with on the basis of evidence – statistically, in terms of probabilities rather than clear cause and effect. The thing is to learn the teaching, and get on with it a la St Francis – start with what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly one is doing the impossible! Let’s try not to fiddle while Rome burns. Oh those sins of omission! Mea culpa.

    • soconaill

      Have you read ‘Share the Good News’ – the Irish hierarchy’s ten-year plan for an overhaul of Catechetics in Ireland, introduced in 2011? It projects a complete overhaul of catechetics and Catholic adult education, with an emphasis upon adult dialogue and empowering parents to play a catechetical role. In short, there is a recognition that the present reliance on schools is inadequate and much more parish and parental participation – and dialogue – is required.

      For every person who comes looking for monological catechesis today there will be many more staying away, convinced that a more accurate term for that is indoctrination. Until would-be catechists are equipped and ready for the hardest questioning there will be no turning of the tide.

      I agree that the homily needs to be monological, but the confinement of all regular assembly to monological occasions is now counter-evangelical and, for many known to me, demoralising and alienating. It is diagnostic of an institution that has lost its nerve – and the basic reason my own adult children think I am wasting my time.

      • Prodigal Son

        “I agree that the homily needs to be monological.” Had this phrase been in the article, the probability of my responding would have decreased. Many priests are reluctant to engage with groups for fear, sometimes based on personal experience, of some people regarding it as an opportunity to change Church teaching. They don’t come “looking,” and heat rather than light results.

        ‘Share the Good News’ – can’t come soon enough. Schools are a problem but not all. Many are introducing Eucharistic adoration for students. In terms of “ill wind” and all that, the focus again after decades will on the domestic churches – families involved in a type of curriculum development, which requires dialogue but far more so, faith, prayer and good works.

        As already said, I do not generalize from myself. My catechisation has been primarily based on pre and post prodigal periods of listening, reading and attempts at practice. I have found that the St Augustine maxim that “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe” is in fact true.

        We live in a stable democracy. I am not blind to the cultural decay you highlight. But hopelessness is not compatible with Catholicism. I spent a week canvassing for Ronan Mullan in the EU elections. I was legging it to support his ambition of always standing for human dignity at all stages of life, including sufficient social protection, the right to life, the right of a child not to be systematically condemned to a deprivation of either a father or mother, and to the ethical exercise of government. If there is such a thing as a culture war, all these are components of it.

        The bishops cannot wave magic wands to create a socially charitable public or a more ethically aware Government. It’s time for the Catholic laity to stop waiting to be told in an engaging manner, but to back them and become leaven in the society. The role of priests is obvious.

        Best wishes and good luck.

        • Lloyd Allan MacPherson

          “Prodigal”, what is a stable democracy? In the US, the last three presidential elects who had the most financial backing, won their presidency. Also, standing for human dignity is a very thin line today with globalization and all. If you pass out a pamphlet that has been inked with non-fair trade ink, you’ve failed. Simply by waking up and dressing yourself, you have contributed to the exploitation of the human population. No one has a magic wand to wave to create what it is that society needs right now – but does anyone have the wherewithall to stand up to oppressive regimes and to start educating people in the ways our Lord would respond to things as if he were present today?

          • soconaill

            Welcome, Lloyd Allan. You ask questions that are much on my mind also. And according to those who comment on the current Irish political system, it too is also far from stable just now. The ideology that founded it – Irish nationalism – has run out of vision, as all ideologies do in the end – and there is deep disillusionment and fracturing to right and left. All of the major parties will be claiming ownership of the legacy of 1916 in 2016 – but what exactly does that have to do with the multinationals on the one hand (who dominate the Irish economy) or the homeless on the other (one of whom died on the street in sight of the Dail this week)?

            For lack of open Catholic assembly we Irish Catholics have been unable to discuss such matters as church throughout my lifetime. The same dialogical denial leaves most Irish women totally unimpressed by culture war fulminations about human dignity. The bishops’ culture war is the last death-rattle of Irish Christendom – a vain attempt to mobilise the Irish Catholic people without actually communicating with them as Jesus would – face to face.

            There is no alternative to open dialogical assembly if the rapid disappearance of the Irish church is ever to be stemmed. Continuing sidestepping of this issue simply tells us that the clerical church has run out of both vision and grit – and that’s why our Eucharistic assemblies are losing conviction and connection also – especially with the young.

            I note that today (02-12-14) Archbishop Martin of Dublin has called for a summit on homelessness in the capital. Great! But why not a permanent Catholic forum on the application of Catholic teaching to such issues – involving all the NGOs and lay representation from all the dioceses – with input from upper secondary school students possible also.

            It’s the total non-existence of dialogical structures of that kind that has the church in its present sad fix.

  6. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Fortunately Sean, somewhere in the middle is where this all makes sense. Priests and Bishops make up the middle class. They know first hand that they comprise the most formidable component of our Church. The numbers are on their side and they, like the lay middle-class, have the greatest responsibility to enact the change we need to see/be in the world today. They have been conditioned to not question authority but we see a group who emerges from the background who does just that. They have amassed an army world wide yet they continue to question their potency. With numbers now nearing the 10,000 mark, their influence is now pushing 10 million parishioners, or so it should be. I agree with you on Permanent Catholic Forums and including the input from our young people. They are the ones who should be making the hard decisions today because they will be dealing with them tomorrow. Of the thousands of priests who now stand in opposition to authority, there could be 4 distinct groups who lend their talents to a great purpose: 1. the demilitarization of society’s weapons of mass destruction 2. the shrinking of the gap between the rich and the poor 3. the concern and protection of the environment 4. the focus on local economy and steps toward deglobalization. I recently read that inequality corresponds with greater economic uncertainty, lower investment and high social tensions and political instability. The potential for violence and conflicts between groups rises as well. It demolishes human rights for the vast majority, especially for vulnerable groups like women, children and the elderly. This is all on the middle class because we let this happen. Priests, teachers, nurses, servicemen/women alike allow this to happen everyday. There is a clear danger in allowing this to continue and our inactivity puts us simply on the side of the oppressor as it has been written on many occassion. It’s time for everyone to pick sides in more ways than one.

  7. soconaill

    The momentum against inequality is picking up in the UK too. See e.g.: https://www.facebook.com/equalitytrust
    and http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/

    However, the psychological and spiritual causes of inequality so far elude the commentariat. I have an article on this at: http://www.seanoconaill.com/

    This too could all be discussed by a permanent outward-looking Catholic forum in Ireland – the connection between the Gospel, spiritual discipline and the tackling of all the problems you mention.

    That violence has its roots in covetousness also (understood as mimetic desire) is something never connected in Irish homilies (at least in my experience). The disconnectedness of the latter is rapidly driving me to hypertension and despair – all due to the clericalist Chinese wall, the denial of regular dialogue on the challenge of forwarding the kingdom of God.

    Folk were battering one another in stores here in Ireland and the UK over ‘Frozen’ dolls and TVs on ‘Black Friday’. When will the penny ever drop in the Sunday homily?

  8. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    The one thing I believe would make a lot of difference is having priests who are committed to social media, who believe in its outreach possibilities and who are not afraid to tackle questions from parishioners on a case by case basis. That’s a good start and it would certainly have beneficial spin off’s also.

    • soconaill

      I fear the snag there is that anything that goes into print that is in any way outside the narrow parameters set by the Temple police goes straight to the CDF- and Cardinal Mueller.

      In the wake of the Murphy report we here in Ireland had ‘visitators’ from Rome who reckoned that ‘dissent’ was our biggest problem. That’s why five or six priests got censured for what they had written – including Tony Flannery, now in the US.

      That’s one of the deepest causes of clerical demoralisation here – and their unwillingness to engage publicly, especially on ‘culture war’ issues, unless they are fully in tune with the right.

      Not even the new papacy and Evangelii Gaudium have freed things up yet. As yet, not one bishop has taken public note of the permit given by Francis to the Brazilian bishops to confer on the priest shortage there with a view to proposing e.g. ordaining married viri probati.

      And, as you have seen, so far there has been no response from the ACP to the questions asked in this article above.

  9. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    I do recall the Murphy report and the pompous Dolan who arrived thereafter. I’ve been keeping up with Tony’s tour and the news media that has spun off it. I believe if there is an advantage of social media – the more people engaged in it, the more difficult it is to police and this is pretty much unchartered territory for the CDF. The Vatican is very much disconnected from this digital world although they give the outward appearance as being tech-savvy being on twitter and the like. Roman Catholic Priests suddenly proclaiming they want to help save the planet speaks to everyone but mostly a sub 45 age group. When you take the time to say these things, the message is always the medium.

    • soconaill

      To put something in print in social media is still dangerous – like putting a message in a bottle. You can’t know where the bottle will drift. Here in Ireland the Seamus Heaney protocol tends to weigh heavily – ‘whatever you say – say nothing!’

  10. Test

    Just a test

  11. Con Carroll

    if a family become homeless because of the economic crisis. then serious questions will have to be asked. when we see people sitting on the streets, with a cup in their hands. been denied social welfare benefits, because of the habitual residence act drafed by the department of family and social welfare. we have to ask why were those who were named in the Dail yesterday 3 December 2014. by deputy Mary lou Mc Donald. as been members of the political elite. were allowed to hide financial accounts in the Ansbacher not brought to justice. ex progressive democrat. leader Dessie o Malley. Fianna Fail Richie Ryan. this is about political class interests serving the issues of Europe
    why haven’t the homeless executive called for protests outside ministers offices
    when I give bread to the poor. they call me a saint, when I ask why they have no bread, they call me a Communist
    Dom Helder Camara


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