The Church in Ireland

I've been in the beautiful, wild, West of Ireland for ten days with my family. I love it here, it is home to me, a place that has constantly been a part of my life no matter where I have been or lived in England. Mayo has always been home, where the family are, where the familiar places are.

I often wonder, and am often asked if I could live here. I dream about it all the time, but one of the real problems I would have would be the Church here. The liturgy is poor, the people seem spiritually starved. The Mass is often dreadful, occasionally bearable. There is no sense of reverence or sacredness, the best you can hope for is an enthusiastic or genial delivery of the canon of the Mass; the responses are rushed and formulaic.

Yet Ireland IS Catholic. I went to Mass last Sunday and there were literally thousands of people in St. Mary's Church, Westport. Thousands! It's awesome! Irish people ARE Catholic—it's in their nature, their bones, it oozes out of their pores, it is their way. It is manifest in the importance of community, of caring for others, their friendliness, it is part of the make up of this place. But it is under threat. People still go to Mass, but what do they get there? Last Sunday's (really quite good, by and large) homily contained a sad admission from a priest who found, at the grave of two little boys who had been killed last week, that he had no answer to the question "where is God in this?" He actually announced to the congregation that he had no answer. Frankly I was shocked by this admission.

There is no catechesis, no solid spiritual food. No answers to difficult questions. They put statues and rosary beads on their gravestones, they go to Mass, but I worry that this is becoming merely habitual, a superstition rather than the Catholic faith. A faith which gives us real answers to the big questions about who we are, what we are doing here, where we came from and where we are going. A faith with real, discernible, tangible, benefits. A dear member of my family who has just lost her mother repeated a comment her bereaved father had said to her: "God hasn't any mercy on us." This almost broke my heart, because if God is anywhere, God is in our grief, in our suffering, in our loss. "Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Mt 5:4) It is the divine consolation that wipes away every tear, the fulfilment of all we hold in faith here on earth, and will come to know in heaven. Our God is a crucified God.

So how did we get here? Well, some Irish friends of mine suggest that the Church in Ireland is haemorrhaging because of the ACP, who I have heard described as "an association of useless narcissistic navel gazers". They certainly do whine incessantly about everything Rome does and thus simultaneously could be said to constitute both the cause and symptom of Ireland's problems.

That said, the ACP has attracted many new members recently as priests in Ireland feel their bishops have hung them out to dry over the abuse crisis. Panicked attempts to do things properly led to natural justice being almost sidelined, this looked like presumed guilt. Whilst bishops ran scared, the ACP were the main movers in (for example) getting Fr Kevin Reynolds case sorted out. Indeed, Fr. Reynolds may never have seen justice if the ACP hadn't found solicitor to take his case against RTÉ, certainly his own lawyer bailed on him. There's a good, balanced article on the ACP here.

Anyway, whilst in Mayo this week I found evidence of the ACP providing a haven for a coalition in favour of dissent and rupture in this dreadful piece in the Mayo News.

It is really very shocking and worrying, mostly as it displays a dreadful lack of understanding on the part of the priest who wrote it. I assume that, because the alternative is that he is deliberately attempting to mislead Catholics about what Vatican II teaches. Either way, it makes little sense and is openly heretical.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that there is no place for dissent and for theological discussion. I love it! Get me down the pub and I'll argue 'till the cows come home. But a priest, whose duty is the care and salvation of the souls in his jurisdiction, has no business publicly dismissing Catholic teaching and hierarchy in such a blatant and, frankly, ignorant way. If I worked in an office and went against my job description to the extent that Fr. Hegarty does, it would warrant gross misconduct and instant dismissal. Notwithstanding that, I would want to be seriously questioning myself as to why I worked for an organisation which was so inherently at odds with my own beliefs.

One of the clearest mistakes he makes is to suggest that the Pope, or the Curia somehow 'make-up' Catholic teaching. The Pope's job is to hold the Apostolic Faith in perpetuity until the Parousia (the second coming). Our faith is 'Apostolic', that is, of the Apostles. Nothing is changed, nothing added, nothing taken away. As society develops, new situations are interpreted according to that deposit. The faith does develop, but it develops organically and in continuity with the teachings of Christ.

To demonstrate this without going into all the specific points Fr. Hegarty makes, lets take the issue he raises on 'birth control' (sounds terribly Communist doesn't it?). The Church has always taught irresponsible parenthood is immoral and Humanae Vitae teaches that married couples are in fact required to examine the social, health and economic factors if they are to have an upright intention and act as responsible parents. The Church rejects the introduction of artificial methods of birth control which destroy the inviolable bond between the procreative and unitive ends of sexual intercourse. Far from artificial birth control being optional in the Church (i.e. ‘simply a matter of conscience’) the Church (q.v. Humanae Vitae) has consistently taught a binding moral norm which is part of the constant teaching of the Church’s Magisterium. In fact all popes who have addressed the issue of artificial birth control have spoken with one voice: it is a violation of the pro-life, pro-fecund law God has inscribed in our natures. This teaching acknowledges the reality that birth control is the introduction of an impediment, something which contradicts the deep veneration which the Catholic Church has always had towards sex.

(You can read my full exposition of this teaching, commissioned by my diocese, here).

It surely is true that no priest goes to heaven or hell alone, he takes thousands of souls with him. For that reason if no other, this needs a good fisking! My emphasis and comments in red.

Article from the Mayo News:

Kung gives hope to priests seeking church reform

Fr Kevin Hegarty

The recent 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council has occasioned a plethora of reminiscences and reflections about the most crucial event in the Catholic Church in the last century. For me, the most interesting contribution has come from the Swiss theologian, Hans Kung.
The most interesting contribution? You might as well have written "I am a heretic" Kevin. Kung is a lone voice of radical dissent, not a spokesperson for the Church!
Kung was an adviser at the council along with Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Both were then in their early thirties and regarded as ‘boy theologians’ by their elderly and venerable colleagues.
Since then their paths have diverged considerably. Kung has ploughed a lonely furrow as an upholder of the reforms of the council while Pope Benedict, frightened by the student protests of the 1960’s, has become a theological reactionary. Theological reactionary?? Ratzinger, far from being the dictator many considered he would be as pope, instead gave us the most detailed examination of Jesus Christ for decades. This has been his focus. But I bet you haven't read that, have you Kevin?
When Pope John XXIII was asked what he intended by having a council, he replied by opening a window and saying: “That – to let some fresh air into the Church.” The present incumbent of the papal throne has closed the door. "Let some fresh air in" does not mean throw away 2,000 years of Tradition. Kevin, do you even now what the "hermeneutic of continuity" is? That's what this papacy has been about. I'm wondering if you even went to seminary at this point!
Kung is a creative theologian. As a professor at the University of Tubingen he has written over 30 books, several of which have acquired a readership much greater than is usual for works of theology.
Among other matters, he has written critically of the Church’s teaching on celibacy, contraception and papal infallibility. Yes, and tried to teach these ideas in a Catholic seminary. That's why he was sacked. Ever considered that as a Catholic priest, you might be better off listening to the successor of Peter instead of his detractors?
The Vatican Curia disdains liberal creativity. (????!!!!!) So, not surprisingly, it withdrew Kung’s licence to teach as a Catholic theologian in 1979. The attempt to silence and sideline him failed. Kung has remained at the forefront of debate in the church into the eighties.
In a recent article he provided an assessment of the Second Vatican Council. He believes that its greatest achievements are in ecumenism, the development of a vernacular liturgy and in an enhanced status for the Catholic laity. He has a point. These could indeed be identified as fruits of the Council (except ecumenism—I'd say that has gone absolutely nowhere, and Anglicanorum Coetibus was the death knell for the ecumenism typical of the 'Spirit of Vatican II'), but not necessarily the fruits the Council sought. Take the 'development of the vernacular liturgy' for example. Sacrosanctum Concilium clearly states that the vernacular  may be used in certain limited ways, but clearly understood that the fixed parts of the Mass would remain in Latin. Don't believe me, read the document (especially paragraph 54), or have a read of this and this on what the Second Vatican Council actually taught.
He goes on to argue that further reforms have been stymied by the conservative Vatican Curia who seized control of the council agenda when the bishops left Rome. But then he would say that, wouldn't he? What about Cardinal Martini? He was very firmly part of that 'conservative Vatican Curia' but lauded as the darling of the liberals by The Tablet. Kung's statement doesn't say much for him does it? Even if you shouldn't believe the hype where Martini is concerned.
He wrote prophetically in 1965, after the final session of the council: “The tension between a church that embraces reform and an unwilling Curia can only produce a serious crisis. If, at least over time, the few forces of renewal in Rome do not gain the upper hand (not least through the filling of high positions in the Curia) and if, as they have to some extent suggested, the others seek to restore the pre-conciliar situation, it can only lead to a great crisis of trust.
Only the reform of the Curia, in personnel and structures, can help to avert such a crisis. Here too, the renewal of the spirit and the conversion of the heart is most decisive.” Here he echoes the theme of Mary McAleese’s new book where she argues that the concept of collegiality was not developed after the council.
He outlines a number of issues that remain outstanding in the Church and require the summoning of a third Vatican Council:

• Birth control and personal responsibility.
• The regulation of mixed marriage. The validity of the marriage, raising of children.
• Priestly celibacy.
• Structural and personal reform of the Roman Curia.
• Reform of penance. Confession, abstinence and fasting.
• Reform of ecclesiastical dress and titles.
•Effective engagement of the affected levels of the Church in the appointment of bishops.
• Transfer of the elections of the Pope from the College of Cardinals to a synod of bishops, representative of the Church.”

I don't like or agree with speaking of 'liberal' or 'conservative' within the Church, I think there are those who are loyal to the Magisterium and those who are not. However another who might be considered 'liberal' by you Fr. Kevin, Cardinal Danneels, delivered a lecture in Southwark diocese on the 18th October this year, the full text of which is available here. He asks:

But would a new council appear to be the best answer? Organizing a council is a matter of complex heavy logistics. For many bishops travel and accommodation would have to be financed by the Church. Moreover, the world episcopate today is immense: 5000 bishops not to mention experts and guests! How could one technically organize communication for such an assembly? Shouldn't there perhaps be continental synods? But right now at present there is little enthusiasm or optimism or hope for a Council. Haven't we become too fearful? And a new council could not possibly be largely a European council as was the case with Vatican II. Back then the input came mainly from Europe. Are people in other parts of the world ready to take on such a task today?
Vatican III? Is not the full realization of the decisions of Vatican II the real Vatican III for right now?  
+ Godfried Cardinal Danneels
Once again I would suggest that you would be better off listening to those who hold authority in the Church rather than those who sow dissent!
In an interview with ‘The Guardian’ on October 5 Kung has been even more forthcoming on the current crisis in Catholicism. He strongly criticised the guidelines governing the choice of bishops: “The rules for choosing bishops are so rigid that as soon as candidates emerge who say, stand up for the pill, or the ordination of women they are struck off the list. That is because these things are against Church teaching you numpty! How can you have a teacher and leader in an organisation who fundamentally disagrees with what it teaches? The result was a church of ‘yes men’ almost all of whom unquestioningly toe the line. The only way for reform is from the bottom up. The priests and others in positions of responsibility need to stop being so subservient, to organise themselves and say that there are certain things that they will not put up with anymore.”
So he praises Catholic priests who have founded movements in Switzerland and Austria, advocating change in the Church. Our own ‘Association of Catholic Priests’, in Ireland, though he does not mention it, follows a similar line. Yes, heretical and advocating the bewilderment of the faithful and the disillusionment of Catholics who actually understand and believe the teachings of the Church. This is pure lunacy! There is a church for people like you and Kung, it's called the Anglican church, where you can do pretty much whatever you like and believe in whatever you like. Why don't you go and be a priest there and see how many parishioners you have on a Sunday?
He argues that there is strength in numbers.
“I’ve always said that if one priest in a diocese is roused, that counts for nothing. Five will create a stir. Fifty are pretty much invincible. In Austria the figure is well over 300, possibly up to 400 priests; in Switzerland it’s about 150 who have stood up and it will increase.”
Archbishop Schanborn [sic] tried to stamp out the revolt by threatening to punish the priests involved but had to retreat: “He soon stopped when he realised that so many ordinary people are supportive of them and he was in danger of turning them all against him.”
Some hope there for the ‘Association of Catholic Priests’ as it continues its campaign of reform.
What a joke. There is no hope for the ACP who are an isolated minority in Catholic Ireland presiding over dead ideas which have had there day. We have had forty years of this sort of relativist nonsense and where has it got us? Look around you Fr. Hegarty! Orders who preach the faith as deposited thrive, those with 'liberal' agendas die. People are hungry for the faith, if none of it matters, why are you still in the job?

What possible future is there for an organisation within an organisation, campaigning against the teachings of that organisation? Mt 12:25—A house divided cannot stand! I find it extraordinary that people like Fr. Hegarty use the Council in order to validate their dissent, mis-directing and mis-quoting all the while.

If Fr. Hegarty would care to actually read any of the documents of his precious Second Vatican Council, he would find that what it actually taught was that the Pope is infallible, that we should give religious assent of mind and will to his teaching even when he is not infallible, that Latin should be retained as the language of the Church, that “both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence”, that Catholics “may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law”. In short, what it has always taught!

Although you wouldn't know it from the article above, Vatican II actually reaffirmed, in no uncertain terms, the teaching of Vatican I on papal authority.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) says this: 
"This teaching concerning the institution, the permanence, the nature and import of the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office, the sacred synod proposes anew to be firmly believed by all the faithful" (LG 18).
Vatican II tried to finish what Vatican I began. Vatican I defined the role of the papacy in the Church but didn't get around to the episcopacy. As a result of the Italian invasion of the papal states and the Franco-Prussian war, Vatican I was unable to consider the place of the episcopacy in relation to the pope.

Vatican II restated Vatican I's teaching on the papacy, but also sketched out the role of bishops in the Church. Bishops as teachers and pastors acting in union with the pope are said to be acting according to the principle of collegiality.

There is a renewed stress on the pope as head of a college of bishops, but there is nothing which subordinates the pope to this college. In no sense can Vatican II be taken as "doing away with" papal authority as previously defined.

The reality is that, in the real world, people question Kung's sanity and, every time he makes a statement, are forced to ask whether he achieves anything excepting that he simply confirms everyone’s view that the Pope is right about whatever he is ranting on about: see here

A beautiful stained glass window in the Church of St. Mary in Westport, Co. Mayo.

I wonder if Archbishop Neary has seen this and what he will do about it? It might be worth contacting him to let him know your concerns. As the Pope said to the English bishops:

"It is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate."

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