Bishop Donal McKeown acknowledged the shortcomings of the institutional Church in response to the Troubles at the end of the 4 Corners Festival Belfast on Sunday evening.
He discussed the book Considering Grace – Presbyterians and the Troubles by Gladys Ganiel and Jamie Yohanis in St John the Evangelist Parish Hall, West Belfast.
The book records the “deeply moving stories” of 120 ordinary people’s experiences of the Troubles.
“Many Catholics would echo the sentiments of some contributors that statements and condemnations from leaders were often distant and meaningless,” said the bishop.
He said that the stories in the book showed how “Church personnel on the ground did many great things, individual bridgebuilders were inspired by their faith – but the Churches as institutions struggled to make any difference at the micro or macro level”.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland due to its structures, he said, had limitations “in that local pressures could be easily exerted. The short term of office of the Moderator means that no medium-term leadership figure could appear. On the Catholic side, there was less susceptibility to political agendas.”
Speaking to The Irish Catholic he said he wonders if they could have done anything to help ease the tensions in Northern Ireland. “The Churches as organisations don’t seem to have a lot of affect in peacebuilding.
“That’s the question, are Churches in a position to influence the macro issues? I am wondering are they fit to do it, are they capable of doing it?”
He said at the event that that “structures are not frozen in stone but at the service of the mission” and that we should reflect and learn from the mistakes of the past.
Considering Grace was commissioned by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The event was originally meant to have Seamus Mallon as a speaker; due to his passing he was remembered at the evening of talks, poetry and music.