The most prominent religious affairs story in the media last week was the child abuse summit in Rome. Commentary varied from optimistic to cynical and all shades between.
Some Catholics called for a review of Catholic teaching on sexuality, but I felt they needed to be more specific. That position could mean anything from scrapping the Church’s teaching to explaining and promoting it better. If the abusers had been following Church teaching, the abuse would not have happened and there would have been no victims. The abusers knew well it was wrong, hence the manipulative secrecy.
Last Friday night’s Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1) was one of the more insightful programmes on the matter. It was a wise move to include Prof. Donald Palmer in the deliberations as he was an expert on the behaviour of institutions. He was hopeful the Church could be reformed but found “a tremendous amount of inertia”. He found the leadership too insulated and thought the entire organisation should be involved in policy formation on the issue.
Abuse survivor Marie Collins was right to draw attention to abuses of power, which, she thought gave rise to a sense of moral superiority and perhaps a sense of license. She could well have added arrogance to the mix. She thought the summit was “a sincere effort”, however late it was to be doing this. Chris White of the Crux website found the narrative dominated by abuse survivors who were holding press conferences, and he referenced Pope Francis’ call for the bishops to listen to the cries of survivors.
Fr Joe McDonald had an admirable commitment to the Church and saw drastic solutions coming in the workings of the Holy Spirit (“when she dances her creative dance”). Mind you, I don’t know if characterising the Holy Spirit as female is any more helpful than characterising the Holy Spirit as male!
It seemed he wanted to see the existing “abusive institution” converted to a smaller (why?) more humble, more inclusive community. Whatever the nuances all contributors seemed hopeful to varying degrees, without being ecstatically optimistic. Fr McDonald also wanted Church teaching on sexuality to be examined, but wasn’t clear on what direction this might take.
Likewise with ethics lecturer Gina Menzies in discussion with Michael Kelly, Managing Editor of The Irish Catholic, on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) earlier last Friday. Though also vague on the changes needed, she however was much more negative about it, suggesting its teaching on these matters was ‘in the dark ages’.
She thought the Church didn’t understand that we were sexual beings, though I’d suggest it was well understood and that was precisely why there were so many prescriptions and obsessions about it, at least until the mid-60s, when they seemed to back off and left a vacuum in which attitudes to sex swung to the other extreme. Kelly pointed out a key irony at the end of the interview – in an effort to protect the institution and avoid scandal, misguided clerics caused the Church to lose its moral authority in many corners of the world.
I kept up to date with developments at the summit through News Nightly (EWTN) which was well worth a look for a Catholic perspective, not just on Church matters but on US politics as well. The show is accessible on satellite, on piped TV and on the EWTN App for Apple and Android devices.
Last Friday’s episode featured an interview with our own Archbishop Eamon Martin, who spoke of the moving testimony of abuse survivors, the “heinous crimes” of the perpetrators, the importance of accountability and his hope that the bishops will leave Rome with a commitment to concrete actions, the latter a sentiment expressed by many commentators. We also heard from abuse survivor Shaun Dougherty who was one of those giving testimony. He felt progress was always made when meetings with survivors took place, but more was needed.
Reaction to the outcome of the summit varied from disappointment to cautious optimism – a range of views evident on Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1) last Sunday, with contributions from journalists Paddy Agnew, David Quinn and Marian herself. Marian thought the 21 reflection points of the summit were strong, Agnew felt it was important the summit had happened at all, and Quinn thought it gave developing world bishops an opportunity to be pro-active before a huge local crisis struck their countries. We know all about that.
Pick of the Week
RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday, March 3, 11 am
Sunday Mass is with the Carrigaline Singers and a gathered congregation from Carrigaline, Co. Cork. The celelebrant is Fr Sean Healy SMA.
FRANCISCAN UNIVERSITY PRESENTS
EWTN, Wednesdaym March 6, 11 am
Dr Michael Waldstein, English translator of Theology of the Body revisits Pope St Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
VOGUE: TRIAL BY SOCIAL MEDIA
RTÉ1, Wednesday night, March 6, 1.35 am
Vogue Williams explores the power that online platforms have to bring about the downfall of anyone in a matter of hours.