September 03, 2002
Something unhealthy about having no time for women

[An opinion piece in The Irish Times by Father Michael Commane, a Dominican priest and journalist with The Kerryman newspaper. We include this as an interesting and, in some ways, alarming insight to current thinking among some clergy].

RITE AND REASON: As the the National Conference of Priests of Ireland continues today, Father Michael Commane writes that a passion for secrecy and male domination has contributed to the church's problems

No doubt for some the crisis about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is a bore and many people have given up on it. It has all become too much and they have simply had enough.

It is also a field day for church bashers and all those who want to get "even" with the church. But there are loyal Catholics who simply want answers, they want the church to talk a language that makes sense to them here and now.

However, recent revelations about goings on at Maynooth have been sensational. The newspapers have given great coverage to the story. Added to the whole sorry tale is the undercurrent of the dispute constantly going on in the church between the liberal and conservative wings.

The Catholic Church also needs to look very closely at the occurrence of homosexuality among its priestly ranks. For an organisation that puts such stress on matters sexual it is not good enough to "pretend" or wish away a topic such as this. Does the church have a policy on homosexuals becoming priests?

On another point, it is disturbing how much money the church has paid out in settlements to victims of child sex abuse. All this money that is washing about was largely collected from the Irish people and surely those who handed over this hard-earned cash have a right to know what is done with it.

The idea that the church has conducted private financial deals with victims of child sexual abuse is shocking. And what's most shocking is the secrecy that surrounds it all. That secrecy is, I believe, a major problem with the church. For generations it has been the norm that the people be told as little as possible. For example, the method of appointing bishops is simply absurd. From the smallest parish right to the gates of St Peter's there is an aura of secrecy about every aspect of church affairs.

Many rank-and-file priests have long been concerned about how the church manages its affairs, but because of the hierarchical structure of the church, open debate is difficult. And under the present papacy there has been a push for greater centralisation, which has ended up giving less and less say to the local community.

A world renowned biblical scholar, the Dominican priest, Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor, recently pointed out that such a centralisation leads to "yes men" being made bishops. In a recent article in the New York Times a writer pointed out that the church, the Taliban, and the failed Enron Corporation had two things in common - they were male-dominated and secrecy ruled supreme.

Just take the appointment of Bishop Eamonn Walsh as Apostolic administrator in Ferns, for instance. The ordinary Catholic in the pew was told it was made by Rome. Who in Rome? And when Bishop Brendan Comiskey offered his resignation, who did he see, and who gave the green light for his riding off into the sunset?

Who exactly are these people in Rome? What sort of people end up running the Catholic Church? There is only one thing that can be said with certainty and that is that they are all men. And that is madness. It is amazing that an organisation which claims to be central in preaching the Gospel is governed exclusively by men. This is a serious and profound problem within the Catholic Church. And in some way or other I believe it can be argued that this all-male situation is linked in with the secrecy that pervades the Catholic Church.

There is something profoundly unhealthy about an organisation that has no time for women in its ruling classes. How many bishops are willing and interested in discussing such issues?

Church authorities have developed the most skilful ways of dismissing arguments opposed to their way of running things. There is an urgent need across the church for a discussion on every aspect of the workings of the church. And high on that list is a need for a thorough examination into the pervasive secrecy of the organisation.

Michael Commane is a Dominican priest and journalist with the Kerryman newspaper

Posted by Donnacha at September 03, 2002 06:36 PM

It does seem extraordinary that the concept of "loyalty" is being bandied about in this way. I always understood that it was to the message of Christ that I owed my faith and trust,not to clericalism and an istitution that seems to demand unquestioned obedience. As for the whole concept of "church bashing" I can only say that personally challenging the Church was a desperately difficult and frightening thing to do and not something that was driven by any hatred of the church. Indeed many in my family remain deeply committed to their faith and it was painful to have to force them and myself to go through a public and exposing process over the past 7 years. I have no doubt that there are many people who wish to express their deep anger at the Church, it is of regret that Fr Commane seems more inclined to introduce the concept of loyalty, and thus label many of us as disloyal, and to judge the righteous anger of those abused by the church as bad or wrong. It is deeply regrettable that he seems unable to instead acknowledge the depth of the betrayl that many have suffered at the hands of the church, instead reducing the whole matter to judgements and worries about the financial cost to the Church. So much for our Lord and the money lenders!

It is tired and tragic that we again see another Churchman using the same arguements about church bashing, money and homosexuality and failing to grasp the depth of the abandonment and abuse of our faith by the Hierarchy.


Posted by: Colm on September 13, 2002 05:53 PM
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