Outstanding article on the meltdown of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Until women are treated as equals in the Catholic Church, including priestly ministry in a new model of an accountable, community-based, justice centered church modeled on Jesus' vision of inclusivity, it will continue to be "lost within a gilded labyrinth." Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP, www.arcwp.org, email@example.com
Another day, another flavourless statement from Maynooth. It is remarkable how an institution as vibrant and effective as the Catholic Church during its 2,000-year history should become now so lost within a gilded labyrinth.
There is a way out of this maze of its own construction, as leaders from Pope Francis to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin realise. But their dilemma is how to secure buy-in for essential reforms from the Church's management class.
The scale of the necessary overhaul is significant, and many within the hierarchy are resistant to change. This means the reformers have a circle to square: on the one hand, gradual reform will meet with less resistance from traditionalists; on the other hand, it might be dismissed as tinkering at the edges.
For the Irish hierarchy to stick its collective fingers in its ears and go "la la la, we can't hear you" is no solution to the crisis lapping at its doors. It has pursued such a policy for decades, with dwindling vocations and empty churches to show for it.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin is among those trying to effect change - but will it be watered down so that the public barely notices any difference? This week's statement from Maynooth's trustees will do little to reassure the faithful, who have anxieties both about alleged seminary 'sexcapades' and the theologically inflexible priests being formed there.
The trustees (four archbishops and 13 senior bishops) intend to update whistleblower procedures and implement a social media policy. Useful in principle, no doubt, but it's over-optimistic to imagine an internet policy will end what Archbishop Martin described as "strange goings-on there".
Nevertheless, some shifting winds are apparent at Maynooth - even allowing for the reality that dynamic change must come from Rome. After all, one seminary in Ireland cannot alter recruitment policies to allow for the inclusion of women and married priests.
A development presented as potentially significant will see the establishment of a sub-committee to examine the pastoral needs of priestly training in contemporary Ireland. This sub-group will include lay people, families and "especially" women, as urged by Pope Francis. Alluding to contemporary Ireland demonstrates an awareness that current training is better suited to Ireland of the past than the present.
Every advance is to be welcomed. But telling women they can recommend who should become a seminarian, without allowing them to enter training themselves if they have a vocation, is like giving someone the vote but banning them from standing for election.
It's extraordinary how such indefensible inequality is allowed to continue with so little challenge from within the organisation. Imagine it in any other sphere: refusing legal rights to women, or property ownership, or excluding them from certain jobs.
Of course, such vetoes were once the case - but they were swept away, and no reasonable person would argue for their reinstatement. Nowadays, people look back and marvel how they were tolerated for so long. Just as many of us gape at the Catholic Church's persistent and dogmatic blindness regarding half of its membership.
Only 14 young men have entered Maynooth in the current intake, as the Church continues to swim against the tide. Consider how many recruits there might be if women were admissible, or the vow of celibacy was set aside.
Even so, one or two interesting ideas are emerging. One is an apprenticeship for seminarians in the community - that shows some creative thinking. The outside world cannot be banned from the cloisters if the Catholic Church hopes to train priests capable of connecting with those they purport to serve.
Also promising is the Maynooth trustees' reference to a national policy for recruitment to the priesthood: this represents an important opportunity for improvement and shouldn't be viewed as a mechanism to reinforce the status quo.
Rather worryingly, Archbishop Martin's comments in the aftermath of that statement from the trustees have the distinct smack of someone backtracking. A few weeks ago, he emerged with guns blazing, saying Dublin diocesan candidates for the priesthood would go to Rome rather than Maynooth - indicating a loss of trust in the Irish seminary.
Now, in a somewhat contradictory position, he has told RTE's 'Morning Ireland': "Maynooth is not to be condemned but it's not to be canonised either." It sounds as if he didn't gain support from fellow trustees.
Then again, the Catholic leadership's response to problems invariably leans towards the least change possible. Perhaps this is due to fear of letting critics appear to control a situation. But it points towards a central conundrum: the hierarchy is fundamentally unwilling to advance too far in the direction of change, and seems to believe a substantial strategic shift would be damaging.
Effort is diverted into defending the current position as opposed to reviewing it for an overhaul. And all the time the trust continues to be eroded. Not least because priests who speak out, voicing reservations about ultra-conservatism, are silenced and smothered by the hierarchy.
Whether we care to acknowledge it or not, the Catholic Church has helped to mold the contours of our society and culture. It is pitiful to see its disintegration, especially where need remains for many of its services in the community.
The institution has been integral to Irish life, since the days of the early monks who helped to preserve our legends - even if they rejigged the ending of stories such as the Children of Lir to suit a Christian audience. Christianity adapted to local circumstances, with Celtic feast days incorporated into the Christian calendar - the spring festival of Imbolc becoming St Bridget's Day on February 1, for instance.
But today, change is viewed with suspicion and when it happens, the pace is glacial. The hierarchy needs to lose its aloof remoteness. Restructuring and transforming how the Catholic Church does its business is long overdue. Walls need to topple. Above all, any discussion of reform without bringing women to the forefront is meaningless.
The Catholic leadership has forgotten that the Apostles walked with their people. If meaningful change continues to be blocked, any congregations left for priests to walk with will be meagre.