|St. Brigid of Kildare, Holy Trinity Church, Rathdowney, County Laois|
"Like Julius Caesar’s tripartite division of Gaul, the Ireland which Pope Francis will encounter in August 2018, when he attends the world conference of families in Dublin, will divide into three separate units.
To the fore will be the ‘official’ Irish Catholic Church marshalled by the Bishops and those clergy and laity working through diocesan and parish council structures.
Second, His Holiness’s waveringly Loyal Opposition led by the 1,000 elderly members of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) and liberal lay groups such as Brendan Butler’s reform-minded We Are Church, which favour the lifting of the obligatory celibacy of the all-male clergy and the admission of women to the priesthood.
And last but certainly not least in terms of numbers, there is the growing majority of ex-Catholics who will stay away from the church ceremonies extolling the family, notwithstanding the public charisma of Il Papa Francesco. They constitute what a survey by the ACP concluded two years ago have now “to all intents and purposes, become pagan”.
In post-Catholic Ireland, this new secular majority “have bought into the evils of materialism and consumerism, and don’t have time or interest in faith any more,” the ACP pessimistically lamented
However, a valiant attempt has been made to stir up interest in the papal visit by Redemptorist priest, Fr Gerard Moloney. Writing in The Irish Times, Moloney, one of the six dissident clerics silenced by Pope Benedict XVI, provocatively asked if the Irish Catholic Church was worthy of a papal visit, concluding that reactionary church leaders were not. His analysis was far from a vote of confidence in the hierarchy.
“It’s no surprise there has been a muted response to news of Pope Francis’s visit,” Moloney candidly admitted. “Many ex-Catholics here weren’t even born when Pope John Paul II visited in 1979, but Irish people have a residual collective memory of the church’s role in post-independence Ireland, and are reacting viscerally against it.
“Authoritarianism, clericalism, vanity, pietism, hypocrisy and pride have been the toxic mix that has devastated the church in Ireland. There will be no enormous crowds at Francis’s outdoor Masses, no gushing media coverage – and every likelihood of protest demonstrations.”
Moloney’s most caustic strictures were directed at Archbishop Charles Brown, the New York born papal nuncio and former hardline theologian in the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under his mentor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. A zealot for personal publicity, Brown, astonishingly, has refused to talk to the ACP, a policy which has come under fire from the outspoken Sligo priest, Fr Brendan Hoban, a columnist in the Western People, while Fr Kevin Hegarty, writing in the Mayo News, deplored how the New Yorker has overseen the appointment of 10 conservative and unimaginative bishops since his coming to Ireland in 2012.
In his defence, the nuncio contends that he can hardly meet the ACP when the bishops don’t either, insisting that they will talk only to the more conformist chairpersons of Priests Councils. Faced with such ‘a sugar-coated’ response from the cosy Maynooth Club via an official brush-off letter, dated August 18, from Bishop Raymond Brown of Kerry, Fr Tony Flannery has blogged that this would appear to be the end of any possibility of dialogue.
With six more appointments due to be made to the episcopal bench an Irish prelate of the standing of Diarmuid Martin, Francis’s host in 2018, might be inspired to alert Pope Francis, who is not in the clericalist mould of John Paul II and Benedict, but is an advocate of mercy and maturity, to the growing unease about the undiplomatic impact of Charlie Brown whose survival is now a subject of intense speculation among the clerical chattering class.
Moloney's IT article would appear to be the first shot in a campaign to impress on the Pope just what a mess the conservative hierarchy has made of the island of saints and scholars."
* John Cooney, author and journalist, is preparing a biography of Cardinal Desmond Connell and the Collapse of Irish Catholicism for publication by Merrion Press in 2017.