Fr Brian Lennon on Repentance & Reform in the Irish Catholic Church

imageIt’s been some time since I’ve blogged about the crisis in the Irish Catholic Church. In fact, the last time was way back on 28 October, when I offered some reflections on ‘The End of Irish Catholicism’ based on a paper I’d presented at the Queen’s University Religious Studies Forum.

It gets to the point where there’s only so much you can say without repeating yourself, ad infinitum.

But the excellent Rite & Reason column by Fr Brian Lennon SJ in today’s Irish Times brings me back to the matter. Yes, Lennon is saying things that have been said many times before. But today he frames it in the terms of his new book, Can I Stay in the Catholic Church? (Columba, 2011):

Many Catholics, including myself, were deeply disturbed by the response to the abuse and asked how can we stay in a group with such corruption.

To me there is only one possible answer: repentance.

Saying “sorry” and meaning it is part of repentance. If the Pope visits Ireland it would greatly help if he spent 15 minutes in silent prayer in some public place as an act of sorrow. But repentance also means changing our wrong behaviour, vindicating those who have been wronged, and making appropriate restitution.

Lennon reminds us once again how important it is that repentance is linked with action, that mere word-filled apologies are not enough.

As he puts it:

We cannot say we have repented if we are not working to change our structures.

The traditional culture of Irish Catholicism – the stereotypical passive and deferential laity – could mean that people, while disappointed in their leaders, lack the hope, initiative or confidence to start working for structural changes themselves.

Lennon offers some suggestions:

If lay people want to exercise the duties and charisms to which they have been called by their baptism they will have to struggle. That struggle needs a focus, organisation and political skill. One possible focus is Canon 129. Under this, lay people are excluded from the exercise of significant authority. Intuitively many feel this is wrong.

A second option is to call, as others have done, for the setting up of a lay body with a significant proportion of women, which together with the current College of Cardinals would elect future popes. There is no doctrinal block to this. Having such a body would be a step forward in recognising the charism of lay people.

I’m not saying that lay people should be going ‘behind the backs’ of church authorities. But people may be unsure about how to become more active in contributing to the change that needs to happen – change for the good of all, in all the churches.

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