Tanya Jones Guest Post: Archbishop Martin & Theological Illiteracy in the Irish Catholic Church

image On occasion, someone leaves a comment on my blog that is so detailed and insightful that to draw further attention to it, I post it in the main body of my blog. Tanya Jones’ response to my post on ‘Irish Catholics are Theologically Illiterate: Who do you Blame?’ is one of those posts.

Jones, a lay Catholic, is the secretary of the ecumenical Fermanagh Churches Forum.

Responding to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s Address

Reading Martin’s address (which interestingly was made in Italy, in anticipation of John Henry Newman’s beatification) I see little in the points he makes about civil religion which are surprising or particularly controversial.  The significant thing is that they have been made by an archbishop, albeit well away from home territory.

The situation he alludes to is by now a humdrum, if not quite vicious circle, for which neither clergy nor laity can take the whole blame, as each colludes with the other.

The church is valued primarily for supplying a sacramental gloss to rites of passage (or to be ruder, an excuse for conspicuous consumption) and for providing the kind of education (cramming kids through exams, onto the sports fields and into good universities and lucrative jobs) for which parents otherwise might have to pay.

Priests, whose own theological literacy is often impossible to ascertain, go along with this by preaching identikit homilies which begin with a reference to a recent sporting event (rugby in the south, soccer in the north, G.A.A. in both) and conclude with an exhortation to try to be kind to our spouses/parents/children.

As Vincent Browne points out, there is little or no awareness of society and its injustices, other than a rather archaic, if well-meaning, mission-based charity.

The Irish Catholic Church as Jester at the court of the Celtic Tiger?

Meanwhile it is largely left to the religious orders to minister to the minority, albeit a substantial, healthy and admirable minority, who recognize that their faith demands more of them than this and quite reasonably seek more from their ministers also.

If the archbishop is seeking to break into this circle, to transform the church into more than the well-fed jester at the court of the bankrupt Celtic Tiger, then he is to be applauded.  He must recognize, however, that if the church is to be more, it must also be prepared to be less.  The appropriate archetype, if the jester’s hat is to be discarded, isn’t the sleek chancellor but the holy fool outside in the snow.

And as Gladys suggests, it looks strongly as though he’s actually trying to have the best of both worlds. Archbishop Martin’s comments about the ‘people of God’ are significant:

I have the impression that when many people say “We are the Church” they actually want to say “I am the Church”, meaning “I am creating a Church according to my needs and my lifestyle.” There is a danger that when some say that the Church is the “People of God”, they really want to say that it is up to the people to determine who God is and how God is useful. But, whoever encounters only their own God does not encounter the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Am I alone in finding this snide and patronising?

The final sentence is, of course, true, but at least as true for those within the structures of power as for those outside.  It seems to indicate the kind of Catholic intellectuals that he is seeking, those who will exercise their intelligence and insight only within prescribed boundaries, who will identify the specks in the eye of secular society but leave their own splintered planks unmentioned.

Looking Back to Newman to Look Forward …

It is a great pity.  As a Catholic myself, a convert and blow-in, I’d rejoice to see today’s sterile symbiosis replaced by a genuine and fruitful relationship between all members of the church, clergy and laity, where each recognizes that they have aspects of faith to learn as well as to teach.

That would be a truer way of expressing the vision of Newman, who, as seems to be forgotten whenever the hierarchy speak of him, was himself a thorn in their side and a man who, as he grew older, became less and less dogmatic and more and more tolerant.

It was the spirit of Newman which brought about the Second Vatican Council, an event which still seems scarcely to have been noticed in Ireland; it is hardly just to use his memory to turn the clock back yet further.

2 thoughts on “Tanya Jones Guest Post: Archbishop Martin & Theological Illiteracy in the Irish Catholic Church”

  1. Thanks very much for your comments, Gladys. I should probably point out, as you do, that these are very much my personal thoughts and emphatically not the opinions of the Fermanagh Churches Forum.

  2. Tanya, whilst you make a few good points, you do not know nor understand the mind of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, what he stood for, or what the aim and intention of the Second Vatican Council. The opening address to this Council by Pope John XXIII is worth a read.

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