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Catholic in 2019: 'Some cardinals and clerics appear trapped within a medieval mindset - but Pope Francis provides a glimmer of hope'

‘We can all help to change the outdated teachings, traditions and structures which repel many adults and young people,’ writes Joe Mulvaney.

Joe Mulvaney

This is an excerpt from Joe Mulvaney’s book Speak Out for Reform in the Catholic Church: A Call to Action. 

ON 14 JUNE 1970, a beautiful sunny day, thirty of us young men were ordained as priests at All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Dublin to provide ministry to people in America, Canada, Australia, England and South Africa.

A class picture was taken in front of the main door of the seminary. We were sent forth from under the following motto which remains carved over that main door:

Euntes Docete Omnes Gentes – Go, Make Disciples of All Nations

 image
My ordination card stated that we were going out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus announced that we are all special sons and daughters of a loving God. His message is that reality is gracious, all will be delivered from evil and all will be well.

Jesus Christ as Risen Lord, is with us and assures us that life is changed and not ended at death. The Holy Spirit of God inspires our response of joy, thanksgiving, love for all and action for justice within a community of believers.

Thankfully, my faith in that gospel message remains unchanged. That core Catholic faith sustained my ancestors in difficult times and it helps me.

However, nearly fifty years later, much has changed for all of us. The seminary is closed, and All Hallows College is now part of the Dublin City University campus.

There is a growing crisis within the Roman Catholic Church in the developed world. The shadow of child abuse haunts us worldwide.

All the evidence shows that Canon Laws and official directives about cover-up issued from the Vatican. The bishops were obedient to those instructions and now suffer blame.

Pope Francis has  admitted that “we showed no care for the little ones.”

All of this has served to scandalise Catholics providing service and ministries in every parish. Refusal by the hierarchy to listen, share power and reform has led to alienation and disillusionment.

The riches of updated Vatican II (1962-1965) teachings were never fully shared with Catholics worldwide and new structures were not developed.

A clerical Catholic ethos which suppresses women enforces celibacy, extols virginity and denigrates homosexuals repels people today who value the joyful celebration of sexuality and respect women.

The teaching of a very small group of male clerics in Rome on artificial contraception in 1968 has not been accepted by the vast majority of Catholic people.

Somewhere in excess of a hundred thousand priests have left the active ministry during the past fifty years seemingly without any high-level review as to the root causes of this serious loss of key personnel. I am one of that number.

There is now a severe shortage of priests in the developed world as a result of medieval restrictions by Rome. The tragic result is a needless Eucharistic and pastoral care famine.

Accordingly, many Catholics have walked away from parish practice and avoid clerics who assert that there can be no change and reformers should consider joining a Protestant church.

Most Catholics have not walked away from Jesus.

Catholic people know that there is no shortage of excellent women and men in every parish with the talents to provide reformed ministry, priestly service and leadership. Catholic people are annoyed and insulted at the charade of praying for restricted vocations.

However,  the bishops seem unable to listen and lead even as Pope Francis encourages them to assess the pastoral needs of their region. A dysfunctional hierarchical system means that the bishops are not engaging properly with priests who feel discouraged as a result.

Some Catholic lay people are shocked by the gap which has developed between clerics and themselves on issues such as ordination for women, homophobia, responsible parenthood and power-sharing.

People are sickened by the monstrous revelations in our Church over the past fifty years regarding institutional cruelty and injustice.

Most Catholic people hold firm to Jesus Christ in faith, hope and prayer. They continue to go about doing good with love in their hearts, but they have lost confidence in some aspects of the Roman Catholic institution and clerical leadership which refuses to listen to the cries of the people for urgent change.

Faith journey

In my book, I share my story and Catholic faith journey. Much has changed for me since childhood in rural Sligo in the 1950s and seminary studies from 1963 to 1970. Much has changed for me since ordination and my years as a priest.

I now share my experience with you as a married man, parent and practising Catholic who favours updating and change in the Catholic Church.

I retain faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ but have come to disagree with clerical teachings on issues such as suppression of women, enforced celibacy, artificial contraception, homophobia and patriarchal refusal to share power.

I value personal prayer as well as participation in my local parish and community. I feel empowered to share my story and my viewpoint. I am prepared to work with others for reform in the Catholic Church.

I am an active member of a group called We Are Church Ireland which is working to end injustices in the Catholic Church.  I want all Catholic people to feel empowered and to contribute to the updating and reunion of the Church.

We need to differentiate between the fundamental message of Jesus Christ versus non-core clerical rules, structures, rituals, opinions and traditions which may be repealed, reviewed, changed, abandoned or developed over time by the People of God.

An example of such non- core teaching is the one relating to artificial contraception which has not been accepted by the People of God.

However, the people do agree with the clerics that there is a loving personal God and that life has many dimensions and that the way we should live is by love and action for justice.

Like many others, I am grappling with some issues which confront us as a Catholic Church family today and hereby submit my contribution to the much-needed Catholic conversation in preparation for Vatican III.

I am aware that the issues vary considerably depending on different cultures and on the stage of economic, social or religious development of a country.

The Church may appear to thrive where there is poverty, superstition, lack of education, fear and underdevelopment. However, it appears to me that our Christian challenge should be to act together with those people for justice, development, education and freedom.

The further massive challenge then in the developed world is to present a meaningful religious message and challenging narrative while avoiding anti-modernism.

There have been huge developments in Ireland since the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. There was a holy veneer of piety, devotion and subservience at that time. There were plenty of religious and priestly vocations during those decades of primitive development and high unemployment.

However, we now know that there was a very dark underbelly to that Catholic society. Thankfully, there has been growth and development. Ireland today is a better place but with much room for improvement.

Pope Francis has provided us with a glimmer of hope since 2013. We respect his warm pastoral presence, simple lifestyle and concern for the needy. We welcome his emphasis on joy, mercy, love and care for all of creation.

It was wonderful for us as Irish Catholics to welcome him to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families. He provided inspiration for us on our pilgrim way. We recognise the constraints under which he operates and are aware of the entrenched forces of opposition to his program.

However, Pope Francis has repeatedly invited our opinions, good sense and suggestions as baptised Catholic people. He did so on numerous occasions leading up to the Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015.

In March 2018, Pope Francis urged young people to get involved, ask questions, challenge old systems and to:

make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.    

We all have different insights and useful contributions to make towards a very worthwhile consensus.

We, Catholic people, must take a strong stand on behalf of future generations and our local parish communities.

We must voice our support for Pope Francis in his attempt to implement the Vatican II teaching on collegial cooperation of the bishops with the Pope.

We must also show our support for Pope Francis as he encourages us all into a healthy conversation in parish assemblies and diocesan synods.

I have written to my bishop, parish priest and Papal Nuncio. Copies of those letters are at the end of this book.

You are also invited to do the same on the presumption that you have not lost hope completely in the Catholic Church. You may be a practising Catholic or one of the millions that have walked away.

However, you may still believe that there is a treasure for us and our young people obscured behind all the bad news of the last decades.

If you agree that serious updating is needed and that Pope Francis is sincere in asking for our opinions then you are invited to read, respond and join in the action.

You have your insights, opinions and a vital contribution to make via letter-writing, open communication and action within small basic Christian communities. Please write to your bishop, parish priest and Papal Nuncio.

The priests are no longer going forth from All Hallows College. However, all of us as followers of Jesus Christ have been given the responsibility through our baptism to go forth and bear witness in our families and communities.

People are searching for meaning,   purpose, personal value and a ‘Higher Power’ – a stronghold – in their 21st-century lives.

I think that reformed religion, personal and family prayer, action for justice, joyful parish liturgies as well as marriage and family enrichment programs can help to light the darkness and be a positive component of healthy lives.

We can all help to change the outdated teachings, traditions and structures which repel many adults and young people.

Amidst all the gloom and shameful news, this is a project to which all of us can contribute. 

Joe Mulvaney is the author of Speak Out for Reform in the Catholic Church: A Call to Action. A father and husband, he is a practising Catholic and is active in Catholic reform groups, including We are Church Ireland.  

You can buy the book here and the cost is 14 euros within Ireland and €17 outside the island of Ireland, to include post and packaging.

All proceeds go to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

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