I think between the book, a few media appearances and a couple of the rumblings I have got the name of being something of a prophet of gloom. A lot of people are inclined to associate me with the phrase ‘the death of the church’. I think some, especially those who do not know me, are more and more likely to see me as a bit negative. Worse still, if I am honest, even cynical. This certainly does not suit me as I see the word ‘cynical’ as a real indictment of any person of faith, never mind a priest. I sincerely pray that the Lord deliver me from becoming a cynic. To me the cynic lacks joy. To me the cynic spoils the enjoyment of others. To me the cynic seeks out the negative. To me the cynic searches the sky for the storm cloud. To me in the middle of the heat wave the cynic warns us there will be rain next week. Please God I am not a cynic.
I believe we as a church, I mean the Irish Catholic Church, is in serious trouble. Actually I genuinely believe that it is in serious danger of dying. I realise not everybody wants to hear this. Indeed not everyone agrees with it. Nevertheless I believe it is important to say it. I am surprised and somewhat saddened that this is interpreted as betrayal. I guess that it is slightly more predictable that the response to my criticisms of the Church by a few is that I should get out. Needless to say I have not the slightest intention of leaving the church. This is the Church to which I belong. This is the Church I love. Sadly this is also the corrupt, dysfunctional and at times abusive Church which I also belong to. So to be clear I am not going anywhere. I am dedicated to both its reform and renewal but from within, not without!
Ok then for the sake of clarity, what is wrong with the Church? For the sake of brevity I will group this under four headings: Practice, Personnel, Prophetic Witness and Perspective.
Practice: religious practice continues to fall dramatically. This is evident in the indifference on the part of many to any follow up church attendance post First Holy Communion. Sadly for many First Holy Communion is also Last Holy Communion. Equally sad is the fact that for many the beautiful Sacrament of Confirmation happens in a vacuum where faith is little known, less practiced, never mind ‘confirmed’!
Personnel: it looks like the Holy Spirit has cut off the oxygen supply to the male celibate clerical church. Could it be that the same Spirit, is nudging us, or dragging us kicking and screaming towards a female, lay – led church?
Prophetic Witness: whilst there are a small number of public examples of people living and loving in a prophetic way and bearing clear witness to gospel values such as Peter McVerry and Stan Kennedy, here remains very little prophetic witness in leadership. The prophetic leader will break new ground, inspire with a freshness and creativity and clearly live radical discipleship.
Perspective: The perspective or lens which I am speaking of is of course that of the ‘Christ-filter’. Literally everything, past present and future are all different when viewed through the eyes of Christ. The past is entrusted to God’s mercy, the future bursts with hope and potential and I live today mindful of the other and the call of my baptism to be Christ bearer. How wonderful and how exciting is that?
So is there any hope?
If we live without hope we are not followers of Jesus. If we live in darkness and despair then what are we saying to the Lord about Calvary? The central truth for us on our pilgrim way is ‘why look among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, he is risen!’ Alleluia! Alleluia!