Thursday, July 28, 2011

Allowing married priests would be a good first step for the Vatican

Having followed some of this year's Irish general election campaign, and indeed to some extent the 2007 campaign as well because I happened to be on holiday in Donegal at the time, I'd never have thought Enda Kenny was capable of delivering a speech that would make anyone's blood run faster. He certainly proved me wrong last week with this devastating attack on the Vatican -

"...for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.

And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism...the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and 'reputation'.

Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict's 'ear of the heart'......the Vatican's reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.

This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded."

The Vatican later recalled its ambassador to Dublin, and issued a statement that expressed surprise at certain "excessive reactions". Personally, I'd have said the Taoiseach's comments marked the end of a decades-long under-reaction. But will the church now be shamed into getting its house in order at last? It's highly unlikely because of two basic aspects of the nature of the institution -

1) Catholics can't reform their own church. I know from my own experience that there are many liberal Catholics out there (my mother is one), but unfortunately their combined voices count for absolutely nought. Their function in the church is not to stand up for what they believe in, but instead to listen and understand why they are wrong, and then to shut up. That's the case both at micro-level (individual parishes) and at macro-level. It's the quintessential self-perpetuating hierarchy - the Pope appoints Cardinals who agree with him, and the Cardinals elect a Pope who agrees with them, and nobody else has any power at all. This lack of accoutability isn't supposed to matter, because the appointments are really "made by God". Well, frankly you don't have to disbelieve in God to recognise that for the self-serving mumbo-jumbo that it is. Probably the only way anything will ever change for the better is if someone "does a Kinnock" - ie. gets elected as Pope on the basis of traditionalist views, but then turns out to be a reformer.

2) Priests have to be both male and celibate. Now, there's nothing wrong with being either male or celibate (indeed I've had a degree of involuntary experience with both over the years), but it does mean you're selecting from a very narrow gene pool. The fact that such a disproportionate number of priests turn out to be abusers leads to the obvious suspicion that a certain category of person is being attracted to a celibate "profession" for the wrong reasons, and if that's the case surely the first thing you need to do is urgently broaden recruitment. OK, female ordination probably isn't going to happen for centuries (if ever), but given that married priests are already allowed in certain limited circumstances it really is hard to understand why the retention of the requirement for celibacy is such a red-line for the Vatican.

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