Saturday, 20 February 2010


A comment was made on the last post suggesting that, in the spirit of the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, penance is essentially a private thing, and that this should apply to the Irish bishops as well as to anyone else.
I think I disagree: for personal sins, for our personal failings, then yes, of course. And if penance is done in order to parade our virtue, then certainly private penance is the right thing, as our Lord suggests.
But for public sins and failings, there should be public reparation. This might just do some urgently needed repair work.

And, as a parishioner commented to me: what a historic moment that would be, for the entire hierarchy of Ireland to undertake penance together. Like Henry II scourged at Becket's tomb, or the Emperor kneeling in the snow.
I would bet that, did the hierarchy make a date to ascend Croagh Patrick together, half the Island would join them. This is not a time for hand-wringing, but for decisive Christian leadership. Are the Irish bishops to abandon their people yet again?


Gregor said...

I remember two years ago or so, the Archbishop of Pamplona made a public act of reperation, I think for some public act of blasphemy against Christ committed by secularists. He led a penitential procession with a venerated Image of the Lord, which he, who was already well inton his seventies at the time, followed barefoot through the city. Very impressive.

GOR said...

I suspect you are referring to my comment, Father, and I probably mangled it quite a bit. I agree that some public form of repentance on the part of the Irish Hierarchy is needed. My issue is with the form it would take. My John Profumo example was intended not in the sense that he performed it ‘privately’ and out of the public eye, but that it was done over a prolonged period and was undoubtedly sincere. It was decidedly not ‘just for show’.

I’m afraid that a one-time ‘pilgrimage’ by the hierarchy would be seen as ‘for show’ by many people. Of course, given the raw feelings in Ireland right now, just about anything the bishops do may be viewed with a jaundiced eye for some time.

A couple of examples may illustrate where I am coming from. Here in Milwaukee when Ab. Weakland resigned in disgrace after some of his misdeeds became public, he held a ‘penitential service’ shortly afterwards at the Diocesan Seminary. While he didn’t exactly don sackcloth and ashes, he was attired in penitential purple for his ‘mea culpa’. Some were impressed by this, but many considered it a ‘show’ and lacking true sincerity and remorse. His attitude since then would lean one more towards the latter impression.

Yesterday Tiger Woods had a similar public ‘mea culpa’ in a very stage-managed format where he read from a prepared script and appeared remorseful. Was it truly sincere or merely ‘damage control’ orchestrated by his management team, his remaining sponsors and the PGA brass, who have a lot invested in him and a lot to lose? Time will tell.

Whatever the Irish bishops do, it will have to be seen as sincere and from the heart. And I believe it should be something of a permanent nature. Maybe it entails foregoing some of the trappings of high office, rolling up their sleeves and ‘getting down in the trenches’ in parishes with priests and laity. Perhaps the Corporal Works of Mercy as simple priests would be a start. But not just as a one-time thing – ongoing, publicly and permanently.