The debate raging in the Irish Church brings me little surprise.
It is my honest belief that the episcopate and the presbyterate in Ireland have been riding for a fall for perhaps half a century, perhaps longer.
I remember a funeral luncheon for an uncle of mine. It was on a Monday; the funeral had been exceptionally deferred from the traditional third day after death to enable me to attend and officiate. I was sat next to the parish priest—actually the Vicar General of the diocese, now deceased—and listened with scant sympathy as he grumbled about his extremely busy weekend. He lamented that that Sunday he had had to celebrate Mass twice, imagine!, and now with this lunch to attend, it might be another hour or two before he could get off to the golf course.
I quietly commented that I had had a relatively easy weekend, with only three Masses on the Sunday and five baptisms (admittedly done in one ceremony), plus the flight to Ireland.
The town is a big one (by Irish standards), with an enormous church (by any standards). In those days (no longer!) there were four priests, and the entire town could be squeezed into the church for four Masses, no more. And all four on Sunday morning. As far as I could work out, there was no pastoral work of any sort done which was not celebrating Mass. There were no youth clubs, no sacramental preparation other than that done in the schools, no care of people because that was the government's job…… you get the picture.
Money, now: that was collected regularly. Giving at Mass has never been good, so there were, and are, 'outside collections' of various types. When my father was young, the names and amounts contributed of all these collections was solemnly read out at Mass.
The only half decent cars in those days were driven by priests.
One place you would regularly see the clergy was at the GAA, the Gælic Athletic Association. The sports pages of the local papers would be covered with photographs of the Parish Priest presenting trophies to the various local sporting gods of the town.
It is little wonder that the same uncle that I buried that day had been disgusted when he heard I wanted to be a priest. He assumed that it was for money and status. He had thought that I was better than that. Though in the past we had been close, he wrote me out of his will, and, a widower having no children himself, he left everything to neighbours. This was some eighteen years ago.
Do not underestimate the anger of the Irish people right now. In the context, it is entirely understandable.
Now let us look at the bishops. Before the 60s, it was normal that episcopal appointments would be finally approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (or 'Holy Office'). Pope Paul Vi changed this to final approval by the Secretariate of State. This is because he wanted to pursue a policy of detente all round; ecumenism and Ostpolitik were the watchwords. So henceforward bishops would be diplomats; nice guys, people who could pour oil on troubled waters, men who would not rock the boat.
These are the men who would not pursue child abusers, for fear that a storm might arise. They are good men, nice men; they are just not what is needed now, if ever.
There has been criticism of the '500' priests. There is much I disagree with them about; however, I think that they are men of integrity who don't always actually understand what is going on.
They are right that the Vatican is not appointing the right men to be bishops in Ireland (with some exceptions). And they are right that serious surgery needs to happen if things are to be rectified. If the Vatican does not hear that the Irish people are seriously angry and need to see justice done, it will not recover the trust of what has been until recently one of the most Catholic nations on earth. Expressions of sorrow on the part of the bishops are not enough; these can be dismissed easily as crocodile tears.
Questions of the new translation of the Mass are entirely secondary right now. Ireland needs bishops of unimpeachable integrity and orthodoxy, and it needs them yesterday.
The Taoiseach's speech had a lot of this anger in it. The reference to the confessional speaks more about clerical unaccountability than demonstrating a real understanding of the issues. People need to grasp that before they get worried that Ireland will place police microphones in every confessional.