There has been quite a lot of sin going on in our house recently. The eight year old has just done his First Confession, and at seven months our baby is still teaming with original sin – his christening having been put off until after the First Holy Communion – so as not to steal any thunder. Oh – and it’s Easter so we’re all atoning for Lent.
“You’re so lucky not have sin,” I texted to one my atheist friends, “it’s so much trouble.”
No text back.
Being Catholic is just not funny any more.
I used to enjoy joking about sin. But recently the religion I practice, the religion I am rearing my children in, has become so darkly associated with the very worst kind of sin imaginable. The word “Catholic” itself has become synonymous with the word ‘abuse’.
I want to continue being a Catholic. Although I grew up into a card-carrying skeptic, I got great comfort and security from religion when I was growing up and I want my children to have the same experience.
The older I get the more I enjoy all the pomp and ceremony – and I appreciate the weekly routine of my 8 year old child sitting, for forty minutes, in miraculous silence with me in mass once a week. People say “how can you put him through it?” and I say “It’s good for him! Kids never get the chance to get bored these days and mass is the only excuse I can find to not have him constantly entertained.” For me – it’s yoga. I say decades of the Hail Mary to myself. It might as well be a Buddhist chant. It’s the same thing. When life is tough, it works for me. Plus I’ve started with the kids now, the school, the ceremonies the whole “God” thing.
I don’t know if I’d be able to tolerate being a Catholic if it wasn’t for my priest Father Paddy Hoban. If God had a catalogue where you could order village priests, Paddy would be in the Gold membership version. He has curly, snow-white hair, and is a humble, mild mannered, deeply holy man – who is also fantastically clever, a brilliant liturgist and has something of a dry, measured wit. His sermons are always short, inspired, topical and on the button. His brother, Brendan, the parish priest in our neighboring town, a writer and historian - isn’t far off him. This is part of my problem (and being a practicing catholic certainly is a problem these days – if only a P.R. one). I know so many great priests and nuns. Ok – a few bores certainly, but in the main most of the ordinary clergy I have encountered, certainly in my local parish in Mayo, have been thoroughly decent people.
It is their misfortune to be trapped by and in an organization that has revealed itself as rotten to the core, which has a homophobic fossil as their C.E.O (their Boss being a Deity – and of course we all know how impractical and useless they can be!)
One wonders why more clergy don’t stand up and speak out – but then one only has to look at Father Brian D’Arcy – a natural leader who has “ Cardinal” written all over him or Father Kevin Hegarty – banished to the farthest west point of Mayo after consistently speaking out about clerical abuse long before the press got hold of it. Integrity is not a byword for success in the Catholic Church.
If I didn’t have such a great set up I’d certainly be joining the ranks of the outraged defectors - especially after the week that has been in it.
As an ordinary Catholic mother being outraged from within the cloistered conservatism of the church itself – I feel completely powerless and used.
I’m afraid to ask my priests “What are we going to do?” in case they say “pray.” I don’t want to pray. I want to march. I want to rebel and breakaway and start again. Apart from a handful of died-in-the-wool Holy Mary’s so does everybody. But then, if Catholics broke away from the corrupt evils of Rome we’d be – gasp! – protestants. And what would be the point of that?
It’s a line that the relics in charge are smartly wise to. What are you going to do about it? They are taunting us with their hollow apologies and obvious indifference. You would have thought that they would have considered recent events such as the Murphy and Ryan’s reports as seismic – but no. Thjat was left to the victim and the horrified Irish public. Rome seems inured to the fact that it has been exposed as protecting (and therefore encouraging) child abusers. They survived the Borgias. We are being run by Ancient Rome. Anything goes. The Pope blamed the whole thing on the Irish not training our priests properly. Oh – of course! We forgot to tell them not to beat, interfere with or terrorize children. Sure it was a part of our culture.
We all know child abuse was never part of Irish culture. It was part of church culture. And the church is run from Rome.
This week Brady has taken the biscuit altogether.
Some of his most vigilant defenders have been the leity. People whom I sit alongside in my Sunday pew. They plead for no change, but their arguments are underpinned with the desperate clang of denial. They feel responsible. As their Sunday congregation the church’s crimes are our crimes. We are guilty by association.
The website offering people the chance to formally defect from being counted among the church’s number worldwide (www.countmeout.ie) claims that 7,500 people have downloaded forms – I’m surprised it’s not a lot more. Church and State will continue to be intertwined in Ireland, until our school system stops being run by Bishops.
The truest and most relevant things said this week were by the courageous voices of Fathers Brian D’Arcy and Kevin Hegarty when they said – ‘the hierarchy just don’t get it’. No point in ranting and asking questions and raving on. You only have to look at how watery and terrified poor Diarmuid Martin went after he came home from Rome. The men at the top just don’t get the whole human consequences thing. In their own minds they have risen above us ordinary mortals in both their political and spiritual stature. The opinions and struggles of the ordinary clergy mean little to them. The needs of the laity – even less.
My loyalty towards my priests and my daily experience of the church has been strengthened by three deaths this year. The local priests know where my biscuits are kept. There is no doubt in my mind that the Catholic church has attracted good men. The evil pedophiles were able to exist because of a rotten system. The majority of the priests and nun’s doing God’s good work on the ground have nothing to do with the church hierarchy except for as a kind of laundering service for ordinary parishioners money. And if there is any kind of reform it will not happen by pleading to them on moral grounds, but by refusing to give them money.
If every (good) priest, in every church in Ireland stood up and told his parishioners that he was giving this years collection money to victims of clerical abuse and not sending one single penny of it over to the bosses in Rome – they’d soon perk up and listen!
At the end of Leo’s confession, Paddy invited the children and parents up onto the altar. We stood with one hand on our child’s shoulders as Paddy led us in a prayer of love and appreciation, a public acknowledgment of how precious our children are, how we will always protect and cherish them.
In the light of all that has happened, it would have easy to be cynical – but this is my child and I have promised him God and a big day out in May.