Just now we are watching the following issues, and hoping for developments that will signal real change:
The Advisory Papal Commission on Child Abuse
Set up by Pope Francis in December 2013, this is for VOTF a crucial credibility test, not just for all bishops but for the papacy as well. Central to its deliberations must be the scandal that arises over the failure of the papacy ever to dismiss a bishop for failing to safeguard children. The critical failure of previous papacies to make all bishops truly accountable for their stewardship must now be resolved one way or the other, and Ireland’s Marie Collins has made this a benchmark of her own success as a member of the Commission. We do not believe that Irish bishops have grasped how far the collapse of their own prestige in Ireland is closely connected with this issue, and how much the recovery of trust in their leadership depends upon it also. There is nothing now to prevent Irish bishops volunteering to make themselves directly answerable to their people on this matter, but, as usual, everything depends on the papacy giving them no other option.
The independence and powers of the NBSCCC
The questions raised by Ian Elliott in Jan 2014 – over what he alleges to have been the progressive reduction in financing of the NBSCCC over a long period, and over the inadequacy of its powers to review dioceses and religious orders without invitation – need a far more thorough response than the bishops or the executive officers of the Board have yet given them. We do not believe that Catholic bishops understand the degree to which the credibility of the board depended upon the outstanding leadership of Ian Elliott while he was still its CEO, or the weight of the questions that must arise following his departure in July 2013. Nor do they appear to understand that the secret nature of their own governance of the church undermines the credibility of the board also. The absence of any representative of the survivor community from the Board raises further questions.
Our Irish bishops have never set out to measure the impact of the revelations of the period 1994-2009 upon the credibility of their own governance of the church, and this is an ongoing concern – especially because they are still ignoring the results of a survey following the Murphy Report in Ireland which indicated that many wide-awake Irish Catholics see structural reform as a top priority.
The safeguarding of vulnerable adults
We understand that those dioceses with territory in Northern Ireland are in the process of developing guidelines on this, supported by the civil law there. We await this development with great interest, as it should have repercussions on the development of similar guidelines throughout the island.
‘Towards Peace’ – A spiritual support service for survivors?
Announced by the Irish bishops following their meeting in December 2013, the launch of this service was promised for April 2014. From what we can gather it will operate on a one-to-one basis, with survivors seen only as needy clients and not as a community capable of mutual support, and in spiritual need of being recognised as such. In late May 2014 we received word of its launch, and have circulated the details – including a website. As we receive further word of it from survivors, we will publish that here.
We are also waiting to see all of our clergy respond to the spirit and the letter of Pope Francis’ exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – especially this:
” I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, way of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can suitably be channelled for evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. ” EG § 27
As for Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests, what is to be its direction from now on? Goodbye to clericalism and defending the indefensible – especially the cover-up of clerical abuse that so seriously harmed the Irish Church? Or more looking back in a mistaken attempt to recover morale by air-brushing the past?
We wait especially for the ACP to establish a new relationship with lay people that recognises the issues of the safeguarding of vulnerable adults and the exclusion of lay people generally from decision-making in the church. We urgently need to make more progress ‘towards an assembly of the Irish Church’.
We believe that it is solely Irish clericalism – especially strong among too many of our bishops still – that is blocking renewal here. When they are ready to dream, they will find their people more than ready to listen, and to share their own dreams.