Recognising the legacy of the Catholic church
Ingratitude, is an integral part of life. Ingratitude is a “forgetfulness or poor return for favours received, or not valuing what you have, or have been given”. Unexpressed gratitude is also ingratitude. For example have you ever given a gift and received no thanks? Have you ever felt unappreciated by family, friends or neighbours, when always there when needed? Have you gone out of your way for friends and neighbours and got no acknowledgement for your efforts ? How did that feel? When as a society we put how we feel into action, we feel indignant, resentful and find our spirit challenged. An ungrateful spirit feeds unrealistic expectations from key people in our lives. We all, everyone of us, experienced the above feelings. They are very negative feelings, and when one does not receive the recognition for good deeds, life can become very difficult and dispirited.
So how do we think our priests feel? Am I my brother’s keeper? Do all priests have to be painted with the same brush for the misdeeds of the few? Have we, as a professed Catholic nation , abandoned logic? In the 2011 census 84% of the population still call themselves “Catholic”. Another interesting statistic is that 68% born into Catholic families remain in the church, maybe not with the same commitment, dedication and enthusiasm as before, but still remain.
Let us look at our abandonment of logic: logic is the science and art of being able to cut through the chaff to attain the truth. The Irish media is one of the most hostile in the developed world towards the Catholic church and on a daily basis promote much negativity about our priests, nuns, and brothers. I commend them on the exposures of the mindboggling abuse that our children endured until these scandals were exposed, but I do not see the same relentless haranguing of other abusers , for example the swimming coaches, incest perpetrators, (which are the most proliferate), rapists, convicted moneyed men etc., in the same way. People like William Binchy and Vincent Twomey and others in the church argue about the issues of ethics and morality and have also said that all the many thousands of good and faithful priests cannot be constantly blamed for the sins of the minority. The leaders in the church itself continuously fail to defend their stance, which is a pity.
It is not possible for a country so steeped in Catholicism to be cut free of our religious inheritance, so a mechanism for renewal will have to be found to restore our faith and give people hope in these times of crisis. We need strong and fair leadership, acceptance of a changing society, and also a compassionate society that understands the plight the church has found itself in. All priests and religious are human, needing our support in their daily survival for to remain faithful, some may not have the best qualities we all appear to demand, but they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their flock.
The Catholic church and the legacy it has left over generations in the fields of education, health and providing for those abandoned by society, is a legacy that cannot and should not be forgotten by the citizens of this country. The constant highlighting of sex scandals in a bid to taint all priests is failing to take account of the intrinsic need to be part of the Catholic Church embedded in the Irish psyche, is damaging and undermining. When “religious capital” declines and the country becomes more secularized, our need for spiritual nourishment is unmet. This can be seen by the need of the thousands that attend Lough Derg, Knock, Croagh Patrick, and indeed our own Holycross Novena and Padre Pio day, highlighting the need for spiritual subsistence and renewal and a prayerful gathering of all the faithful, led by the priest in charge. I am sure they do not go to see the scenery, even though it may be an added bonus. Many people may not agree with all the teachings of the Catholic church, and have different opinions on many aspects of its teachings, like contraception, divorce, homosexuality and abortion, but still feel the need to be a part of the celebrations that constantly require the services of our diligent clergy.
We may appear to have more material wealth, but when the reality of life hits with its challenges, we turn to our priests, when somebody close dies, has a terminal illness, a marriage breakdown, has a loved one in the throes of addiction, or a death by suicide or any one of the myriad of other daily problems people find themselves in, in the hustle and bustle of today’s world their only place of refuge is often what is provided by priests, nuns and other prayerful people. When fortitude and courage are needed, we all want a place of refuge and we all want the attention of our priests and church services.
Since the 1960’s we have had rapid social change, and authority was challenged at a frightening rate across all of society the Catholic church and it’s teachings came under fire. The miss-handling of abuse scandals angered and pained the elderly, the younger generation felt disgust , but even more so, the innocent and good clergy who have borne the brunt in so many ways for their erring peers, will have to be supported in a meaningful, inclusive way. The lack of moral courage and silence, has been a very heavy price to pay for all members of our church. Many of the allegations made were very badly handled and were not faced up to by those in charge. When report after report was published showing these cover ups, victims were still not treated with respect, dignity and genuine concern , indeed the actions of those in charge left a lot to be desired, adding to further suffering of victims and their families. But facing the public is a humiliating exercise and done under duress and possibly anger and frustration, when you have to admit you are wrong and when it is outside of one’s control, is indeed a real challenge.
Let us go back in time to the Middle ages, when the Catholic church was recognised as the unifying force in Europe. It was first recognised for its commitment to Literacy and Numeracy and for scientific development. Monastic settlements were the only bastion of literacy, priests and monks became the founders of the first Universities that were preceded by the schools attached to monasteries and cathedrals, and staffed by clergymen. Convents also educated women. The Catholic legacy can also be seen in the naming of plants and animals worldwide (in Latin). Jesuit missionaries were at the coal face of scientific and cultural exchanges and their influence extended to America, Africa, Asia, and China. During the Dark Ages, Church Scholars and missionaries played a vital part in preserving the knowledge of classical learning, in outposts like our own Skellig Michael, where the Monks were the last preservers of poetry and scientific works of Western Civilization. After the fall of Rome, almost all men of intellect joined the Catholic Church and practically nobody in Western Europe outside of monastic settlements was able to read or write. Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian Friar, developed and studied theories involving bees and their pollination of flowers and plants, which are now called “genetics”. He went unrecognised until around 1900, when various scientists rediscovered his theories and worked on them. The Jesuits contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, barometers, telescopes, microscopes, and electricity among others. A Jesuit priest called Macelwaine wrote the first text book on Seismology in 1936. Irish missionaries were world renowned for their contributions to education and health at their delegated mission posts, and still are.
So pondering on just a few of these amazing legacies by the clergy of the Catholic Church, surely we as a society owe them a debt of gratitude, loyalty and support to continue in their lonely and often demanding lives. The Catholic church has bequeathed more than any other institution across the world, legacies that continue through the centuries for the betterment of all of humankind. They may not have all been born to academia, their oratory skills not up to scratch, but their contribution through the ages should mean that the present upheaval is just a blip on the horizon of the future. What has befallen our church in the recent past will have to be taken in context of the unquantifiable legacy left by the Catholic Church down through the centuries. The church has man y faults and failings, seeing that it is managed by human beings and cannot be perfect, but it must be more accountable, honest and accept that things need to change, and fast. Maybe the current crisis will make our church humbler, more understanding of people’s faults and failings, more compassionate for those who have different values, more aware of peoples’ needs, and becoming part of every community, where every priest, nun and brother continue to minister. We owe our religious a huge debt of gratitude in trying to preserve the heritage we all need in our lives and give them unstinting support, care and concern in these difficult times when they are becoming older and their numbers diminishing.
We, the beneficiaries of the ideals and values constantly promoted by the church, should now put our own shoulder to the wheel and ensure that the requirements for a happy and contented life continues for the next generation. We should not throw away all that is good and pertinent to our lives because some priests, brothers and nuns were weak, violent and sadistic in their lives. They were after all a very, very small minority. The committed religious, should hold their heads high and continue their ministry in the life that they have chosen, in the service of the Lord. I take the liberty to say, we do not give the recognition that is deserved by the clergy of our church, that are always there in our hour of need with their unconditional support to all of their flock. They need our sincere thanks, support and appreciation to renew their own spirits and lives, to continue in these times of unfair trials and tribulations.
Peg Hanafin, MSc.
26/10/2012 sent to Michael at the Irish Catholic, weekly paper.