Dublin ~~ Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Angry laity won't pay for the religious who preyed
Now is the time for ordinary Catholics and good priests to make their voices heard by demanding a national Church assembly
By John Cooney
Until recent times it was famously said that the role of the laity was "to pray, pay and obey", a state of submission that suited the Pope in Rome, the bishops in their palaces and the religious orders in their mansions.
Of these three commands, paying financial dues to Rome has been the least examined aspect of the recent history of the Irish Catholic Church.
But it has proved to be a money trail that has filled many a papal coffer.
In the long early decades of an impoverished State, from which its people were emigrating in droves, and many a family dependent on their survival for remittances from emigrants, the bulk of this money was sent by the remaining loyal faithful at home to an already fabulously rich Vatican in the form of the annual Peter's Pence collections.
In return, the Holy Father, or his minions in the Curia, the Vatican's civil service, would flatter bishops by sending them parchments telling them how grateful the Holy Father was for the generosity of Irish Catholics.
Bishops would purr, priests would boast and the docile lay folk in the pews would feel proud of their special place in the affections of the reigning pontiff.
This delusion of Ireland having a special relationship with the Holy See was shattered when an Irish ambassador in Washington reported back to the Government in Dublin the shocking news that he had visited the ailing Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cushing, who told him that "Rome does not give a damn about Ireland -- it does not have money."
This one-way money trail from Ireland to Rome is not going to be reversed today if the Dail unites in a solemn appeal to Rome to bail out the religious orders by picking up the additional tab, and helping pay for a bill that will exceed by far the €128m cap on their contribution specified under the infamous 2002 indemnity deal.
With that final bill heading for over €1bn in compensation to clerical abuse victims, it is wishful thinking on the part of the Greens leader, John Gormley, that Pope Benedict will send a cheque in the post via the apostolic nuncio resident in Dublin. No Michaelangelo painting is going to be sold to help compensate the former inmates of Goldenbridge, Artane or Daingean.
The solution to an Irish financial problem will have to come from within Ireland. So far the Government is reluctant to renegotiate the 2002 deal because it can only be revised if the 18 religious orders consent to "revisit" a legal pact that has been to their undoubted benefit. But public fury is mounting against the declared position of the religious orders.
Tensions have also surfaced in a starkly divided response between the bishops and the orders.
In emergency session yesterday at Maynooth College, Cardinal Sean Brady waded into the dispute, following similar strong-worded advocacies regarding the moral duty of the religious orders to pay more from the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, and Fr Tim Bartlett, Cardinal Brady's chief aide, as well as from John Gormley.
The outcome of this battle will be crucial in determining the willingness of both the Government and the State to clean up the murky underbellies of a country which claims to be a democracy, but which even today fails to put in place adequate measures to protect children.
Clearly, a fierce turf war is being fought behind the closed doors of Maynooth between the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI).
Last night, the first engagement between the two feuding ecclesiastical bodies signalled a possible breakthrough in this unseemly wrangle with the unannounced arrival at Maynooth of Sister Marianne O'Connell, director general of CORI.
This is a bit like a major summit being held by the diocesan bishops, as the Church's governing politbureau, and Sr O'Connell, who is playing the part of a UN general assembly of religious -- answerable only to Rome, and not to the bishops.
Sr O'Connell came to Maynooth directly from CORI's private meeting on the southside of Dublin with a package of "options" outside of a non-renegotiable indemnity deal.
But Sr O'Connell may not have a good poker hand to play, as the Christian Brothers and many other religious bodies have put their schools and colleges into trusts, and do not appear to have cash resources. Orders like the Jesuits and the Holy Ghosts are not party to the indemnity.
One partial solution may be the offering of scholarships to the children of abuse victims, and resources for counselling -- as suggested by Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin.
On the other hand, the religious orders may continue to play hard ball with the bishops and demand that they put their hands where their mouths have been in recent days -- by raiding their episcopal exchequers or by selling diocesan land and fine buildings.
Another view taking hold of an angry public is a plague on both your houses.
Rather than looking to Rome or Maynooth for a solution to cure this ungodly mess, now is the time for ordinary Catholics and good priests to make their voices heard by demanding the convening of a national Church assembly on accountable, transparent and democratic lines.
A lay revolt against the old habit of pay, pray and obey may be stirring.