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A Question of Character?

The absence of recent articles on this website, should not be taken as indicative of a dearth of news. GDPR and the referendum on the 8th amendment in Ireland aside, stories have ranged from reports of a female government minister 'celebrating mass' (in fact on closer scrutiny leading a liturgy) to alleged revelations of misconduct on the part of an American Cardinal. The former prompted the attendance of an Archbishop at the parish church in question within a week. The latter has given rise to more widespread comment. As to the causes of the alleged misconduct on the part of the American Cardinal, theories abound. If accurate, however, the media coverage appears to reveal a number of themes with which readers will be familiar: a) clerical misconduct; b) alleged knowledge within the Church; and c) inadequacy of response to known concern(s). If the allegations directed against the Cardinal are true, they suggest a pattern of wilful misconduct over many years; alleged predatory behaviour facilitated through the manipulation of office. Experience has shown that such conduct may arise in any organisation or institution in which there is a disparity of power and dependency. If true, the allegations suggest that others within the Church may have been complicit in concealing the alleged misconduct in question. Allowing for the distance of time, there will naturally be difficulties on the part of some to recall the extent of the information to which they had access, the quality of their knowledge and the measures available to them at the time to safeguard third parties from the risk of harm. As the saying goes, by contrast, hindsight is always 20:20. Further, the various commissions and judicial inquiries which have been conducted in various countries across the globe, indicate that the potential for public policy driven conclusions is very real. Whatever the view of the civil authorities, within the Church, there must be a willingness to pose the "why question", namely: why was this alleged misconduct endured?

In his 'Five Wounds of the Church" Antonio Rosmini gave considerable space to what he termed "the insufficient education of the clergy'. He observed of the historic tradition of forming clergy:

"Theological knowledge grew but wisdom decreased...Common sense was left to ordinary mortals, whilst theologians devoted themselves to refined discussion."

Rosmini was, of course, referring to the dangers of an excessive reliance upon intellectual (or more accurately academic) formation; particularly where such formation is allowed to eclipse certain fundamental truths which ought to inform the exercise of conscience and the determination of the will. After all, the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit include 'wisdom' and 'understanding' and the seven spiritual works of mercy include those of instruction and a duty to admonish sinners. As we consider the press coverage from America, we would do well to keep in mind that each of us within the Church have received the same exhortation to vigilance. When Gideon was preparing for combat and was greatly outnumbered, the Lord God informed him he had too many men. He sifted them by means of tests; one of which involved the display of vigilance. In 1 Peter, we are counselled as to the need for vigilance as an indispensable aspect of our defence against the work of the enemy. Such vigilance cannot be equated with those who keep look out for hostile forces from afar. In the context of a faith community, it requires an internal scrutiny in which we locate what we believe and assess our own conduct (individual and collective) in the light of that belief. Christianity is a call to action, to bear witness, to respond to the universal call to holiness that we may have fullness in Christ. As was revealed to Gideon, the vigilance necessary to fulfil that vocation, like faith and virtue, requires practice if it is to be effective. In the formulation of character, perhaps a case of virtue out of necessity?

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