It has been some time since the last article was posted on this website. There has, as readers will know, been much to write about, but still more to reflect upon.
In recent weeks, the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland held its annual conference in Stirling, Scotland. Inevitably, a number of speakers made reference to the credibility of the Church in present times. At the same time, however, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales were holding an entirely different kind of meeting in Valladolid, Spain. The Bishops were receiving a number of presentations; each directed to the issue of authentic safeguarding. The seasoned reader will immediately protest, in the words of the cinema screen policeman, 'nothing to see here'. But this was conference with a difference. It included participation from survivors of abuse. That is to say: primary victims who had been subjected to abuse from inside and outside the Church. Nothing in what follows should be read as in any way seeking to diminish, or otherwise undermine the incomprehensible pain, suffering and betrayal which such victims have been exposed. Nonetheless, one is obliged to posit the question: is this the only voice to be accommodated in the formulation of the Church's engagement with (and response to) the issue of safeguarding? In seeking to answer this question, it is necessary to accommodate two indisputable realities, namely: a) the abuse crisis and the continuing assertions of systemic and individual failings, have all but robbed the church of its credibility on issues of social justice. In short, the very mission of the Church has been imperilled; and b) there is a very real commitment on the part of those hostile to the teachings of the Church to capitalise upon this loss of credibility.
These two realities combine to create a climate in which those who have previously abandoned their place within the Church and/or rejected its teachings consider themselves entitled to determine the path of travel which the Church must now adopt. This is a rather curious situation. One which could not find any credible expression on the part of defected members of any other secular association. It is an environment in which opinion enjoys little or no correspondence to knowledge, and self-expression is detached from responsibility. History has shown that where these factors hold sway, commentary more frequently takes the form of diktat rather than dialogue. We are thus in a season of selon moi. In the words of the poet George Crabbe:
"Habit with him was all the test of truth, 'It must be right, I've done it from my youth."
Whatever its provenance, this mindset is not new. Even the Roman Poet Persius was able to comment upon the desire to consult one's own opinions and not others': nec te quaesiveris extra. How then should the Church respond to these challenges? Does the prevalence of what may be termed a selon moi mentality require that the Church must redefine herself?
Such a conclusion would necessarily be predicated upon the basis that our present malaise is proof positive that the teachings, values, norms and practices of the past must be discarded as follies. In short, that past wisdom must cede to current knowledge. It is curious that those who advocate such radical change often invoke what they consider to be a proper interpretation of Scripture and point to the need for Scripture to be afforded contemporary meaning. In the search for supporting text, it might be thought that the second letter to Timothy provides some material for reflection:
"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good...holding the form of religion, but denying the power of it..."
All within the Church are subject to the solemn duty to respond to the universal call to holiness. What this duty requires of the individual is, of course, a matter of personal discernment. However, the discernment of the individual vocation (and its fulfilment) must find expression within the Church as the people of God. It is by this means that we are in the most authentic sense anchored in the culture of the faith and, through the sacramental economy in which the Church has an irreplaceable role, equipped with the means to detect and counter those influences which would have us abandon what is true. In his recent book "Common Sense Catholicism", Bill Donohue observes in characteristically robust terms:
"The good news is that the lack of common sense exhibited by blue sky intellectuals need not be determinative...In an ideal world, these wizards would be quarantined to keep them from contaminating the rest of us with their stupid ideas. There is an answer to what ails us, and it is found in the wisdom that inheres in the teachings of the Catholic Church..."
Perhaps less provocatively, we might do well to call to mind the words of the eucharistic prayer: "keep us faithful to your teachings and never let us be parted from you."
Fidelity brings with it opportunities, not limitations. An excavation of the teachings of the Church would provide the faith community, and those who lead it, with the much needed foundations upon which to rebuild its credibility; in relation to safeguarding and other key areas of church life. If properly accommodated, it might also lead to a recognition that the Church's safeguarding responsibility is owed to all of the members of the Church. primary and secondary victims (i.e. all of us); including those who are subject to suspicion or accusation. Fidelity to the Church's understanding of the dignity of the human person and the character of priesthood leave us with no alternative course. We must pray for those who lead the Church: that they have the courage to take it.
Our lady seat of Wisdom pray for us.