The prophet Hosea exhorts us to turn back to God, "with all our heart". For some, the prospect of such a journey will be more problematic than for others. The Irish media today reports of a former political leader who has ‘threatened’ to leave the Catholic Church. The article suggests that threat will be fulfilled in the event that the recent allegations concerning Jean Vanier are ‘ignored’ and/or "if it transpires that the Holy See failed to act” (see: Irish Times 4.3.20 www.irishtmes.com). The report adds that the same former political leader has written to Pope Francis on the matter.
Defections from the Catholic Church are not new. The exercise is simple enough. What is required is an informed election to liberate oneself from the beliefs which the Church espouses. The law of the Church caters for this eventuality [see c1364 CIC]. However, the threat of doing so, it has to be said, is less common. There have, of course, been historic incidents of public pronouncements following departure. One need only call to mind Luther’s “Here I stand, I can do no other”. For those less familiar with the intricacies of faith community membership and participation, a pronouncement of an intention to leave in the future, if certain conditions are not met, may be thought to be more consistent with an ultimatum. That is, the type of communication one might encounter in other domestic or social relationships. Clearly there will be many who will receive the news of such a declaration with a heavy heart. Even allowing for the Lenten season, a public declaration of intended departure from those who do not hold ecclesiastical positions, is decidedly rare; save of course for those made in other countries fuelled by fiscal considerations in response to the levy of the Die kirkensteur.
The novelty of the event is likely to generate questions for some over the timing of the declaration and the basis upon which it is has been made. As for the timing, the relevant charity has already commissioned and, if media reports are accurate, received an investigatory report. Further, the person implicated by the allegations is now deceased. If and to the extent that the allegations are indeed evidentially supported, the alleged offender is now beyond the reach of the legal system (canonical or civil). More fundamentally, there is no direct evidence to indicate that those holding office in the particular Church, or, indeed, the Holy See, have displayed any form of disinterest in, or, disregard for, the investigation report or the underlying allegations. Indeed, the news report suggests that actions were taken which were contrary to the advice of the Church.
It is, of course, possible that others, including those contemplating ecclesial departure, are in possession of evidence which is not in the public domain. Accommodating this possibility, one is driven to posit the question: what form of assurance has been sought (if any) from Pope Francis? Only time, and perhaps the publication of the letter to Pope Francis, will make clear what was said and why.
The Code of Canon Law recognises the right of all the faithful to communicate their views to the pastors of the Church [c212 §3]. This right is not confined to those who hold, or have held in the past, public office. How and in what manner the right should be exercised is, of course, a different matter. No matter what the subject matter of the concern, or, the sincerity of the views being expressed, it is important to guard against a number of matters. Chief among them is the erroneous notion that the salvific mission of the Church is dependent upon and/or synonymous with the integrity of its leaders. It has long been accepted that the grace of the sacraments is not undermined by the spiritual condition of the pastor administering them [cf. St Augustine: ‘ex opere operato’].
This does not, of course, provide an answer to issues of lack of confidence. In this respect, and most especially in Lent, we do well to remember the words used when receiving the dead at Church as the prelude to the requiem mass:
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
Than to trust in princes.” [ps. 118]
Trials come in all forms; not least when we perceive faith leaders do not fulfil the duties and responsibilities entrusted to them. It may be thought that such perceptions, and the trials of conscience which they generate, ought to prompt us to remind the Church of her purpose and mission. After all, the authenticity of the creed is dependent upon the salvific mission with which the Church has been entrusted; not the deficiencies of those who recite it.
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom – pray for us