The church and state have one thing in common – brass necks. The state has overseen the destruction of local communities by cutting services to vulnerable people, especially those who are older, sick and disabled. The state has also pulled the rug from under communities by withdrawing the community support infrastructure like rural post offices, Garda stations, transport links and various state offices.
Much of this has been introduced in the name of austerity amid claims that the country cannot afford to continue to provide such services. At the same time, the money that should be earmarked for such services is spent on people who brought this country to its knees through their greed, namely bankers and politicians. Local communities are being forced to pay the price for the avarice of the political and banking elite.
From a church perspective hardly a week goes by without another story about senior churchmen involved in some form of cover-up and scandal. This also impacts on the community of believers. Last week the Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles released files related to paedophile priests only to have his predecessor, Cardinal Mahony, whom he had stripped of all public and administrative duties, take him to task publicly.
Locally, Islandeady’s half-parish of Glenisland is to lose Fr Martin O’Keeffe within the next two months. He will not be replaced. Glenisland will join the likes of Kilawalla, Cushlough, Clare Island, Inisturk, and soon, Kilmeena and Fahy, and be priestless. This is replicated nationally and is of concern to priests. Yet the hierarchy has refused to meet the Association of Catholic Priests to discuss it.
Official church will tell us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian lives, yet refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue to attempt to resolve the shortage of celibate priests.
The net result of these priestless churches is that local communities are being denied both spiritual and social sustenance. All this talk about clustering parishes and getting local people to be more active is fine. In essence, all it is doing is putting off the day when bishops will have to face up to the fact that the Eucharistic community is being rent asunder from within. When the spiritual bonds are being destroyed the destruction of the social bonds will follow.
The question of married priests is still a non-starter for the episcopal agenda, unless it is an Anglican priest who is ‘defecting’ to the Catholic Church. Celibacy is not an issue here.
Women priests? Our church has become so episcopally insular that the matter cannot even be discussed! Ask Fr Tony Flannery, who has faced the wrath of the German flank currently in control in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. How many bishops have been censured for their handling of child abuse cases? Compare that to the ongoing witch-hunt against Fr Tony and a few priests in America over writings.
The one great thing about being human is that we are not alone. We live in community, unless we choose to cut ourselves off deliberately. We live, move and have our being among other people. ‘No man is an island.’ For Christians, this is professed with the first word of The Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our.’ We do not say ‘my’ but ‘our.’ It is a pointer to our roots within a community. Living among other people, as a community of believers or as social animals, is at the centre of our lives.
Both church and state have betrayed the people they are called to serve. Power, in any shape, if not exercised as a form of service, can be a weapon of destruction. A failure to appreciate the impact of destructive power only adds to its toll of victims. In any abuse of power in church or state, while individuals might be directly affected, so also are communities.
While church and state ‘preach’ in their own ways about the necessity of community both are guilty of serious destruction within the communities they profess to protect, nourish and support, at whatever level.
Closed Garda stations, post offices, churches or whatever all impact on rural communities. Those who make the decisions are seldom affected directly. The destruction of the community infrastructure support system, spiritual and temporal, has a heavy price. It affects real people.
Where the state has connived to rip the heart out of many communities with its cutbacks, closures and increased charges the church is starting to steal the soul from some Eucharistic communities. The one question every Bishop has to answer is ‘What would Jesus do in these circumstances?’ rather than ‘What does Rome think?’ Politicians need to ‘community-proof’ every decision with ‘Am I serving the needs of people I represent or rewarding greed?’