Reality Check

“Reality check.” A buzz phrase that seems to be getting a lot of notice and traction in the Church this weekend. A bit more than a million people voted to expand rights, and possibly responsibilities, for LGBT people in their small country. The top Catholic prelate there says the Church needs a reality check. What could he mean by that?

According to the NYT, a Church is pondering its future. But does that capture the moment? I’m not sure. A three-to-two referendum win does not appear out of thin air. For lesbians and gays, it might mean a sea change in a relationship on a legal level. But it doesn’t encourage people who are embittered with the Church to let up. It doesn’t steer them into or out of relationships based on love, or even some cloudy, undiscerned experience of connection.

In other words, Irish Catholics didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and decide to buck their bishops.

Archbishop Martin:

I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, “Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?”

Some Catholics wouldn’t be asking these questions. It’s a matter of entitlement. They are entitled to congruence from their sisters and brothers. Leadership and God are entitled to obedience. I think we see how that works these days. When one thinks in terms of slapping, maybe four-year-olds are intimidated.

More from Archbishop Martin, who in the eyes of some, probably isn’t excommunicating enough people:

That doesn’t mean that we renounce our teaching on fundamental values on marriage and the family. Nor does it mean that we dig into the trenches. We need to find…a new language which is fundamentally ours, that speaks to, is understood and becomes appreciated by others.

My sense about the life of faith, religion, and spirituality is that the hermeneutic of subtraction is a fruitless endeavor. What do I mean by that? You can’t build a Church or a culture by subtracting out the bad. First, the parable reminds us the Lord reserves to himself and to his own time when things get sorted out. It’s not as if we don’t have enough to do in the meantime.

Telling same-sex-attracted people they can’t lobby, seek, and experience a civil privilege? Seems like a lot of energy for straight people to be bothered about when our own marriages and families have so much work ahead of them. Perhaps that new language is not one of intimidation or force, but of loving example.

But all of us live in the grey area. All of us fail. All of us are intolerant. All of us make mistakes. All of us sin and all of us pick ourselves up again with the help of that institution which should be there to do that. The church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love – then it’s got it wrong.

Are we wrong?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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14 Responses to Reality Check

  1. John McGrath says:

    It’s Ireland. having a relative you love or a friend you cherish who turns out to be gay will make most Irish people favor gay rights rather than taking orders from their cranky bishops.

    As for wake up call, the church will frame “improvements” in terms of using better PR to get their points acrross., and being less abrasive and more likeable in how they speak. Instead they should look to the intellectual fraudulence of their National Law system, where conclusions are reached entirely in the head using logic from dubious assumptions (never to be questioned) and in utter contempt for modern empirical science. the church has raised this medieval philosophical system to a level of doctrine above the Bible and the Gospels. It boasts that its decrees based on Natural law are eternally true and binding on every human being, not just Catholics, and on every nation, with the pope as the sole interpreter of this so-called law. Yet the condemnations issued in the mid-1800’s of democracy as against Natural Law and the necessity in Natural law for inferior classes to obey their betters. was quietly “vacated” in the mid-1940’s (quietly in order to preserve the stance that a pope is never wrong on eternal and universal rulings of Natural Law). That;’s teh reality checjk the church needs to do, and will not do.

    • JennyN says:

      I must say my impression of what Archbishop Martin is saying, John, is pretty close to your own i.e. *not* “let’s re-examine the Church’s teaching” but “we have to find a way to convince more people that the Church’s teaching is right”. In which case, frankly, it’s far too late: that particular genie isn’t going back into the bottle. (And after all, if as same-sex-attracted people tell the rest of us that attraction is usually present from a very young age and cannot be fundamentally altered, well…. surely that would make it a fact of nature? That is, natural?).

      Though ironically I think that the Church here, and in similar situations, has been hoist on its own petard. Those young people absorbed, from the 12 years of Catholic education Archbishop Martin spoke of in his statement, the importance of love for their fellow human beings and the obligation to seek social justice. And now they’ve put their convictions into action…

  2. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    Todd, I received my formation and did my theological studies in Ireland, at the Pontifical University of Ireland/St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in the late 60’s early 70’s, and have both relatives and numerous friends there. I visit Ireland everytime I return to the UK for home-leave, as I will do this coming July/August. The need for a “reality check” is one the Bishops have been in denial of for as long as I can remember – I worked in student union affairs while at Maynooth, and had many battles with both the college administration and the Bishops, over their failing to respond to the needs of the increasing number of lay students attending the school. Lay students helped pay the bills so were welcomed but sometimes treated rather shabbily.
    The Bishops credibility and loss of the trust of the laity has deep roots. Some would trace it back to the 19th century. And as has happened in numerous western countries since WWII, the education level of the clergy, at all levels, has stayed low, weak, but that of the general population has risen. The traditional magisterial and pastoral responses to the problems and questions that surfaced over the years, have increasingly found a less and less receptive faithful. In the follow up to the surfacing of the sexual abuse scandal Abp Martin of Dublin called, at least implicitly, for a shake-up of the hierarchy. Benedict XVI made a one or two astute appointments, but not enough. I expect to see further decline in the Irish Church before a real turn around is possible. The Church needs to feel a little more the pain of loss of prestige and influence.

    • JennyN says:

      Frankly, from all I’ve read on the web-sites of Irish newspapers etc, the revelation of almost a century of sexual and other abuse of children at the hands of priests (and nuns), with the usual denial and cover-up by bishops and others in authority, is THE issue leading to the collapse of lay faith in the Church. Further, the Church continues to exacerbate the wounds by continuing to deny or minimise the damage done; to stonewall enquiries, official or personal; and by refusing to pay even agreed-on compensation. Furthermore, the original crimes took place while any man in a Roman collar or woman in a veil expected and received the utmost respect from the laity, and while clerics overwhelmed their congregants with shame and guilt for the slightest infraction – yet themselves often behaved in ways which fell below the most basic standards of decent human behaviour.

      The public opprobrium, the scorn, the loss of authority and of leadership, which the Catholic Church is now undergoing throughout most of the developed world, was brought upon the Church by itself and itself only. All the NuAtheists combined, from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on down, couldn’t have done this much damage in a century of trying. Personally – and I speak as a Catholic – I don’t think the Church needs to see only a “decline” in its “prestige and influence”, a little salutary chastisement. The whole whitewashed sepulchre needs to be prised open and cleansed of the rot within – and that means we all, clergy, religious and laity, need to educate ourselves about the pain inflicted and the damage done, and to repent. (Not ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is for the victims / survivors to give or withhold). Only when the stonewalling, the legal and moral shuffling, the lies and excuses and equivocations, have been replaced with honesty and full disclosure, can new life rise through the rubble. As for what comes afterwards, well, let’s hope the Psalmist was right: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

      • Atheist Max says:


        As a former Catholic, I agree with your analysis. And there are additional consequences of the pedophile scandals. The church compounded its immoral deeds with an equally immoral response to the crisis. So much disgraceful behavior and fundamental immorality coming from a self-proclaimed moral arbiter (The Catholic Church) is beyond vulgar – it is nauseating.

        Pedophilia exists in other institutions – not just Catholic churches. But what many Catholics were awakened to thanks to this crisis is the fatal flaw in the philosophy of ‘repentance and forgiveness.’

        When other institutions discovered pedophilia within their ranks the perpetrators were excoriated and vilified – sent to prison and excommunicated from society, especially forbidden to contact children ever again.

        But priests accepted repentance from each other and forgave each other. Bernard Cardinal Law, kingpin of the Boston pedophile priest network famously said: “We are in the forgiveness business”

        Pay close attention to the immorality of such a philosophy. The implosion of the Catholic Church was not the misbehavior of a few bad clergy.

        The implosion was caused by the larger awareness that the “compulsory aspects” of Christianity itself – the broadly applied compulsory repentance/forgiveness philosophy – is fundamentally immoral.

        The idea that the character of Jesus taught something which could be so deeply and dangerously flawed has done as much damage to the Catholic Church as 9/11 did to Islam. These flaws in these philosophies have been around since the beginning – but now with the internet and social media it is impossible to hide them anymore.

  3. FrMichael says:

    “Leadership and God are entitled to obedience.” Well, I think God is entitled to obedience. So much the worse for the wicked who voted for this constitutional change in Ireland. They should have repealed the preamble thanking God for Irish independence, since 3/5 of the electorate just extended the middle finger to the Trinity.

    “When other institutions discovered pedophilia within their ranks the perpetrators were excoriated and vilified – sent to prison and excommunicated from society, especially forbidden to contact children ever again.” What world are you living in? Even to this day public school officials routinely fail to carry out mandatory reporting laws and other child protection measures in the state of California and no doubt other jurisdictions. It gets a day or two in the paper and then it’s over until the sentencing.

    • Atheist Max says:

      “over until the sentencing.”
      That is my point – pedophiles elsewhere are punished. They go to jail.

      In the US we have had 25,000 cases of child rape by priests – unreported by confessors – all of them “forgiven” and covered up for decades. And those are just the ones we found out about.

      That doesn’t happen in other industries. Only religion has a special “forgiveness ritual” which secretly returns perpetrators back to the classroom with a few incantations – *clean and redeemed anew* – to rape again and again.

      Compulsory forgiveness is the problem and Jesus was clearly wrong to demand it. To disobey Jesus on such matters is a great virtue. This is now transparently obvious in Ireland.

    • Chris says:


      I think we need to have forgiveness and justice. We have had the forgiveness but not the justice; especially the necessary replacements of Bishops who enable child sex abuse by priests. One of our failings is that we are by no means as comitted to social justice as we ought to be.

      God Bless

      • Atheist Max says:

        I believe forgiveness can be an important balm for the victims. But the only person with the right to forgive a priest for rape is the victim – nobody else. And such victims should never feel obligated to forgive anyone who wrongs them so cruelly. They deserve ongoing help as long as it is required.

        Furthermore, there are other concerns. Protection of the society from a serial predator is neither about justice nor forgiveness but about proper eradication of an ongoing threat to the well-being of innocents.

        And that is why repentance and confession are wrong-headed for everyone involved.
        There are many reality checks to deal with here.

  4. Chris says:

    I think the Church needs a good look at those 2 great principles of Vatican II: resourcement and aggorniomento.

    A resourcement that goes back to the sources: what does the torah/gospel really say on homosexuality ? What did Christ actually teach ? With what level of authority/certainty does the Church teach on homosexuality (actually a rather low one).

    An aggorniomento that is prepared to develop, and develop radically, those teachings which can now be seen as out of step with science and with the the sensus fidei and with what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church at Pentacost 2015.

    And a generosity that can uphold the beauty of the Catholic understanding of marriage while also seeing the good in relationships outside marriage (as last years’s disputed Family Synod document did). Cf Nostra Aetate.

    Will this happen ? That’s up to us. Let’s get on with it.

    God Bless

    • Atheist Max says:

      Jim McCrea,

      Those links only make my points.
      Does a god exist or not? I really don’t understand what religious people are missing here.

      If proper morality is decided democratically (as in Ireland) it confirms what I’ve been saying all along; the evidence always shows morality coming from humanity, and not gods.
      Religion gets its morals from humans – not the other way around.

      There appears to be no god. So why do people repeatedly bother sticking a god’s will on decisions made by, as in this case, Irish humans?

      Pretending a god has something to do with any of this baffles me.
      To anyone who cares to answer, I’d like to know!
      Where is the evidence of a god’s involvement anywhere in this situation?

      • Todd says:

        Does God exist? Religious people certainly say yes. It’s certainly not a matter of proof. If it were, we would move from faith into knowledge.

        What the Irish people decided was law, not morality. It was an expression of human will.

      • Atheist Max says:

        So where is the evidence or use of a God in this situation?
        The morally correct thing was to accept Gay marriage.

        Morality is only about well-being and avoiding unnecessary harm. If your idea of morality is not about human well-being and the avoiding of unnecessary harm it is of no use.

        1. 10% of humanity is born gay. It is a proven fact across all societies. They should not be denied the right to love as others do – including in marriage. It is morally correct to enable this and immoral, needlessly cruel and bigoted not to do so.

        2. The evidence shows this moral choice has been decided by humans in objection to the prayers, the claims of the bible and the will of the church.

        3. The church is promoting the immoral position.

        And, as I am pointing out, there is no sign of a God participating in this morally superior outcome.

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