Reflections at a Funeral

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By Gabriel Daly OSA

As we laid Seán Fagan to rest after all the suffering and injustice inflicted on him by the leaders of his own church, it became all too evident how divided the Catholic Church has become in Ireland and how so little is being done to heal the wounds of our internal divisions, and this at a time when the church is in grievous difficulties – many of its own making.

Fr Seán Fagan was widely admired and respected as a courageous theologian and compassionate pastor.

Fr Seán Fagan was widely admired and respected as a courageous theologian and compassionate pastor.

Socio-politically it has fallen from a great height, when it was a power in the land and its authority was unquestioned. However, the Holy Spirit is more likely to be listened to in the Irish Catholic Church now that it has been deprived of its privileged national status and has become a humiliated and insecure organization badly in need of public acceptance.

The presence of a bishop at Seán’s funeral would have been a golden occasion to express metanoia and the readiness to respond more sensitively to the the message of the Gospel. It would have meant so much to his family. It would have given witness to the triumph of Gospel values over institutional church attitudes. Regrettably no bishop was present. I believe that this omission was not personal; it was institutional. There were almost certainly several bishops who would have been glad to be there, but something prevented it. One wonders what and why?

It is highly probable that many bishops knew that the Roman Curia had behaved in a thoroughly unjust and unchristian fashion when it attacked six Irish priests who were giving admirable and enlightened service to God’s People. No bishop expressed public disapproval of what was happening, or came to the defence of priests who were being treated so appallingly by men who would have described themselves, somewhat implausibly, as Christians.

The Second Vatican Council made it very clear that diocesan bishops take precedence over curial bureaucrats, even those of prelatical rank. It would mean so much to many Catholics – to say nothing about the victims of curial injustice – if our bishops and religious superiors were to come to the defence of fellow Catholics being treated with no regard for justice or human rights. It would go far to heal the breach between the bishops and those Catholics who are looking for change in their church and receiving no understanding or encouragement from their pastors.

It cannot be said too often that peace, unity and friendship in the church do not depend on agreement about matters that do not belong to the essence of the faith. What the Gospel prescribes is willingness to live together in peace, friendship and respect for ideas and attitudes that one cannot share, and finally, if possible, even to be open to the desirability of reform.

Could our bishops not respect the value of diversity in the church and whole-heartedly reciprocate the offer of groups like the ACP to work in friendship, rather than to meet in polite formality. Pope Francis is leading with words of mercy and healing. Why are we not following?

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