Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Married clergy could mean salvation for the Church

I was born and raised a Catholic. I have parents who remained faithful and committed to the promises they made at my baptism to bring me up in accordance with the Church.

But now I am in a quandary at to what to do with that faith.

Where do I belong in a Catholic Church that lies in tatters, where abuses and obsolete rules have left me wondering what I'm part of and are contrary to my own inherent belief system?

Whether Cardinal Sean Brady chooses to resign or not makes little difference to the dilemma that I - and thousands like me - find ourselves in.

If he stays or goes, the damage that has been inflicted on the institution will remain.

It is not just Cardinal Brady who is to blame - the very foundations of the faith have crumbled away and left only rubble and confusion in their stead. Occasionally, I go to Mass and instead of finding spiritual solace, it seems to me to be a place of sadness. The discomfort of the priests who must face the congregation is palpable.

It is these men who have to look us in the eye after the latest scandal has been laid before us. Instead of being spiritual guardians and supports, they are the public face of an international institution whose reputation has been irreparably damaged.

That damage has been caused by failing to protect children from abusers, covering up that abuse and relegating women as second-class citizens.

As someone who is divorced, according to the rules, I am not allowed to receive communion. I have breached this ridiculous, Vatican-dictated nonsense and no one has struck me down yet.

If Jesus Christ were alive today, would he be appalled that a particular group was being singled out for the sackcloth and ashes treatment?

What do the Vatican rule-makers think Christianity is all about?

Their version certainly doesn't seem to encompass the values of compassion, forgiveness and love.

I respect those who choose to give up their independent lives to genuinely serve the Church, but why is it that being a priest or a nun and being married and having a family are mutually exclusive? Because there are fewer priests now, the ones who are left have to work harder than ever. They are spread thinly so that house calls - once so important - are a rarity.

As one priest said to me recently, "it's like running a business". He went on to detail the boards of management he sat on and the funds, churches and ceremonies he had to deal with across three parishes under his control.

Imagine the reinvigoration of the Church that would take place if married men and women were allowed to become priests.

A new version and vision of what it should mean to spread the word of Jesus Christ would become reality.

A similar impact might be felt if the Catholic Church were to cut loose from the gold-encrusted, exclusive world of the Vatican. Protecting wealth and secrecy should not have a place in an inclusive faith.

The Catholic Church is part of the very fabric of Irish society. It is the touchstone for me and my contemporaries who were born into it. We are struggling to see a future where it plays any sort of valuable role.

It forces single men to live a lonely and stressful life without the joy of growing their own family to support them. It excludes women from any meaningful role.

It tells gay people and those who have been through divorce that they have a very limited welcome.

If the Catholic Church wants me - and many like me - back, it needs to change radically and hand the power now held in Rome back to the people.

Those good men and women who are struggling as priests and nuns through these difficult times might just be the ones to lead the revolution.

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