Thursday, December 17, 2009


As the temperatures continue to fall here in Ireland and there are predictions of snow (Yes, SNOW!) for Christmas or at least this weekend (this is Dublin, Ireland we rarely see snow and almost never at Christmas) so the social temperature is falling for both Church and State.

I'll the State and the Government to their own devices but the Church is after all my true home on Earth. It has become obvious that one of the effects of the scandals is the undermining of any faith or trust in the bishops. The ordinary priest has the trust and faith of the people he works with but the bishop - the bishop is now rapidly losing his authority. If once a bishop's displeasure was something to be feared those days are long, long gone but further he is a figure to be ignored and despised. With his loss of authority the Church too loses her authority. The clergy are left without cover or protection and the people of God suffer. It is a bleak, wintry picture. Perhaps Rome's intervention will bring a new Spring and a warmer time but I'm not taking off my winter woolies yet.

How did we get here? I propose to you that one influence has been the rise of what might be called 'pastoralism'. Check that in a dictionary and you will find it means that part of agriculture that concentrates on the care of livestock and that's not a bad description of this theological approach. It has always been with us - the concern for the welfare of all the people of the Church but especially the laity. It is, after all, what a shepherd does - look after his sheep. I propose to you that it can and has become distorted. Perhaps it was the influence of so many missionaries whose pastoral efforts are so much more central to their identity. Perhaps it was a desire to refute the inroads of atheist criticism by being more practically involved in the issues of concern to the layperson. Perhaps it came from a weakening faith in the reality of spiritual experience and a corresponding flight into praxis.

Whatever the source 'pastoralism' and its kindred ideology Liberation theology put forward the idea that as long as the needs of the people were met then that was what was important. On the Liturgical/Sacramental level this means that as long as the people receive communion then almost anything else is tolerated. As long as sins are absolved then that's all that matters (some go further and get rid of the sins so no absolution is necessary). So the Liturgy is shortened, Canon Law is ignored or violated, and as long as one can come up with a 'pastoral reason' (or excuse) then no one does anything about it. The people, or rather a clique within the people, are the final court of appeal. If its OK with them then its OK.

In the end we have mediocre Liturgy and a muddled, middlebrow and mediocre Church. There are few saints if any and we have scandals instead.

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