Irish clergy not alone in running gauntlet of Vatican censure in Rome

 

POPE BENEDICT XVI has long made it clear he believes Europe’s traditionally Christian countries need a major spiritual “dig-out” to ward off both growing secularisation and the “eclipse of the sense of God”. Two years after he created the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, however, one is tempted to ask whether he means new evangelisation or new inquisition.

Irish public opinion is much concerned by revelations that Irish priests such as Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Brian D’Arcy have been “silenced” by the Holy See over the last two years. Yet, there a lot of people getting their knuckles rapped by the Holy See – from US nuns to Austrian priests to teachers at Catholic schools and even Holy See functionaries.

Earlier this month, Emily Herx, a literature teacher at the St Vincent De Paul Catholic School in Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, claimed she had been sacked from the school last year because she had undergone in vitro fertilisation (IVF). She claimed, in a lawsuit, that the school’s church leader, Fr John Kuzmich, had told her she was a “grave, immoral sinner” who would cause a “scandal” if people learned she had undergone IVF, while local bishop Kevin Rhoades had told her “IVF is an intrinsic evil”.

In a statement that stirs echoes of the Eileen Flynn affair in New Ross in the late 1980s, the Fort Wayne diocese publicly asserted its right as a religious employer “to make religious-based decisions consistent with its religious standards”.

Closer to home, Pope Benedict, during his traditional Maunday Thursday “Chrism” Mass at Easter, sharply rebuked more than 300 Austrian priests who had issued a “call to disobedience” on key tenets in church teaching, including regarding women’s ordination.

The most controversial Holy See “hard line” intervention of recent times has been the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s April 18th call for a sweeping review of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group for US women superiors. This is a long-running, complex story, but essentially the conference is not happy about the LCWR’s company culture, which it perceives as too influenced by “radical feminism” and marred by “corporate dissent” on issues such as women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Last week, Pope Benedict created a commission of three veteran cardinals whose brief is to investigate the February series of embarrassing Vatican leaks that led to Italian media stories portraying a Vatican riddled with corruption, dishonesty, poison-pen letters and fetid rivalry. The expectation is that, if and when the Holy See moles are discovered, they will be in very hot water indeed.

Intriguingly, the Holy See’s heavy hand against dissident “liberals” such as the US nuns and certain Irish priests comes at the very moment when Benedict is preparing to welcome back into the church the Priestly Society of St Pius X, the traditionalist movement founded by French bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who with five other bishops was excommunicated for his “schismatic” action in 1988. This was the ordination by Lefebvre of four bishops, including infamous Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.

When asked about the “actions” against Irish dissident priests, senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told The Irish Times it was simply “normal” that, when priests publicly take “positions ... not compatible or coherent with church teaching”, the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith would intervene.

So, what is Benedict saying here? That it is OK to question Vatican II concepts such as collegiality, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and the reformed Mass, as the Lefebvrists do, but not church teaching on women’s ordination or homosexuality?

Do all of the above questions, IVF included, not relate much more to church law than to God’s law, and as such can they then be open to discussion?

Anyone who knows the Vatican well will probably accept that the above sequence of events is purely coincidental, given the workings of the Holy See.

What is not coincidental is the all too predictable thrust of Benedict’s papacy, where his “reform” looks more and more like “crackdown”.