Leading Jesuit calls for synod to address Murphy report


THE FORMER Jesuit provincial Fr Gerry O’Hanlon has called for a national synod of the Catholic Church in Ireland in the context of fallout from the Murphy report.

“It will not do any more for priests, bishops, cardinals, the pope to simply tell us what to think, what to do. People rightly want to have a say,” he has written in the current edition of the Furrowmagazine.

“Now would also seem to be a good time to call into question the reality that certain narrow grounds of orthodoxy are a sine qua nonof episcopal appointments at present, and to call for more transparent, representative and accountable local, including lay, participation in the appointment of bishops.

“It’s instructive to note that as recently as 1829, of 646 diocesan bishops in the Latin Church, only 24 had been appointed by the pope: often we forget how new many of our ‘traditions’ are.

“It would seem that we need in Ireland to renew our own understanding of church, along the more participative lines envisaged by Vatican II, and, in particular, with a greater role for women and without any veto on the kinds of issues that might emerge in the consultative process that will be required.

“Why not, then, envisage going down the road of the oft-proposed national synod or assembly, well prepared in each diocese, touching into the experience of believers and disaffected alike?”

More generally, he observed, “one gets the sense that we are at a watershed moment in Irish Catholicism, with repercussions for Catholicism worldwide. There is an institutional dysfunctionality at the heart of our church which goes beyond any simple notion of governance or management reform and which needs to be tackled.”

In the same issue retired Dublin priest Fr Pádraig McCarthy challenged the findings of the Murphy report, how the media has dealt with it and how Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese has responded to it.

“Media coverage of the report may have given the impression that the report is a catalogue of unrelieved disaster. It is good to be aware, therefore, that of the 45 cases in which the report gives an assessment, handling by the church in 25 cases receives some sort of approval from the commission; 20 cases receive varying degrees of criticism.”

He found it “extraordinary that I have found not one journalist or commentator who has done the kind of review of the report which would otherwise be normal. The commission, I am sure, would not wish to be burdened with any claim to infallibility; nor do I. We must not make the report the final and absolute word.”

Among the Murphy report findings, each of which he disputes in detail, is “that child sexual abuse by clerics was widespread throughout the period under review”. That, he said, “does not accord with the facts”. He also criticises the report’s lack of “precision” in saying that while “some priests were aware that particular instances of abuse had occurred . . . the vast majority simply chose to turn a blind eye”.

He pointed out that “the report does not specify what ‘some’ means” and that “vast majority” seemed to imply a very large number.

“What was (and still is) missing . . . is a considered diocesan response” to the report, he added.