Older church members behind desire for change
ANALYSIS:Speakers showed the spirit of compassion unleashed by Vatican 11 remains alive, writes PATSY McGARRY
TWO OUTSTANDING characteristics were immediately evident at the “Toward an Assembly of the Catholic Church” event in Dublin yesterday morning.
One was the unexpectedly large number there. The other was their age profile. One of the organisers, Fr Brendan Hoban, parish priest in Moygownagh, Co Mayo, and a member of the Association of Catholic Priests leadership team, seemed taken aback. They had expected 200, he said, but “there are in excess of 900”.
The number increased to well over 1,000 and, unusually for a day-long conference, continued to grow as the day progressed. The attendance was, Fr Hoban felt, “a huge statement” of the desire of Catholics for change.
Many were priests, many were nuns, most were laity. Almost all were middle-aged and older. But then the average age of an Irish Catholic priest today is 64, while the age profile generally seemed an accurate reflection of those at any weekend Mass. They were broadly representative of Ireland’s practising Catholics.
Even a couple of younger people who spoke during open sessions were an accurate representation in number and view of that increasingly strident, traditionalist element among young Irish Catholics today. Though there were also more liberally minded young Catholics there too. But, and typically, they were less assertive than their traditionalist peers and did not get the chance to speak.
Still, that is to digress from the spirit of yesterday’s event which was overwhelmingly of Vatican 11, as articulated again and again by those forever loyal children of that great council.
Despite four decades of rowing back by Rome it was evident from yesterday’s contributions that the 60s spirit of openness, inclusiveness and compassion unleashed by Pope John XXIII remains alive and well in the Irish Catholic Church.
Also striking was the passion with which contributors spoke. It was to be reminded once more that in the Ireland of today it is not to the young one looks for those grand old architects of change: courage, drive, commitment, or its great engine, anger. You look to the older generations.
It was to be reminded that the only real people revolution of recent years in Ireland was when the over-70s faced down Brian Lenihan over their medical cards in October 2008.
Of course age is itself a reason why people such as those at yesterday’s assembly are prepared to stand up and say they are not going to take it anymore. For the laity among, then life’s responsibilities have been discharged and there’s little to lose. For the priests and nuns present the attitude was one of “what more can they do to me”?
It is early days and there’s a long way to go, as Fr Hoban also said, but something was unleashed yesterday. Time will tell “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”?