The Catholic Church in Ireland, in which I am pleased to serve on my local parish pastoral council, has been arrogant in relation to its members and to other Christian churches. Many of its members need to be evangelised and many parishes need to move from maintenance to the mission Jesus called for.
There are wonderful models of this in process in Baltimore in the United States (churchnativity.tv) and Nova Scotia in Canada (saintbenedict.ca), which are becoming inspirational to many Catholics in Ireland.
In both, the parish priests chose to learn from successful Protestant and Pentecostal churches in their countries. This takes humility.
I co-ordinated a cross-denominational response to the Eighth Amendment calling for a No vote, signed by 51 evangelical Catholic bishops, priests and lay leaders and 72 Protestant and Pentecostal ministers from every county in Ireland.
Confirmation has sadly almost become the "sacrament of exit" from the Catholic Church
In the process many Christians from different denominations built bridges of friendship, foundations for a spiritual awakening in Ireland. Jesus prayed that his followers might be one so that the world might believe.
I questioned why God had not answered my prayers for a No verdict, but realised that he respected the free will of people so much that he would not interfere. Our people chose “the way of the nations.” In doing so they rejected not just the teaching of the Catholic Church, but God’s way.
Primacy of conscience
Mary McAleese, the former president, has rightly emphasised the primacy of conscience, referring to Catholic catechism section 1782. However, she omits mention of the subsequent qualifying sections, especially section 1802, which states that it is essential to inform one's conscience by sacred scripture and not only by Church teaching: "The word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed."
Mrs McAleese is well versed on church teaching but what role does scripture play in her reckoning?
I agree with her when she says that over the centuries many things were taught “with great passion that quietly now have been abandoned by the very magisterium that taught them”. I find it very frustrating that the church often doesn’t just acknowledge that they got it wrong in the past and repent of it.
Her assertion that baptised children are "infant conscripts" is grossly insulting to parents who sincerely wish to raise their children in their own faith tradition, be it Catholic, Church of Ireland or Presbyterian.
Reform in the Catholic Church can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, lead to Christian unity and the re-evangelisation of Ireland
I do accept there can be a routine, culturally traditional attitude towards the subsequent sacraments of first Holy Communion and Confirmation. Confirmation has sadly almost become the “sacrament of exit” from the Catholic Church.
I would like to see it delayed to age 16 (as in some countries). There would be far fewer candidates, but they would be freely choosing to personally follow Christ.
For Mrs McAleese to say "Jesus Christ would be better represented by those celebrating marriage equality" is appalling. Jesus upheld marriage between men and women and condemned all immorality (both heterosexual and homosexual) for his followers. All are free to follow or not.
I totally agree with Pope Francis that marriage as God intended is solely between a man and a woman. The World Meeting of Families will shortly celebrate this. Again he is doing no more than echoing the words of scripture that God initiated marriage between men and women.
Reform in the Catholic Church can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, lead to Christian unity and the re-evangelisation of Ireland.
Portents of this include the cross-denominational New Wine Family Conference in Sligo this week, being attended by nearly 2,000 people.
Ireland can again become a light to the nations, but only if reform in the Catholic Church, and indeed in all the other Christian churches, is Christ-centred and scripturally based.