The report on child abuse in Cloyne diocese demonstrates that little has changed; that the institutional church, with powerful vested interests in retaining things as they are, is incapable of change from within. It is time that the questions asked were not about procedures but about the nature of the church itself.
Back in the early days of Christian history, almost seventeen hundred years ago, a strange thing happened in the church. The emperor at the time, Constantine, perhaps for reasons that were not entirely spiritual, became a Christian. The church became part of the established order of things.
Over the centuries, the church became so much a part of the established order of things that by the 11th century—a thousand years ago, there appeared in Europe what became called ‘Christendom’. church and society went together so closely that if you were a member of society you were a member of the church. No-one was allowed to have views, no-one was allowed to say things, no-one was allowed to do things that were not approved by the church. The church commanded great power, prestige and wealth. Church leaders were concerned with success and influence; they openly engaged in politics and in wars. Whatever the church said was right, so no-one dare criticize or suggest that the Church was not telling the whole truth. Pope Benedict’s words in 2009 that, ‘it is fundamental . . . to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion’, ring hollow with even the most peremptory reading of the history of the Papacy. For century after century, the strongest churches in each country commanded power and respect and influence.
The church surely lost its way somewhere. Where was the example of Jesus of Nazareth who said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me?’ Where was the self-denial, where was the way of the cross in bishops living as princes; in the church owning vast lands; in fantastic, ornate buildings in places where people lived in hovels; in sumptuous vestments and grand houses? Is this what Jesus of Nazareth was about?
The Government would do the church a favour by recalling it to first principles. Ministers should sit down with church leaders and explain that unless the church loses its power, it will never regain its vitality. There should be an end to the nonsense of maintaining diplomatic relations with the Vatican; the church is not a state, whatever its pretence. There should be a removal of church influence in spheres of public life that are funded by the state and should be subject to full state control.
Let the church become what it was meant to be – a group of people who have chosen the way of Jesus, not an oppressive power imposing its doctrines on a nominal membership.
How many more reports will be needed?