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A Church in distress

Pope Francis is welcomed by Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin upon arriving in Dublin, Ireland on August 25. Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis is welcomed by Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin upon arriving in Dublin, Ireland on August 25. Photo: Reuters

This article is not about faith and much less about theology. I believe that millions of Catholics who base their lives on Christian principles will continue to do so irrespective or any scandal that involves their Church leadership.

Rather, my comments are about the Church as an institution that has the potential of improving society at a time when the world is suffering from inept political leadership that is seeing inequality becoming more pronounced in most countries. The Catholic Church has a heritage of social values that have made the world a better place for many especially those who live on the fringes of society.

Sadly it also has a history of abuse of the vulnerable that often were entrusted to its care like children and unmarried mothers. The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin recently commented about the anger that many Catholics experience when they hear about this abuse.

“The anger is not just about abuse but also about a church that was authoritarian, harsh, autocratic and self-protecting. It is not enough to just say sorry for abuses within the Catholic Church,” he said.

It is clear that the Church does not have the right governance structures to be able to ensure that the scandals of the past are not repeated. Once again Archbishop Martin has a good grasp of what is wrong with the Church governance.

“Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever. Why does this not happen? Why must such a simple affirmation have to be repeated so often?”

The sad reality is that like most large organisations, the Catholic Church is riddled with internal politics. Opposing factions cancel out each other and change is slow to promote the desired good governance. Unlike business organisations, the Church is not subject to market forces.

Our local Church also needs to engage in meaningful soul searching and gauge the real effect it has on Maltese society

Empty churches on Sundays, lapsed membership of non-practising Catholics and media coverage of sex scandals by church officials in even the higher ranks of the hierarchy may annoy the Church leadership, but it rarely leads to anything more substantial than an apology. Some may also be complacent and argue that the Church has seen even worse scandals in the past but still survived because of divine intervention.

The Church needs to deal with its controversial past to move forward. There are some, like Archbishop Martin, who argue that, “The Pope has to speak frankly about our past but also about our future. We need a Church with confidence: not the confidence of popularity or arrogance but the confidence that comes from men and women captivated by the message of Jesus.”

Our local Church also needs to engage in meaningful soul searching and gauge the real effect it has on Maltese society. Influencing political thought and behaviour should be a much lower priority than giving meaning to ordinary people’s lives, especially those who struggle to get by in a society where many enjoy economic prosperity but also spiritual poverty.

The Catholic hierarchy needs to do more for the lonely, the abandoned, those without hope. It needs to shed the old symbols of power and make real solidarity with the weak its hallmark of service to the community. It needs to speak for those who are living in substandard conditions irrespective of their country of origin and those who are being exploited. It needs to connect again with those who are hurt because the Church does not adequately recognise their dignity.

The present Pope despite his deteriorating health indeed has the right vision of the Church’s role in today’s society. But he has to struggle to convince those around him who may have no interest in giving up their status with all the material benefits it brings with it. More scandals are bound to be revealed and more Catholics will be shocked about the secrecy and connivance that prevented such scandals from coming to the surface decades ago.

A reformed Catholic Church was never more needed than it is today to preserve some of the Christian values that European society claims to embrace. But for this to happen the Church hierarchy should don, at least metaphorically, the clothes of the disadvantaged in our society rather than the purple robes, skullcaps and oversized crucifixes hanging on precious metal chains.

The Catholic Church cannot afford to keep postponing change until it becomes inevitable. Catholics may be ready to forgive the cardinal sins of their religious leaders as long as they repent and embrace change.

johncassarwhite@yahoo.com

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