Saturday, December 10, 2011

Archbishop Martin on acting in accord with conscience

In a recently-filmed documentary, the archbishop of Dublin, the very courageous and faithful Diarmuid Martin, tells lapsed Catholics to go ahead and leave, well sorta. In the film he says, "It requires maturity on those people who want their children to become members of the church community and maturity on those people who say 'I don't believe in God and I really shouldn't be hanging on to the vestiges of faith when I don't really believe in it.'" He also talks about the necessity of the Church breaking ties with some Catholic schools, the ones that are not really Catholic. On my view, such schools are not merely neutral, but are often antithetical to faith.

Be discerning in how you read accounts of this story, how the story is spun. Like Archbishop Michael Sheehan's pastoral letter on marriage, which he promulgated in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe earlier this year, there will be many whose responses will range from, "How rude!" to those who will claim Archbishop Martin's comments are un-pastoral. When it comes these matters I have no problem playing the contrarian because groupthink and lazy assumptions sometimes reign even in the Church.

Diarmuid Martin is a truthful, loving pastor. He is urging people to act in accord with their consciences, not kicking people out. He was the lone voice among the Irish episcopate calling his fellow bishops to account and, in some cases, to resign because of their mishandling and, in a few instances, complicity with the great sex abuse scandal. Pastorally-speaking maybe it takes losing what you take for granted in order to desire it. If not, then at least your life ceases to be make-believe. In any case, if we believe what we do in Baptism, better yet, what God is doing and asking of us (which belief I doubt in many cases all around, faith being reduced to sentimentality), we are setting people up for the ultimate failure by having them make promises to God they have no intention of keeping. Being mature means living with integrity, which certainly requires one to act in accord with one's conscience.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

It seems to me the question for those who take offense at what Archbishop Martin is saying is, "Do you believe?" If so, "Is it an act of charity to be facilitator for people acting against their consciences before God?" If, on consideration of the true nature of the sacraments, especially Baptism and Matrimony (Holy Communion doesn't present much of a problem for the reason discussed by Archbishop Martin, namely people don't tend to present themselves for it that often, but when they do the same problem persists), we discern the deficiency of our deeply ingrained pastoral practice, do those of us who at our ordinations pledged to be good stewards of the Sacred Mysteries think that we will not only be held accountable, but more accountable?

In the wake of the great Irish sex abuse scandal, which has caused so much animosity between Eire and the Holy See, Archbishop Martin, in his Easter homily back in 2010, noted, "The two factors which bring about a change in the attitude of the early disciples were their great love for Jesus and their willingness to be guided by the spirit to rightly interpret the scriptures." A bit later in the homily he asked, "But what of those who love the Church? How do we overcome our disgust and shame for the sins of Christians?" Answering his own question, he goes to say,
The sins of the Church can well be exposed by the spotlight of the media; but the Church will be converted, renewed and reformed only when it allows the light of Christ to inspire it and guide it. It is the light of Christ which will show the real significance of the darkness that has slipped into our lives. The light of Christ will expose the sins of Christians but the light of Christ does not abandon us naked and alone in the exposure of our shame and sin. The light of Christ heals, it leads; there is no way we can switch off or dim that part of the light that exposes the sad realities of the past; there is no way we should switch off or dim the light that can open the path to a new future. No generation is too sophisticated not to need the light of Christ; no generation is too sophisticated not to be able to comprehend that light and what it can bring to society
I see in his undoubtedly controversial and provocative comment the same determination, making him, at least to me, an admirable shepherd. In order to speak the truth in love, you must first speak the truth. It follows, to speak the truth means knowing and accepting it, perhaps even despite some uncertainties. Loving others by loving their destiny means trusting God totally. This also means recognizing that Christ's Church is no mere earthly and voluntaristic association, but Christ's Bride, with all that entails.

I give a deep diaconal bow to my dear friend and brother deacon Greg Kandra, author of The Deacon's Bench, for bringing the Irish Independent article to my attention.


  1. I just read most of your piece to my husband and we both appreciate (and agree) with your perspective. We will be attending a Mass in NYC in January that will be celebrated by Archbishop Martin. (At the New York Encounter) What a blessing he is to our faith.

  2. I think this just goes to show that the Bishops are damned if they do, damned if they don't (as far as the media goes).
    Good blog, Scott!


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