BISHOP of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that despite the darkness that has engulfed the Catholic church in recent years there are glimmers of light that point the way towards renewal, hope, and a brighter future.
Bishop Leahy was invited to make the address at Boston College last week when he pointed to the many scandals that have dogged the Catholic church in Ireland, in particular, the “horrible revelations of clerical sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience in the Church.”
However, he believes that even though the church here is experiencing a “dark night” of the soul, there are also positives for the future.
We need, he said, to look again and to see that during dark and painful times “the light of faith shining purest”.
Bishop Leahy addressed a number of areas where “light is beginning to shine”, among them that the Catholic church in Ireland has come face-to-face with its own reality.
He cited “the importance of acknowledging reality. Calling things as they are and not hiding or concealing. We need to accept where we are and start again from scratch, making and offering a new discovery of God as Love.
“If in the past we didn’t see things through the eyes of injured children and young people, not least those abused by the representatives of the Church, today we undoubtedly have moved a long way in that direction.”
Bishop Leahy said this new era for the Church has brought with it an acceptance that change is necessary. “There is a future. We are seeing more clearly that certain ways of doing things and practices will have to die.
“Church life revolved somewhat passively around the priest. But as we look to the future, we now see that in the future it will be lay people assisting in funeral liturgies, lay people taking over the running of parishes, lay people exercising pastoral co-ordinating roles. It’s already in view.
“Child safeguarding has brought an army of very committed lay people into action in our parishes and dioceses at many levels. Religious orders have established Trust bodies with lay people involved in governance.
“God is at work ‘re-generating’ us as a Church and pointing the way for renewal in the Church in Ireland.”
Bishop Leahy said recognising and accepting the reality of past and the present will allow the Church to help and unite its faithful. In particular, he believes the issue of mental health in young people needs to be tackled together. He said: “We can recognise and help others recognise the cry from young people around issues such as mental health issues. We all need to come on board, raising the flag on this issue and tackling it together.
“We can’t go it alone isolated from one another. We are more humble and inter-dependent as a Church both within our own church life – among parishes, groups and dioceses – and in terms of the Church relating to other bodies.
“There is a greater sense of togetherness in mission emerging in this nighttime of the Church in Ireland. It’s not enough to do works of charity. We need to be charity/love as we do them.”
by Tom McCullough