The Irish Catholic Church urgently needs a National Assembly to address the crisis in which it is embroiled. And since the crisis has implications for the Church world-wide, a ‘Third Vatican Council’ is also required. So argues Jesuit theologian Gerry O’Hanlon in his new book A New Vision for the Catholic Church: A View from Ireland (Columba Press),to be launched Monday 16 May, 2011 ,Gardiner St Church, 5.00pm
The former Irish Jesuit Provincial supports the view often expressed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin that the serious mishandling of the child sexual abuse scandal has opened eyes ‘to a much deeper crisis within the Catholic Church’. “There is an increased impatience and anger with the distribution of power at all levels within the Catholic Church,” O’Hanlon states. “The continuing absence and perspective of women within most decision-making bodies is unconscionable and much Church teaching on sexuality and gender is foreign to the experience of many good believers and often received with incredulity.”
In his book, O’Hanlon notes that conversations among an increasingly alienated laity are peppered by phrases like: ‘they just don’t get it’; ‘things will never change’ and ‘the bishops themselves are the problem’. Young people in particular are becoming more and more indifferent to an institution that for them lacks credibility. There is a haemorrhaging of trust that is often silent.
He acknowledges the continuing relevance of the Catholic Church at key moments like birth, marriage and death. He draws attention to the committed work of many Catholic individuals and groups, but he accepts the view of Dr Diarmuid Martin that ‘in many ways the brink has already been reached. The Catholic Church in Ireland will inevitably become more a minority culture. The challenge is to ensure that it is not an irrelevant minority culture’.
“We have to retrieve the vision of Vatican II but suitably adapted to our age,” he argues. “The consultative process this will involve, in Ireland and elsewhere, will be complex and even chaotic at times. But with but with adept facilitation and God’s Holy Spirit it can lead to an authentic church, which could become a strong force for good within Irish life.”
O’Hanlon goes back to the Scriptures and to the practices of early Christianity and shows how the Spirit of Vatican II was true to a vision of the Church as “primarily the lay faithful, the People of God. Hierarchy was understood to act in service of the people, listening carefully to ‘the sense of the faithful”. He argues that we need to return to the basics of this vision and to begin to foster an inclusive culture of conversation and dialogue within the Catholic Church.