Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Public Square

Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh
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Another in the excellent Patrick Finn Lecture Series in St. Mary's in Haddington Road. This time the title was "The Church in the Irish Public Square". It was a pretty provocative title and the talk certainly lived up to it.

The speaker was Archbishop Richard Clarke of Armagh and he didn't waste any time putting it up to his audience. He kicked off by deploring the way the media, in response to commercial pressures, were effectively dumbing down content to mere soundbytes and thus depriving us of the possibility of any sort of subtle conversations in that forum. And when it came to social media the content became more aggressive and nasty.

So far so good. But if you thought this was going to develop into a rant about how the media are not paying due attention to the teaching and views of the church you were in for a shock.

The church, he said, had no God given right to be heard in the Irish public square. It had to earn that right by putting its views in a way that appealed to both reason and emotion and it had to do this with more than a pinch of passion.

The days of preaching at civil society from the pulpit were gone. The case had to be argued in terms of the common good and, perish the thought, the church had to listen respectfully to the views of others and, in the heel of the hunt, be prepared to change its own views where the argument could not be sustained.

That is not to say that the ramblings of every idiot out there had to be given the same weight as reasoned and considered views. There had to be some element of discrimination as well and this was unfortunately lacking in much of current media coverage.

Pointing out that the Christian traditions agreed on more that they disputed, he felt there was a lot to be said in them coordinating their views in advance when it came to presenting them in the public square. He mentioned a recent presentation he did, along with RC Archbishop Eamon Martin, on the Flesh and Blood campaign. This was about organ and blood donation and it didn't get a lot of media coverage. He figured that if the two Archbishops had instead ended up with fisticuffs the coverage would have been extensive, as the media thrive on confrontation but find the good news lacking in appeal.

The above is only a small part of what the Archbishop had to say and it is in my own paraphrasing. His presentation was compelling and well crafted and the content was inspiring. Definitely one of the highlights of this already excellent lecture series.

Hopefully, the text will appear soon in an issue of Doctrine and Life and you will be able to judge for yourself.

Souvenir poster

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