Wednesday, January 17, 2018


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This man is 90 years of age. He is a tough talking revolutionary who has long nailed his colours to the mast.

I attended his talk, to We Are Church Ireland, last evening in the Mercy International Centre at Baggot St Bridge. It was a privilege and a marvellous experience. The man is clearly a saint, though in the course of his talk he was implicitly scathing of instant canonisations.

It is very hard to know where to start, his talk was so provocative and challenging, and I must admit in all modesty in line with much of my own thinking, though mine is from the perspective of an unbelieving outsider.

I described myself to the assembled multitude as a gatecrasher, as I did not share their faith but had come purely to meet and hear this remarkable man. All I can say is that it was a party worth gatecrashing, rivaled maybe by only the Last Supper itself.

It is a mystery to me why Gabriel Daly has neither been silenced nor excommunicated when another man in the same mold, Seán Fagan (RIP), was most disgracefully silenced for over a decade and to add insult to injury he was hit with a gagging order forbidding him reporting his silencing. His religious order, the Marists, behaved disgracefully towards him at the time.

Perhaps Gabriel Daly was a more formidable foe? Or, maybe, the Augustinians stood up for him? Or, maybe it was how he couched his language, though that's unlikely. I just don't know.

Anyway, it was a night to remember. I am not going to go through Fr. Daly's talk seriatim. You can read the whole thing here. I will just hit some of the points which resonated with me or on which I would like to comment.

Fr. Daly was introduced by Gina Menzies, who among other things, is herself a theologian and is well known from her appearances on Irish media.

She referred to Fr. Daly's most recent book The Church always in need of Reform on which he previously gave a talk to We Are Church. The title of this post is the equivalent Latin tag.

A central theme of Fr. Daly's talk was the abuse of power by the Papacy and the Curia over a long period.

An example is the Modernists who he came across at an early stage and decided they merited some study. He ended up doing his thesis on them. His conclusion was that they were acting in good faith in pushing much needed reforms of the church and that the then Pope came down on them like a ton of bricks in a disgraceful abuse of power.

He seems also to hold a somewhat similar view of the Reformation seeing Luther as attempting to remedy the outrageous church abuses of his day.

In both these cases the power structure of the church reacted violently, much needed reforms were ignored, and the church continued down a path of maintaining maximum distance from the reformers. This produced a very distorted theology and practice which Vatican II made some effort to reform. But it too was buried by the same power structure in the persons of three Popes (Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI).

I was very interested in this analysis as it chimed with my own ideas in a post I had done some time ago.

In that post I also touched on the Real Presence which is a focal point for the clash between the old and the new regimes, between a misunderstood (literal) version of transubstantiation on the one hand and its symbolic reality on the other. He has expounded his approach to this at greater length in a paper to the Glenstal Ecumenical Conference in 2013.

It is clear that Fr. Daly's view of the Eucharist is one of "communio" or participation and spiritual development (the banner under which the 2012 Eucharistic Congress was held) and he is clearly offended by its being used as an instrument of punishment (presumably in refusing the sacrament to those divorcees in second marriages). Another abuse of power, but not unexpected in the religious environment in which I grew up.

I have a story from a relative whose family way back owned a field. They let the Parish Priest graze his horse there and all was well until they came to a point where they could no longer facilitate the PP. He was not at all pleased and some time later refused to come and administer the last rites to the dying granny. An order priest had to be pressed into service. So as well as abuses of power on a grand scale we also had to suffer the petty abuses.

And that brings us to Pope Francis who is trying to reform the system from the top while seeking help from the bottom up. Fr. Daly was quite clear about, and critical of, those in the Curia who were in open revolt against the Pope. He felt they had to be stood up against and his hope was that this would not split the church. Nevertheless truth was truth and had to be vindicated.

He felt that the action taken by the Curia in silencing a number of Irish priests was a disgraceful abuse of power. The church needed diversity and unity should not be confused with uniformity. Change was part of the church's development, or it ought to be, and for this change to be informed there had to be debate. In this context he expressed his outrage at the Popes, from John Paul II on, banning even discussion of the possibility of ordaining women priests.

While I'm on the subject of diversity I would simply say that the church I grew up in (and ultimately out of) had no room for diversity. Education was by fiat and not from questioning or through debate. It would have done Hasbara proud as this little exhortation from one of its manuals for emigrants illustrates.

Fr. Daly felt the Irish bishops were a disgrace, not least in accepting the recent appalling translation of the Missal and then the Curia's verdict that nothing could be done about it because the decision endorsing it could not be changed retrospectively.

What a load of cobblers. The Curia were apparently relying on some convenient interpretation of Canon Law in the matter. Fr. Daly made it clear that he was not a fan of Canon law as presently embodied. He conceded that you had to have some rules but the present restrictive structure was strangling change.

I was present at a book launch once where Archbishop Diarmuid Martin referred to Ecclesia Reformata, a slip of the tongue no doubt, and he repeated the English version correctly. Nevertheless you would wonder if the Irish bishops as a whole think the job is oxo.

And don't get me started on the lately departed Nuncio.

I could go on here all night but you'd eventually get bored with me, so I will just make three brief final points.

I see Gabriel Daly in the tradition of John Robinson, whose book Honest to God was a big influence on me. I hope Fr. Daly does not object to this comparison.

Wouldn't it be fun if the Irish bishops held their next conference in Mick Wallace's plaza in Dublin's Italian quarter to the backdrop of a native lay version of the Last Supper.

I met some interesting women at this function. I didn't check at the time but from recollection I think there was a broad gender balance in the audience. I didn't see many young people there, however. Perhaps they have bypassed reform and left the RC church or are happy enough with their current lot. Only time will tell.

This was my first contact with We Are Church Ireland and I must say I was made very welcome and even invited back. When they say the meetings are open that's exactly what they mean.

If you want to get a better handle on the evening itself do read Fr. Daly's paper in full.

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