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When Talking to Joe Just Doesn't Cut It

Irish Catholic, 7 Jan 2010 by Garry O'Sullivan




There is a wry suspicion among some clergy in Clare that Bishop Willie Walsh's recent outspokenness on the Church's teaching on sexual morality is a ploy to ensure that the Vatican speedily accepts his resignation allowing him to retire soon.

I seriously doubt Bishop Willie is capable of such cynicism but if he was, who could blame him; being a bishop in Ireland over the last 15 years has been far from easy.

Well-liked nationally, Bishop Willie has been shocked that parents in his diocese declared they didn't want him confirming their children, because he had treated, to their minds, a priest too harshly.

The Church's approach to managing the abuse crisis has been a divisive issue and Bishop Willie has made mistakes in the area of child protection, by his own admission, and it is clear that it has taken its toll on the bishop.

He made a mistake too when he misjudged the mood of the nation on Morning Ireland and lectured the listeners about misreading the Murphy Report while admitting that he hadn't read it himself. Those who had for years held up Bishop Willie as the only clued-in member of the Hierarchy were appalled and the Bishop was soon back on RTE¨ apologising for the momentary lapse.

His appearance last Sunday on RTE¨'s new religious affairs programme Spirit Level was equally misjudged. Does Bishop Willie consult his communications officer? I find it hard to believe that any communications person worth his salt would allow him to appear on national radio and television so ill prepared.

On Spirit Level, presenter Joe Duffy asked him what he had to say to the argument that it was ''the Vatican that promoted Desmond Connell to cardinal in 2002 (it was 2001) when it was known that he was moving paedophiles around''.

Bishop Willie responded: ''That's a very difficult one now to throw at me like that Joe, to say that the Vatican knew he was moving paedophiles around, I don't think that's quite fair'', and then he moved off onto how bishops are appointed. It was a perfectly reasonable question to ask a sitting bishop but Bishop Willie basically dodged the question and failed to give an effective answer. If a politican complained about the fairness of a hard question, he or she would be laughed out of the studio.

The rest of the interview went downhill. Bishop Walsh said: ''I think we have to ask very courageous questions and I don't like asking them, but I think we have to ask [about] our whole understanding of sexuality - I think our whole understanding of sexuality in Ireland has been oppressive and narrow and has caused unnecessary guilt and I think we have to re-examine that, areas like family planning (read contraception), co-habitation and so on''.

What is there to re-examine and what is so courageous about this? As Donald Rumsfeld might say, this is a 'known known'. Does Bishop Willie Walsh think the Church needs to change her teaching in these areas, if so, why not come out and say so, that would be courageous.

If a sitting bishop does not agree with the Church position on a variety of moral stances why not have the courage to say so? At least we might have a discussion on that.

What we have instead is the triumph of mediocrity, a bishop sitting on the fence throwing questions at groups of people who either as practicing Catholics don't want the teaching called into question or as lapsed Catholics believe the teaching is wrong and are not interested in discussing it.

There is nothing courageous in saying nothing! When I contacted Bishop Walsh's office for a straight yes or no to what areas of sexual morality as taught by the Church he agrees or disagrees with I didn't get a reply by the time we went to press, two days later. So there you have it, Bishop Willie Walsh's views on co-habition, sex before marriage, contraception, are, to quote Rumsfeld again, 'unknown knowns'.

What would be revolutionary would be Bishop Willie Walsh to say he doesn't believe that teaching to have validity anymore, rather than hinting at it. The best lack all Yeat's had it.

We need straight speaking, in our priests and in our bishops, as the Lord himself commanded. Clerical coded speak and mental reservation, as well as the fear of clergy to speak out, are all part of the old culture, of which everyone involved in ministry in the church is more or less implicated in.

Convincing the rest of the church of this is the greatest challenge facing the Irish Church, and I think Cardinal Brady gets it, as does Archbishop Martin.

This is the greatest challenge of their leadership, to communicate that message convincingly to everyone else and bringing them along with them on the road of reform.


Bishop Willie Walsh Proposes a New Gospel?

Irish Catholic, 19 Nov 2009 by David Quinn

David Quinn looks at Bishop Willie Walsh's agenda for the Church and contrasts it with remarks by Archbishop Martin last weekend.

Bishop Willie Walsh will be retiring soon as bishop of Killaloe. Last Friday, he addressed the Association of European Journalists, but his most interesting remarks were saved for an interview after the lunch with RTÉ's Joe Little.

I have to confess that I have developed something of a soft spot for Bishop Willie Walsh over the years. He is an obviously sincere, warm-hearted person who cares deeply about the Church, even if it sometimes frustrates him.

I think Bishop Walsh can be best described as a romantic. He probably won't object to that. In his interview with RTÉ he says he would love to see another Pope John XXIII. Like a lot of Catholics of his generation, he tends to romanticise both Blessed John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

He imagines that a new Church was waiting to be born out of that Council, one that was cruelly snatched away by Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that reiterated the Church's ban on artificial birth control, and then by Pope John Paul II, and his lieutenant, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

But the Second Vatican Council was never what Bishop Walsh and other liberals imagined it to be. That is why liberals usually refer to the mysterious 'spirit of Vatican II' rather than to the documents of Vatican II.

The documents of that Council certainly did lead to various Church reforms, for example, to a greater openness towards ecumenism and the democratic state, but it was never intended to bring about a root and branch reform of the Church that seemed to owe far more to the spirit of the age than to the Holy Spirit.

Bishop Walsh is not a radical liberal. He would not go as far down the road as certain other liberals in denying the divinity of Christ for example, or in reducing him to a way and a truth, rather than the Way, the Truth and the Life.

However, he is certainly liberal on many issues as his latest RTÉ interview with Joe Little, confirmed.

For example, he wants a debate on women's ordination and celibacy. He could only want that debate if he desires both the ordination of women and an end to the rule of celibacy. He's not calling for a debate on abortion, for example, because Bishop Walsh is certainly not so liberal as to be pro-abortion.

Why would we debate abortion when it is a settled matter? But women's ordination is also a settled matter. As the Church has said repeatedly, it does not have the authority to ordain women.

Bishop Walsh also expressed sadness about the Church's 'exclusion' of homosexuals. I'm not sure what he means by this. Homosexuals are not excluded from the Church. However, the Church does teach that homosexual acts are sinful. Does he mean this teaching should be changed?
If he does, then the Church will have to ditch the core of its teaching on human sexuality.

If homosexual acts and heterosexual acts are equally morally licit, then the Church will no longer be able to teach that sex has an intrinsic meaning and purpose, and that a very important part of that meaning and purpose is procreation. If you can't teach this, then you can no longer teach that sex has any intrinsic meaning and purpose at all. Traditional sexual morality falls apart in your hands.

He also regrets that the Church refuses the Eucharist to couples in second unions. This is a tricky one at a human level, but if the Eucharist is given to couples in second unions, then it becomes very hard for the Church not to end up approving of divorce itself. That would harm its teachings on marriage, which would ultimately be harmful to society itself.

He also challenged the Church's ban on inter-communion. The Church could give Communion to Protestants without giving up a core teaching, but if it did, it would be giving up its belief that sharing the Eucharist together is a sign of unity achieved, rather than a step on the road to unity.

Bishop Walsh's comments can be contrasted with those another bishop made at the weekend, namely Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Dr Martin warned against ''holding a large assembly and re-discussing everything, by producing a different Church, by consensus bringing our Church into line with modern times and thought patterns''.

Turning back
Speaking on the Feast of St Lawrence O'Toole he said that reform in the Church meant a turning back to the Gospel given to us by Jesus and ''interpreted in the tradition of the Church''.

That last line is crucial because the tradition of the Church prevents the Gospel of Jesus being changed out of all recognition compared with how we have always understood it.

The tradition is obviously open to some change and adaptation. It isn't static. But nor can it be radically revised without it becoming a sort of anti-tradition.

Bishop Walsh comes very close to proposing an agenda for reform that would, in fact, produce a new 'Gospel', one of our own creation and of the type that has helped to destroy any of the Churches which have so far adopted it. We should not go down that road.