Home Essays Articles by Michael Whelan SM, PhD Letter to the Catholic Weekly (21 September 2014)

Letter to the Catholic Weekly (21 September 2014)

On September 21 2014 the Catholic Weekly published a letter to the editor from Michael Whelan. Here is the text of that letter.

I write concerning the recent visit of the former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. As Executive Director of Catalyst for Renewal and Principal of the Aquinas Academy, I requested that advertisements be placed in
the Catholic Weekly for her talk at the Town Hall. As Editor, you spoke with me on the phone and explained to me that you would not run those advertisements because Ms McAleese, in previous talks, had expressed views not in line with current Church teaching. You have the right to make that decision and I accept that. However, I would like to tell your readers that in more than forty two years as a priest, I have never known
anyone with the willingness and ability to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as Ms McAleese does.

The sexual abuse tragedy has confronted us with at least two terrible truths and at least one urgent question. The first truth is that some of our number abused people. We had to be cajoled, embarrassed and threatened
into accepting this. The second truth is that our handling of the complaints ranged from the naïve to the criminally negligent. Alarmingly we sought first and foremost to protect the Church. We paid scant attention to the victims until we were forced to. Many of those victims have had their lives wrecked.

Why did these things happen? This urgent and troubling question requires us to critically and radically examine the Catholic culture – its theology of ministry and the training of priests, its self-understanding as part of society, history and culture, its ideal of holiness, its attitudes to sexuality, its structural and personal ways of exercising authority, and so on.

The Second Vatican Council began this line of questioning, but it has not been followed up with the vigour, rigour and concreteness that was called for. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium), is now urging us to recover that task, “pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (#1). Prophetic people like Mary McAleese – uncomfortable as they may be – must be welcomed into a dialogue that allows the truth to emerge “as (the Church) goes her pilgrim way … to that continual reformation of which she always has need” (“The Joy of the Gospel”, #26, citing “Decree on Ecumenism” (Unitatis Redintegratio), #6). Thus Pope Francis, when speaking in Brazil last year, urged us all: “Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!”