What about not canonising each other, at least for a while?

There have been several announcements recently about the progress of canonisation for Catholic saints.  The Trappist monks killed at Tibhirine have been beatified; the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has approved the second miracle needed for the canonisation of  Pope Paul VI, and the remains of  Fr Patrick Peyton are to be exhumed as part of the canonisation process.

I have no objection to these men being recognised and raised as examples to the Church, but would ask whether theirs are the only stories worth lionising.  It is perfectly acceptable to canonise holy priests, but is it acceptable to do so without canonising a proportionate number of holy others, that is, the other 99.6% of the Church?  The habitual aggrandisement of the contribution of ordained men gives the strong message that priests are holier and more worthy than the rest of us, and this is not true.  In Ireland, particularly, it has been painfully shown to be untrue. The canonisation of a disproportionate numbers of priests, bishops and popes demonstrates a myopia regarding the holiness of the whole Church and a misunderstanding of what the Church, or sainthood, truly is.

I recently saw a tweet from a member of the Association of Catholic Priests (Ireland) which read:  Excellent meeting today of the #ACP Advisory Board in Athlone. Great traction towards reform in the Church, building on the promising meeting with @ArchbishopEamon and Archbishop of @DublinDiocese..

I had to read this several times to understand it.  The writer believed that there had been traction towards Church reform because a number of ordained men had met together without reference to or inclusion of anyone else.  It is perfectly acceptable for the ACP to represent the interests of clergy and to wish to bring about Church reform. (To be clear – these are two separate objectives which may sometimes be connected.)  Is it, though, realistic for them to believe that they represent the Church or that they can bring about reform of any value without reference to the majority of the Church membership?

Clericalism is killing the Catholic Church.  Priests, bishops and cardinals, are not the centre of the Church but many believe they are.  These men admire one another; educate and house one another; fill theological institutions with one another and promote and pay one another at the expense of the rest of the Church.  Some of them seem to view the Faithful as an audience trained to applaud.  They have not found themselves able to recognise nor acknowledge the prophetic actions, words and presence of others and this inability has had a profound impact on the Church’s capacity to be itself.

Many members of the clergy say they support the greater inclusion of others.  This will mean allowing the Church to be bigger, more diverse and holier than the clerical world alone.  It will mean a new lens which reveals the presence of grace and holiness in all expressions of the Church’s life.  It will mean that the spotlight for so long trained on the procession of sainted priests becomes a searchlight which illuminates God’s presence in all the Faithful.

Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

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