The Irish Times – Friday, August 21, 2009
THE CRISIS facing the Catholic Church and similar institutions was no longer whether they could adapt to a changing role in society but, rather, could they “dare to hope” in their “core message and values”, emeritus professor of theology Seán Freyne said at the Merriman school.
“What, if any, role can religion, taken in the broadest sense of that word, have to play in a future Ireland?” he asked.
“The values vacuum that has replaced the authoritarianism of the past is quite alarming,” he said.
“The dungeon, fire and sword that had kept the faith of our fathers alive have been replaced by foreign holiday villas, SUVs and Sunday mornings at Aldi.”
The clerical sex abuse scandals had given many people the legitimation they were seeking to jump ship “into the brave new world of secular freedom”.
However it was ironic that many people were putting their hopes in State institutions “that have so spectacularly failed us”.
Prof Freyne said that times of crisis were times of opportunity, although his fear was that the leaders of Irish Catholicism did not have the stomach or the vision for the challenge.
There was still an extraordinary creativity, energy and generosity among the young generation but these was not drawn from nor nurtured by a religious sensibility.
“People are crying out for creative leadership, new ideas . . . A good starting place for Irish Catholicism in general and its leaders in particular might be to revisit the beginning again and see how in the paradoxical plot of the Christian story, loss is gain and the ruler must be the servant.”
Prof Freyne said the religions, once shed of their dogmatisms, could have an important role, developing sensitivity to what Jürgen Habermas had called “the misdirected life”.
The recent interest in Celtic Christianity had a distinctly modern resonance, particularly with regard ecology, Prof Freyne added. “Respect for the natural environment is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.”
The Bible was a rich treasure house of reflection on the natural world and its importance in terms of understanding the reality of God’s continued self-giving in creation and humans’ role in the creative process, he said.