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Monday, July 25, 2011

Good for the Taoiseach

Ireland -- and I mean specifically the Republic of Ireland -- is one of the more actively religious countries in the western world. 87% of the population of Ireland is reportedly Roman Catholic. Culture is full of associations between the Irish and Catholicism.

Thus it's almost inconceivable that the Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, gave a speech last week in which he ripped the Vatican for its handling of sex scandals. Listen for yourself on YouTube (12 minutes, audio only). "Ripped" may not be a strong enough word. 

Subsequently there was a grass-roots movement to have the Papal Nuncio, or ambassador, of the Vatican expelled from the country. Before this could happen, the Vatican recalled him.

To be sure, the Taoiseach (as he is known) did not attack the Church on theological grounds, nor did he call on anyone to leave the Church. His remarks confirmed that he is a practising Catholic and also mentioned the struggles of good priests to carry on.

But he did say, with gravitas, "this [Ireland] is not Rome".

I am an Episcopalian, not a Roman Catholic. Such a choice, or calling, reflects both the theology I hold as well as the personal experience of what brings Christ into my life most fully. I believe, as have many for 500 years, that the Roman Catholic Church took a wrong course in several significant ways. However, I married in a Roman Catholic Church and my first-born was baptized by a Roman Catholic priest. If forced to choose between the Roman Catholic Church and severely Protestant denominations, I'd go Catholic.

Even as a non-Catholic, I recognize that the Roman Catholic Church has an enormous role in today's world. It has over one billion adherents, to one degree or another. Theological disputes aside, it can be a powerful instrument for good in this world and for the world to come. But it must purge itself of the beliefs and behaviors that have led, cumulatively and persistently, to the scandal of badly behaving clergy.

Will the Vatican finally see the situation for what it is? I don't know. The stakes are high, and the time is now -- as Pope Benedict XVI, at age 84, enters his final years and the College of Cardinals thinks about the upcoming election.