The Cardinal defends his market share

7th March 2001

I LIKE Cardinal Connell. I like the fact that in the modern world of spin and meaningless platitudes he says what he thinks.

Unlike his counterpart in the Church of Ireland Robin Eames our Desmond gets to the point quickly and takes no prisoners.

It’s such a change, it’s so refreshing in a public figure that he has to get credit for it.

As to the substance of the charges against him, well I think he’s at least partly right.

He said in an interview with The Sunday Business Post that some Protestant churchmen were encouraging Catholics to break the rules of the Catholic Church.

The rule is: you can’t take communion with Protestants.

The C of I position is: you can take communion in our church if you do so in “good conscience”.

Now, it seems to me that the C of I have laid themselves open to Connell’s charge.

It would be much better if they said that they would give communion to anyone who attends their service.

By putting in the ‘in good conscience’ bit it looks like they are asking Catholics to mull over it first and then, when the errant taigs decide to ignore the Catholic teaching, the C of I will finish the job by giving them communion.

But it did look like Cardinal Connell was asking Protestant ministers to vet who they gave their communion to. It wouldn’t matter anywhere else but in the diocese of Dublin there is an unfortunate history of Catholic primates wanting their own way.

I am not a religious chap so it doesn’t matter to me who was theologically right but it was a fascinating debate nonetheless.

For instance, the Protestant community has tended to quietly disappear on these occasions in the past. Discretion was the better part of valour.

This time the Protestants fought their corner with vigour. I must say that this is also refreshing.

Archbishop Empey said “on these occasions, Jesus weeps, and the devil does a tap dance”. It was a great quote and seemed to put Jesus on the side of the Prods.

David Norris was even more robust and said that the Catholic belief in this case, that the communion was the actual body of Christ, was nonsense. Strong stuff indeed.

Apparently the difference in beliefs between the Anglican churches and the Roman Catholic church revolves around the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation.

I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to say I know what goes on in the everyday mind of the great Irish public but I’m guessing that a large majority of us don’t spend the day wondering whether transubstantiation or consubstantiation is closer to the truth.

I’d go further and say that the vast majority of people aren’t that annoyed about who gets communion in which church. And I’d say that most senior Catholic churchmen know that too. That’s probably why most of them kept their counsel.

So what’s going on then?

It seems to me that the Catholic church is positioning itself for the future. It realises that by moving to meet every concern of secularism, it will fall between two stools.

The example is usually proffered of the Church of England. In the popular imagination the C of E threw away all its old rules and values in order to fit in with the liberal intelligentsia. What happened was that the liberals were atheists anyway and the conservatives were alienated. Result – the churches are empty.

Someone high up in Rome, namely John Paul II, has spotted this trend and has spent his papacy making sure that the Catholic Church is not going to go down that road.

I think he’s probably right.

But the process of secularisation is inevitable. Although the Catholic Church will remain steady, Catholics will change. In 2,000 years of the Catholic Church this is only the second or third generation that are literate. The world has much more to offer them than the one true faith.

But Cardinal Connell will be keen to play the long game and this is indeed what he is doing. He believes in it and isn’t nice to have a public figure who really believes in something?

As well as that…

Christ & Christians

AS I say, I’m not a religious man but like everyone else in Ireland I’m intimately familiar with the story of Jesus. And what really gets me is – how can the churches, all the churches, sit on billions upon billions worth of property while millions of men, women and children starve to death each year?

Fabulous wealth in terms of property, art (some of it not even religious), buildings, even industries and agriculture belong to the churches while the most desperate poverty and deprivation continues year after year.

Jesus did indeed ask the disciples to spread the word. He didn’t mention setting up a physical infrastructure the value of which probably only the United States surpasses.

I always felt that it was a bit childish or churlish to bring up this point. I mean, everyone needs to exist in the real world. Maybe that was bred into me.

But imagine if all the churches sold every bit of property they had. Imagine if they called in every favour and used it to the advantage of the poor and oppressed. Imagine the number of people they would liberate, the number of lives they would transform. They might even convince a few people that there was something in this Christianity.

What would Jesus do?