IT HAS been well reported. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently suggested that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, struggling in a mire of child-abuse claims, has lost “all credibility”. The reaction from Ireland was swift. One furious priest called the Archbishop’s words “unbelievable”; although, on reflection, isn’t it credibility rather than Dr Williams that is truly unbelievable?
I was talking recently to a social worker. She worked on a programme for young carers, which included teenage mothers. Experience showed that motherhood, far from being a negative event for some of them, could actually be positive. With a child to look after, the mother had to de-centre for the first time in her life. Here is the mother, experiencing a rich and demanding relationship with a part of the world which is not her and yet somehow is her; a down-to-earth glimpse of the union, the oneness that the mystics speak of.
The social worker, however, observed how quickly the equation could change. With little sense of her own value, the mother enjoys the value bestowed upon her by the child; it is an intoxicating discovery, and becomes the new project. Instead of a flowering attitude towards other people, the mother closes up. “It’s me and my baby against the world,” she says, and justifies this stance with words such as: “I wouldn’t let anyone harm my child; he means the world to me.” So she shuts the world out, valuing only the dependent and increasingly self-serving relationship with her offspring. To meet her own needs, she gives this relationship inappropriate worth.
The RC Church in Ireland has travelled the same path, and reached the same destination. Somewhere along the line, a joyous openness to the world has been replaced by a self-serving commitment. Like the mother who finds her insecurities calmed by her child’s needs, so the Church enjoys its honoured place in the community, and begins to imagine that it is this status that needs defending. “It’s the Church against the world,” it declares, adding with righteous indignation: “Let no one diminish the reputation of the Bride of Christ.”
We will be careful not to imagine, for our own self-justification, that the Roman Catholic Church is alone in this discomfort. There is not a Christian denomination that, consumed by self-importance, is not presently fire-fighting uncomfortable stories that threaten its supposed good standing in the world. There is the young mother in them all, as they pine for significance and value. Yet, by aborting uncomfortable truth, they become the lie they set out to heal.
Institutions are functional, not credible. Let them be happy in doing small things well; for this is just grand — as opposed to grandiose.