This morning the BBC will broadcast [Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams] recorded remarks on the Irish Catholic crisis, in which he says, quite in passing, that the church there has “lost all credibility”. This perception is so widely shared, and so close to the truth, that to say it out loud has provoked an enormous row. After the interview was made public, Williams produced an uncharacteristically political apology – which is to say that he regrets the offence he has caused, but not the offending remark; the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, could be heard on Radio 4 yesterday biting back the word “insult” when he was asked about it.
No one can blame Williams for pointing this out, nor indeed for getting his own back for years of patronising comments and aggressive behaviour from the Roman church. The official Vatican observer at the last Lambeth conference appeared to say that the Anglican communion was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Pope Benedict has personally encouraged the schism in the Anglican churches over homosexuality and most recently announced, to the consternation of even his own church here, a scheme to allow the Anglican opponents of women priests to convert in groups.
Both the conflict, and absent clear-eyed Catholic confrontation with the real circumstances, the decline to which Williams correctly alluded will almost inevitably continue.
Reuters terse, “Factbox” roundup is for those not comfortable studiously looking the other way.
The full, English text of the Pope’s message.
In answer to a BBC interviewer, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the blistering truth about the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland:
And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility – that’s not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland.
Without retracting, Williams responded today to the avowedly “stunned” Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, by saying he meant no offense and regretted any difficulties his remarks had caused.
Indeed, how could he retract? He was talking about a country where a recent poll by the Irish Independent found: “Just over half believe that Pope Benedict, who faces allegations of covering up sex abuse in the US and in Germany, should resign.”
That poll is part of the evidence that both the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church are losing public esteem hand over fist, worldwide. For example, a similar poll in Austria found that 57% believe the pope should resign. While:
More than 53,000 people left the Catholic Church in Austria in 2009, and local figures for the first three months of this year hint that last year’s record number could be exceeded.
Likewise, a Stern Magazine poll found that only 24 percent of Germans still trust the Pope, whereas six weeks ago 38 percent said they did. And “19 percent of Germany’s estimated 25 million Catholics were thinking about leaving the Church in response to the sexual abuse scandal.”
A CBS poll found that in the U.S., 24 percent of Americans view Pope Benedict XVI negatively — a startling change from 4% in 2006. While his favorable rating among Catholics plummeted from 40% to 27%.
Stinging fellow clerics who in passing state the obvious will not reverse the decline, and because sharp protests of the undeniable are not likely to be well-received, may accelerate it.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who can be slow to act and whom we have criticized for lack of force, rebuked Church of England clergy for complaining of persecution in England while Christians elsewhere face “terrible communal violence” and are “living daily with threats and murders.”
He was referring in his ecumenical Easter letter to a group of Church of England Bishops who in a letter last week to the Sunday Telegraph asserted widespread British persecution, including “numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.”
Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia wrote in response to the letter to the Sunday Telegraph:
To my knowledge, even the most extreme pressure groups like Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Legal Centre who are stoking and reinforcing the Christian persecution complex, haven’t made the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals”. So far they have pointed to only a handful of examples where there is some alleged injustice. Rarely have this small number involved dismissal. And even where (if?) they have, upon further investigation, the claims have tended to fall apart. Indeed, in one case, it even seemed to be the intervention of Christian campaigners which brought the dismissal about, after confidential client details were given to a national newspaper. In another, CLC claimed dismissal and then reinstatement, when dismissal never actually seems to have occurred.
Williams suggested in his letter today that attention be focused instead where the need is compelling and the risk of meeting it considerable:
When St John tells us that the disciples met behind locked doors on the first Easter Day (John 20.19), he reminds us that being associated with Jesus Christ has never been easy or safe. Today this is evident in a wide variety of situations – whether in the terrible communal violence afflicting parts of Nigeria, in the butchery and intimidation of Christians in Mosul in recent weeks, in the attacks on the Coptic faithful in Egypt, or in the continuing harassment of Anglican congregations in Zimbabwe. As we mark the thirtieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, we acknowledge that Christians will never be safe in a world of injustice and mindless fear, because Christians will always stand, as did Archbishop Romero, for the hope of a different world, in which the powerful have to let go of privilege and rediscover themselves as servants, and the poor are lifted up into joy and liberty.
By comparison, the secure incantations to civil fear of the five prominent bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, pale.