Gerry Donovan

The Church’s new reality reveals the same old divisions

  • June 17, 2011

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - As Catholics of Antigonish ponder their post-Raymond Lahey life of faith, duelling groups are holding discussions about what a rebuilt Church should look like.

A left-leaning group fired the first salvo last October with a conference featuring academic theologian Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University. A right-wing group will respond later this month with a conference featuring Michael Voris, a conservative apologist and commentator with a dedicated Youtube following.

“We don’t think the Lakeland conference was really a conference that is in conformity with the true teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Wayne Murphy of Port Hood, organizer of the June conference, titled For the Beauty of the Church.

For Murphy, the only good Catholics are right-wing Catholics.

“There shouldn’t be a right-wing church or a left-wing church, but in reality there is,” Murphy said. “If you want to look at the saints of the Roman Catholic Church, you try to find me a canonized saint in the Roman Catholic Church who was left wing. All the canonized saints, and that includes John Paul II who has not been canonized yet, were all right wing.”

Sr. Donna Brady, whose Sisters of St. Martha organized the October conference under the title Gathering the Wisdom in a Time of Crisis, has no illusions about her opposition.

“There are groups in the diocese who think our Gathering the Wisdom group is really being very unfaithful to the Church — extremely unfaithful,” she said. “Whereas, we feel we’re being faithful to the Church by continuing to work for understanding, to deepen our awareness of our call and our commitment. We would see that as being faithful.”

Both groups are dominated by retirees, but Brady and Murphy agree the Church needs the commitment of young people.

“The reason why young people are abandoning the Church — and they are, not everybody, but they are — is because they don’t have a challenge. Young people like a challenge,” said Murphy, a retired school administrator.

Brady is just as emphatic about the greying of the Church, and what it will take to bring young people back. “It’s happening because the Church isn’t speaking to them about who they are and what their dreams are. That hasn’t been happening for a while. This (sex abuse scandal) just accelerates it,” she said. “If we could find a way to talk to the hearts of young people in a way that’s authentic, yeah. But if we talk the old language, if we talk dogmas and doctrines, I don’t think so.”

Looking at the crisis in Antigonish, Gerry Donovan believes the Church has to change. “I think that before I die, and I’m 85 and don’t have much time, I would like to think I did something for my Church,” she said. “And the one thing I’ve done is be very active in the Gathering the Wisdom and I would do anything to support it,” she said. “Somebody was saying that the Church changes slow. I don’t think it’s going to be slow. I think God’s in a hurry.”

The most contentious issue the approximately 40 regulars at Gathering the Wisdom meetings bring up is the nature of ordination and the role of the priest. There’s no shortage of people who believe ordaining women and married men is a good way to change clerical culture.

Donovan is not enthusiastic about women priests, but she’s in favour of married priests. She thinks her late husband would have been a great priest.

“I used to compare him to the priests and I knew how much better he was, how much more highly principled he was,” she said. “The priests should be fathers and husbands, and they should say Mass with two or three families gathered.”

For Terry O’Toole, who 25 years ago was a missionary in El Salvador with the Scarboro Missions, the solution to post-Lahey paralysis is finding a new sense of purpose.

“This Church, just following a bunch of rules, isn’t really what it’s all about. There’s all this doctrinal and ritualistic stuff, and you need some of that. But there’s also the basic things — let’s get some justice done here, let’s have some compassion.”

The millions of dollars being paid in victim settlements and the properties being sold are causing more talk about openness, transparency and lay control. “It’s a great opportunity for us in the diocese of Antigonish, and particularly in the parish of St. Ninians, to take a stand and bring our church into the 21st century,” Cooke said.

“I figure the faster the Roman Catholic Church gets to be poor the better off it’s going to be,” said Murphy. “I don’t think that when the Lord told Peter ‘You are the Rock and on this Rock I will build my Church,’ I don’t think he meant a rich Church. I think he meant a holy Church.”

Everybody acknowledges the left-right divide, and both sides claim they would like more unity in the Church. Yet common ground seems elusive. “We’re going to go forward with or without, but we want to go forward with them,” said Cooke. “Compromise is fine,” said Murphy. “But you can’t compromise on faith, and that’s what’s been happening.”

Both left and the right talk about tradition and taking the Church back. “We want our Church to get back to it’s founder, to the man who founded the Church, Jesus of Nazareth,” said Cooke.

“For some reason Bishop Dunn is trying to do what an awful lot of people in our Church are trying to do, and that’s try to make it more palatable. They try to make it more cultural, try to make it more acceptable, try to go along with the culture of the time,” said Murphy. “The Catholic Church will never, never, ever be able to go along with the culture of the time.”


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Nova Scotians find opportunity in crisis

Property sales are key to settlement

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Yarmouth’s Church suffers with town

The Church’s new reality reveals the same old divisions

Nobody likes talking about sexual abuse in the Church

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