When it was announced that our Papal Nuncio was being dispatched to Albania, there was shock that firstly the nuncio was leaving after only five years and secondly, Albania! Some in Church circles saw Machiavellian motivations behind the appointment by the Vatican. There is a tendency here in Ireland to see everything the Vatican does as straight out of a Da Vinci Code-style novel and have little grasp of the fact that Ireland isn’t a major player for the Catholic Church on a daily basis.
Speaking to a former senior Irish diplomat recently I was quite taken by a non-Church view of the appointment.
Albania, from a secular diplomatic point of view, is not a punishment posting. It’s on the border of one of the oldest divisions, Western and Eastern Christianity. It is also a mainly Muslim country and how Islam and Muslim communities fit within Western Europe is a huge issue, not to mention the Church’s position on dialogue with Islam. It’s also the Balkans and is an area fraught with regional tensions and pressures.
Finally, it is a post-communist state, so the Catholic Church there and its communities need to be nurtured, so who better than a nuncio who has proved his pastoral instincts in Ireland, visiting every parish, known for a friendliness and openness that surprised many from a former ‘CDF man’. As a relatively young ambassador, Albania is a regional Church that Charles Brown gets to sculpt and not some cozy posting to gain weight on the diplomatic dinner circuit.
So rather than being shafted, the Vatican might just have handed the Albania posting to a talented can-do priest who has proven himself with skills that are needed in his new post, which incidentally, is a short hop from Rome.
Fr Flannery’s disbelief After 2,000 years of Christianity of course we should question our faith and there are very few if any forums to do this in. However I’m not sure priests broadcasting their theological doubts are being fair to the non-theologically literate in the pews trying to live out their faith in difficult times.
Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery says that young people are walking away from Christianity because the dogmas such as the virgin birth are incredible and amount to children’s stories. I can’t disagree more.
Young people aren’t walking away because Catholic teaching is incredible, they can’t reject what they don’t know. They are walking away because they were never instructed properly at all! In the Letters of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (c.315-386) we have one of the earliest accounts of how candidates were introduced to the rituals and doctrines of the Church.
It was only after a long road of initiation and after Baptism that they were introduced to ‘dogmas’ as it was believed it would only make sense to them afterwards.
‘Belief’ in the modern sense did not come in to it as Karen Armstrong writes in her bestseller A Case for God. Faith was purely a matter of commitment and practical living.
The early Church knew that the ‘dogmas’ would sound ridiculous to the uninitiated and be rejected and were therefore kept secret.
Faith in science
Interestingly Fr Tony Flannery says religion has lost out with its ‘children’s stories’ to science. Again, not true. In science we are asked to believe in black holes, string theory, dark matter, theories and probabilities, all of which are based on mathematical calculations that may not ultimately add up.
Physicists are, however, at home with unknowing and some even believe it can lead us closer to God than religion can. They call this mystery. We too call ours a ‘mystery of faith’.
Religion was never supposed to provide easy answers, allied to art its purpose was to help us live creatively, peacefully and even with joy as Karen Armstrong writes “with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve”.
Was Mary a virgin all her life Fr Flannery asks with incredulity – well, we do know that she was a mother, who watched her son undergo a horrific death while he forgave the people who did it, and had a kind word for his fellow condemned, and worried who would take care of his mother. Ponder that level of love next time you look at the stars.
*Garry O’Sullivan is a former Editor of The Irish Catholic.