The lost art of unquestioning obedience
Maybe I should just emphasise up front that, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met Father Tom Ingoldsby. Maybe he is a thoughtful clergyman and a kind man. I’m sure he is. But on the other hand, if he wants to serve the Roman Catholic Church, in which he is ordained priest, most effectively he might contemplate a period of silence.
You may not know what I am talking about here, so let me explain briefly. Fr Ingoldsby is a priest attached to the Salesian Secondary School in Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. Over the years he has developed something of a reputation in Ireland as being ready to come forward at every opportunity with a strong public defence of whatever he thinks is the most orthodox and traditional position of the church. He is no stranger to the media. He has shared his views on all sorts of things with the rest of us, for example including stem cell research and civil partnerships between gay people.
His most recent excursion into the public arena took place today in the letters page of the Irish Times. His chosen topic was last Sunday’s attempt to organise a boycott of Masses across Ireland in protest at the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women to the priesthood. Fr Ingoldsby really cannot understand why this should be a topic of discussion anywhere, never mind a cause for boycotting the Mass. He takes this view because, in a 1994 Apostolic Letter, the then Pope John Paul II announced that ‘I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful.’
As far as Fr Ingoldsby is concerned, that’s the end of the matter. He suggests in his letter to the Irish Times editor:
‘This statement, that the church has no power to change in this matter will be accepted by all loyal Catholics.’
In reality of course, as we know from all sorts of polls and other evidence, loyal Catholics are not accepting this at all; indeed some polls suggest that significant numbers of priests don’t. But I don’t want to get into the issue of women’s ordination here, I am more interested in the frame of mind suggested by Fr Ingoldsby’s statement that I quote above. It is based on the principle of absolute and unquestioning obedience: ‘the Pope has said it can’t be done, so why are we even discussing this?’ I just wish Fr Ingoldsby, and others who still think like him, might reflect a little on what has got the church into the mess it’s in. They might also think about how the church can connect with a new generation of people, many of whom still have spiritual and religious needs but who will not relate to the frame of reference that puts obedience before all else. And they might remember that the sustainability of a democratic society depends upon the ability and willingness of people to engage in critical analysis of received wisdom or orthodoxy.
I am not in any way hostile to the church, in its broader mission. But I am fearful for it. And it is views like those expressed by Fr Ingoldsby that make me so.Explore posts in the same categories: religion, society comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.