Only root and branch change in Catholic Church will satisfy faithful

Social share:


I am experiencing a kind of daily tug-of-war; at times pulling me towards the Church and then pulling me away.

It has been happening for a while, not just because of the latest headlines and next chapter in this crisis over child abuse and how it has been mishandled.

Like many Catholics this has been on my mind for some considerable time; knowing that something has to be done and believing that not enough is being done.

There are victims of our conflict who will never be fixed and will always be broken because of what happened to them, and I am sure the same applies in this scandal of abuse.

Whatever the Church does will not mend those who have been broken by this, but in not doing what many consider to be necessary, one imagines it is making things worse.

The IRA lives with the ghosts of the “disappeared” – those people it executed and buried in secret or hidden graves never to be found.

Loyalists live with the past actions of the Shankill Butchers gang – and the barbarity of those killings.

And the Catholic Church is haunted by the ghosts of this abuse scandal, and none of us know what more has been hidden, what we will read when the next page is found and turned.

We don’t know where the stories have been concealed; who knows and what they know.

And it is in this darkness, in this not knowing, that this personal tug-of-war is happening.

I am the only Catholic in my family married to a Catholic. My wife is the only Catholic in her family married to a Catholic.

And, some years ago, we locked horns with the Church when a priest refused to baptise our daughter because both godparents were Protestant.

We had Elle baptised elsewhere, by another Catholic priest and with two Protestant godparents.

The host of this website Eamonn Mallie helped make that happen.

Many of us had and have moved on from the thinking of previous generations that the Church and the priest are always right.

Like all of us, they can be wrong.

In recent years, after a period of absence, I had become a regular at Mass, on Sundays and most other days.

But, now, I am drifting away again; not knowing what to do and what not to do, what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing?

This is the tug-of-war.

In my thinking, a resignation by Cardinal Sean Brady is not enough, nor is a re-shuffle. This scandal, and how it has been mishandled, demands root and branch change within the Church.

There is also much more than one issue to be confronted.

It should be driven by the people; made happen by the people, and the challenge is how to deliver that message and reform.

Do we do it by staying away, in a protest of absence, or is there a better way, a different way?

This is my mind battle.

Staying away blames everyone, and that is certainly not what I want to do.

But I fear that continuing as if nothing is wrong, that nothing needs fixed, adds to and makes worse the scandal; that we become a part of it; the silence and the cover-up.

What would those who have been hurt most in all of this want us to do?

What are the answers they need, and how are those answers best delivered?

We need to find out, not just by listening but in hearing and doing.

Many voices are being raised to express concern. These are not people with hidden agendas who want to hurt the Church.

They want things to change -for the right reasons, and they should be heard, not dismissed or silenced.

In our lives and living all of us have sinned and need forgiveness.

I remember growing up when at different times within our family we faced challenges and in those moments hearing my mother’s words: Say your prayers.

We all need prayer right now – prayers that ask for the right decisions, the right changes, for the right things to be done, and for the right reasons.


Social share:

About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. James Stuart on

    And the initial priest was correct – why do you not accept that the Church is Peter?

  2. niall collum on

    I can provide no wise words to answer your struggle Brian, but would encourage you to continue in the struggle that true faith in Christ is.
    Would you indulge me, and read from the book of st Paul to the Romans? Ch 9-12. Finishing with ch 12 v 2…. I would suggest that as you read this, you substitute “Israel” with “the established church”, and see that it is not the first time that the truly radical nature of faith and forgiveness has been misinterpreted. Pay particular time over ch 11, and see that some of those who think they belong to God have actually rejected his righteousness..

  3. John, Lord Alderdice on

    Thoughtful Catholics are finding it difficult to be in the Church now in light of the betrayal of principle by some of their clergy. Thoughtful Protestants have been feeling betrayed for years by the failure of many of their clergy to engage in the intellectual struggle for the faith. Both have been drifting away, deeply dismayed by the institutional entrapment in fundamentalism and authoritarianism which has demanded loyalty to the vestments of religion rather than the essence of faith. But the seed falling into the ground can die and bring new life. I am saddened but not without hope; angry, but not depressed. This can become a time for something new, and we must work together for it.

  4. mickfealty on

    My most recent experience of the church was an uplifting one. It was the help given myself and my family, not least to my late mother as she was dying, by a local parish priest whose dedication to his job was by far above and beyond the call of duty. 

    My admiration was the more intense because in my experience ALL my old classmates from school who either entered or trained for the priesthood, left in fairly short order. I suspect you knew some of them too Brian.

    That old prayer for vocations, “the harvest is plenty but the labourers are few” comes readily to mind. Our generation (if not us individually) left the church to get on with its business.

    Now my old parish is run by one priest where there was once two. I remember the mild mannered incumbent before this one, losing it with his impatient parishioners one Sunday and had to remind them of this fact, and told them that one day they would only have one priest between what remains two relatively large parishes today.

    It is true that the church has put its followers through a kind of hell, in which the font of its authority, the hierarchy based on the apostolic procession has visibly collapsed in on itself. 

    The final insult was that instruction from the pulpit that our congregations should pray for their own forgiveness, when what we were actually praying for was a hierarchy that had gone demonstrably off it’s own rails.

    Yet, I wonder if what’s going on with the church is substantially a kicking back at the unwelcome chains of past devotion and an institution that in my case rarely as cruel as some of the secular teachers who taught us, that has fallen not simply from grace but from power also.

    I don’t see an alternative to that ‘liberation of mind’ and all the moral dilemmas it gives rise to. The box is open, and out has and will come “every kind of disease and sickness, hate and envy”. As the story goes, only hope is left.

    The Church will survive. With or without us. Even the children of the past who have had some kind of imperfect liberation from a terrible past have had the evil that was done to them acknowledged. 

    But we should remember not only that it is not the only (nor even the most most significant) point of evil in this regard. Some of the organisations you allude to have much lower standards by which they might be so readily judged.

    But it’s the holocaust that continues to this day, largely unseen, unheard and unremarked upon that bothers me… To steal a line from a old friend “It’s not the dead I pity…” 


    • Barneyrowan on

      Hi Mick – I know exactly what you’re saying in your opening comments. My own family in our home town Holywood received that same support from the same parish priest when my sister Moya died three years ago. Indeed it was that priest and that support and uplifting experience to borrow your phrase that brought me back closer to the Church, within which there is much to applaud. You’ll understand my struggle is not local, but with the wider Church and because of a genuine feeling that there are things that must change. I hope John Alderdice is right that “this can become a time for something new”. 

  5. Traolach Hollywood on

    Lord, make me an channel of your peace;

    where there is hatred, let me sow love;

    where there is injury, pardon;

    where there is doubt, faith;

    where there is despair, hope;

    where there is darkness, light;

    and where there is sadness, joy

    In these words, commonly known as the Prayer of St Francis, there are answers which can bring satisfaction, closure and contentment. As a student I was told to  say this prayer if I was in doubt and I struggle too to see the wood for the trees and wonder what sort of independent Catholic Church could be formed with women playing a pivotal role. It’s machismo bullshit that women cannot perform the consecration properly, etc. It is time Irish Catholics took our dying Church off its knees and sever some of the many stifling apron strings from Rome and Cardinal Ratzinger…