ET ME BEGIN by saying that no authentic renewal can begin without facing the truth, as fairly and squarely as possible and that's no easy matter. The trouble is that those who should be spending their time preparing us for it have sadly been too busy trying to avoid the truth, covering it up instead of facing up to it, and I must take my share of the blame too.
My first reaction to your questions was to do, without thinking, what I've done so often in the past. Almost instinctively I begin to defend, to make excuses for the inexcusable. You see I grew up in an era when what was called the "siege mentality" was the norm in the Church when we still felt that our first responsibility as Catholics was to defend ourselves against a hostile world. This is why apologetics was such an' important part of our education at school.
When I studied philosophy later on, so much time was spent proving how other philosophic systems were wrong and how we were always right. It was the same in theology. All too much time was spent showing how heretics and in particular the Protestant reformers were wrong and how we were always right. Their views were invariably caricatured so at times I wondered how anyone could possibly hold them. They were set up like Aunt Sallies to be knocked to the ground by triumphant teachers to the satisfaction of their students including me! This created a certain smug arrogance that prevented us learning anything from outsiders, because we were always right. It also meant that the theology we learnt tended to concentrate on emphasising those truths that had been defined and underlined by the' church precisely because someone had denied or questioned them. Inevitably this meant that the presentation of the faith tended to be negative, lopsided and frankly rather boring. That is of course unless you got your kicks from seeing others who couldn't defend themselves, knocked to the ground and booted about with impunity, because as we were taught, "error has no rights!" It's the sort of theology that tends to appeal to ultra-conservatives, to rightwingers, to dogmatic authoritarians who like laying down the law to others and submit ting themselves to legitimate authority, so long as it reinforces their particular prejudices. I have to say that it appealed to me too at the time though I'm ashamed to admit it. Then quite out of the blue I had a sort of theological conversion experience when I was bowled over by what was called at the time the "new theology". The point I want to make is that my conversion was predominantly intellectual and so despite the fact that my mind changed rather rapidly my emotions lagged behind. For very many years my instinctive reaction to any criticism of the Church I loved was to close ranks with others, even with those with whom I disagreed theologically, to defend it against all comers. Even after many years a carefully implanted bond of loyalty has led me to defend the indefensible. Only comparatively recently have I come to realise, not just with my head but with my heart too, that there is something more important than the Church on earth and that is the Kingdom of God. The Church is a means not an end. The time will come when the Church will come to an end, but God's kingdom will go on forever. The Church and everyone called to join it are called to perform a service for humanity and that is to bring on earth, as far as possible, the Kingdom of God or the rule of Love that will one day reign to eternity.
Now if there is something seriously wrong with the Church that prevents it from performing this function it is simply wrong to pretend that all is well. Our first loyalty is to God and his kingdom.
Human frailty, as history shows only too well, has prevented the church from doing what Christ founded it for in the beginning. It has only been saved from disaster in the past by the persisting promises of Christ and by the Holy Spirit speaking through men and women open enough to receive him. Endless cover ups do the church no good at all and a "culture of cover-up" will prevent what needs to be changed from being seen. This means that the process of continual renewal, which is essential to the Church's wellbeing will simply halt. Now particularly since the Reformation, we have believed that our first duty is to defend and cover up anything that would give the impression to nonCatholics that anything could possibly be wrong with or within the Church. This "culture of cover-up" that I have been a party to for all too long will continue until we all have the humility to accept that we have failed in so many ways, as Pope John Paul has been insisting in his recent sermons. This humility will always be, as it has been in the past, the means that enables God to give the grace to see the source of our sickness and then the strength to do something about it.