Monday, 16 September 2013

Father Iggy's Parting Shot

Before I say anything further about the departure of the Very Rev Ignatius O’Donovan OSA, let me remind people that Father Iggy, as he is universally known, is an Augustinian and the Augustinian Order has a constitution. Under that constitution, a friar may serve as a prior for four years and may serve for a second consecutive term in the same house. Following this, he may go on to serve as a prior in a different house and return back to the original house for another two terms as prior. Alternatively, he may step back to be an ordinary member of the community in the house he has served as prior for eight years, but this could be difficult for his successor, so it is normal to move priors on after eight year. Father Iggy has served as prior in the Augustinian community in Drogheda and now he is moving on. But not without making a couple of points first.

The Irish Independent salute him with a report of his last Mass in Drogheda which was attended by 1500 people, including Moslems and Baha’is from the town. Just has the Indo would only be called a pinko liberal rag by some mad barking fascist on the extreme right, hearing the Worshipful the Mayor of Drogheda, Councillor Richie Culhane, said he believed that Father Iggy was leaving because

ultra-conservative elements within the Church have forced the hierarchy to push Iggy further afield and out of Drogheda here.

The Mayor continued:
I hope and pray to God that you are never silenced.

And then he concluded to a standing ovation :
I will call on the hierarchy ‘Give him back to us.’

The Mayor may be forgiven his lack of understanding of both Canon Law and practice within the Augustinian Order, but I wonder why no one notes the irony of a Fine Gael member complaining of ultra-conservative elements. Then Enda Kenny referred to the radicalism of the Roman Church in his elitist narcissistic and dysfunctional speech.

Father Iggy himself originally tried to distance himself from the conspiracy theories around his transfer, that he was looking forward to a sabbathical, but he couldn’t resist some performance to the gallery:

I cannot leave here today without making some reference to a distinguished colleague of mine in the priesthood. I speak of Fr Tony Flannery. If I had not been made aware first hand of the details of this case I could not have given it credence. Even hardened veterans are shaken by the murkiness of the devious world of ecclesiastical politics. How has it come to this, that a great and good priest like Tony, who has dedicated his life to the preaching of the Gospel is persecuted with a zeal that is as pathological as the paranoia that feeds it?? How has it come to this, that intolerant and extreme right wingers – encouraged apparently by certain authorities, and career-orientated priests can meet in solemn conclave to determine who is guilty of what these people label heresy? How has it come to this that sincere thinking Catholics are walking away from our Church believing that the battle for sane Catholicism is lost?

I still believe and am strongly of the conviction that Catholicism is compatible with modern culture. I deeply welcome the arrival of Pope Francis. So we dream on. I cling to my foolish dream when to paraphrase the words of the late Fr George Tyrell, himself a victim of oppression, “when the Catholic people represented by their bishops and their Pope will assemble not to decide and impose points of theology, ethics and politics under the threat of excommunication, but to proclaim the gospel of God’s Kingdom upon earth as it was proclaimed by Jesus Christ; to preach unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, charity in all things”

Dear Lord, it’s hard to get away from these extreme right wingers. A now departed friend of mine used to sign his e-mails as a “proud member of Hilary’s vast right wing conspiracy”. Listening to the Mayor and to Father Iggy, one would think it reached Drogheda with a vengeance, but I haven’t seen much evidence of it.

Father Ignatius O'Donovan OSA

Fr Iggy’s 15 minutes of fame was the Easter Sunday Mass in 2006 where he invited local Church of Ireland rector, Rev Michael Graham, to “concelebrate”. He told Patsy McGarry in The Irish Times that he miscalculated the consequences for all involved and the genuine hurt it caused

This is the event he is most closely identified with. Most of you will be aware Mary McAleese taking communion in Christchurch Cathedral shortly after her election.

There was an incident I was made aware of where a curate serving in a large Irish town administered communion at an Anglican service in 2004 which passed beneath the radar, but Father Iggy’s Mass in Drogheda was flagged by the media beforehand.

Needless to say, most Catholics don’t see the problem. Why would they? For over forty years, ecumenism has been presented as the highest virtue (especially in the context of the poor analysis that. Catechesis has been weak in the schools and the lines have been blurred to those Catholics of an older generation who know their faith. Priests are even confused. I recall the interviews given by Father Iggy not long after the Easter Sunday Mass in 2006 and he seemed to me to be at sea in regard to the distinctions between Catholic and Anglican belief on the Eucharist. When he talks about the genuine hurt, could he be referring to his Augustinian confreres Fathers Noel Hession and Richard Good who were presented with the concelebration as a fait accompli and had to share in the fallout.

Was Father Iggy aware that two German priests were suspended for distributing communion to Lutherans at the Katholikentag in Ulm in 2004? Probably not. Does he know anything about intercommunion between Catholics and Orthodox? He should, but I would be surprised if he did. I recall in the late 1980s, a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church visited Ireland at the height of the Glasnost era. When they visited Maynooth, a deacon brought the chalice over to the Metropolitan of Odessa during Mass. The hierarch refused it, as was inappropriate for him to take communion from a Catholic minister. Catholics and Orthodox share an understanding on the Eucharist which neither hold in common with the Reformation Churches. This includes an understanding, rooted in the theology of St Augustine, that communion is a sign of unity. Even Martin Luther would have appreciated this.

Father John Hennebry is on the left above.

To return to the vast right wing conspiracy, the decision to transfer Father Iggy rests with his ordinary. This is the current Irish Augustinian provincial, Father John Hennebry. Father Hennebry is anything but a right winger. But no doubt some scapegoat will be found.

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