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Sorry to bring up some controversy on this Easter day, but I’m genuinely interested to poll the room here for reaction to the impolitic language uttered by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, re: the Catholic Church in Ireland. From the NYT story:
But Archbishop Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which claims 70 million adherents, was unusually blunt.
“I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who said that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now,” he said. “And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility — that’s not just a problem for the church, it’s a problem for everybody in Ireland.”
His remarks appeared to anger leaders of both the Catholic and Anglican Churches in Ireland, who criticized Archbishop Williams for poor judgment in exacerbating an already tense situation among Catholics in Ireland.
Dr. Williams has since apologized. I couldn’t help noticing this part of the Times account:
Before Archbishop Williams’s apology, Archbishop Martin, head of the largest Catholic diocese in Ireland and the most powerful voice in the Irish church after Cardinal Brady, had issued a sharp rebuke.
“Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland did not need this comment on this Easter weekend, and do not deserve it,” Archbishop Martin said in a statement. “The unequivocal and unqualified comment in a radio interview of the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, that the Catholic Church in Ireland has ‘lost all credibility,’ has stunned me.
“I have to say that in all my years as archbishop of Dublin, in difficult times I have rarely felt personally so discouraged as when I woke to hear Archbishop Williams’s comments,” he said.
Oh, for heaven’s sake, really? Almost nothing in all your years — which encompass hearing many, many stories of grotesque sexual abuse of children by priests under your authority, then the public revelation of these crimes — discourages you as much as the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking the obvious, if tragic, truth? Next thing you know a Catholic archbishop will be comparing people criticizing senior clerics with the crucifixion of Jesus, and someone in the Vatican will suggest that this criticism is reminiscent of anti-Semitism. Oh, wait…
Sorry to be snarky. Dr. Williams shouldn’t have said what he said, not because it isn’t true — everything I’ve heard and read about the fallout of the Irish abuse scandal suggests that Dr. Williams’s comments were a “gaffe” in the sense Michael Kinsley identifies: when someone tells the impolitic truth. That said, for the head of the Anglican Communion to publicly state that another church has lost credibility is pretty rich. Besides, as the UK Catholic blogger Damian Thompson observes, Canterbury has a lot of unexploded bombs lying around it, in the form of priests who compelled teenage boys into sexual liaisons. Thompson:
As it happens, I agree with every word that the Archbishop of Canterbury has said about the Irish Church, and I do not suspect his motives in making those comments. It’s just a bit rich, coming from the leader of a Church in which traditions of English reserve have managed to keep so many scandals politely concealed.
And yet, can you blame Dr. Williams for feeling irritable towards Rome, given that (to use Benedict basically parked the Vatican tank on the Lambeth Palace lawn last year (in the memorable phrase of an English blogger whose identity I’ve forgotten)?
Anyway, what’s your take on this foofarah? Was Rowan absolutely wrong in what he said, or was he just ill-mannered? Or was he neither?
What a mess we Christians are. As an Orthodox reader said in the Easter combox thread, we Orthodox are really lucky that we’re so small nobody pays attention to us. Because we’ve got lots of problems too.