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Scandal and schism leave Christians praying for a ‘new Reformation’

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There was standing room only as clergy renewed their ordination vows at the Chrism Mass at St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast yesterday. But any illusion that this was just another Maundy Thursday was quickly shattered when the prelate stood up to preach, spelling out his anger at the “inept management and cover-up by some bishops” and his “bewilderment at seemingly inadequate communications systems in the Church”.

Bishop Noël Treanor described the “shame, deception, disorientation, horror and anger” that so many felt in the aftermath of revelations about the abuse of children in church-run institutions.

Bishop Treanor, who was based in Brussels and Rome from 1976 to 2008, when the Pope moved him to head the Diocese of Down and Connor, is considered untainted by the scandal that has rocked the Church in Ireland.

Many see him as a worthy successor to Cardinal Sean Brady, who is expected to announce his resignation at Pentecost at the end of May. Cardinal Brady’s position has become untenable since he admitted holding secret interviews with two young victims of one of the Church’s most heinous sex abusers, the late Brendan Smyth, in the 1970s. When Cardinal Brady goes, other bishops from Ireland’s 26 dioceses are likely to follow.

After yesterday’s service Bishop Treanor told The Times: “The Catholic Church is clearly rocked by this crisis. It is obviously embattled. It is suffering. Clergy, priests, Catholics, Christians are suffering.”

For Catholics and Protestants alike, Easter is meant to be a time of renewal and celebration. But this year the festival has been overwhelmed by uncertainty and a crisis of leadership — and not just in Ireland. In Britain, Germany and even Italy church leaders are being confronted and established churches are losing members in their thousands.
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