Church Law and market forces - One Less Robot
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Church Law and market forces

Church Law and market forces

Fr. Michael Noonan is a priest, and he is also married with two children. Many people would consider that a contradiction, against the laws of the Church, a sin, and so on. The more logical of these would say that it just isn’t possible for a man to serve two masters, they are either a priest, devoted to their vocation and their flock, or a husband and father, devoted to their wife and children.

In the recent past the Church defined how the people lived their lives, but that power had a responsibility. The wielder of that power in the community – the priest – whilst enforcing the standards which the Church deemed appropriate was himself subject to the code of behaviour which was expected of him, lest he lose his ability to wield power.

The present situation, where the Church no longer defines the social mores to as great an extent, has left priests expected to behave as they have always done, whilst exercising none of their previous power. Society forces this role upon them, denying priests the flexibility to change with the society that they are supposed to serve.

Despite being expressed in terms of outrage at the breach of Canon Law, those who decry the ‘liberal’ priests seem to have such a breadth and depth of anger as to suggest that they are repaying the priests of today for the strictures enforced by the priests of yesterday.

Fr. Noonan is a quietly spoken man, unwilling to engage in heated argument regarding his ‘deviant’ behavior. He expresses a deep religious faith, which co-exists in complete harmony with his separation from the rule of Canon Law.

It is no coincidence that there are no bishops or cardinals speaking out in favour of rethinking Canon Law in the light of a changing world. As in every organisation the higher up the hierarchy an individual goes, the more interested they are in maintaining and advancing their position, and the less in rocking the boat. Of course, those who do cause a stir and question the old order never make it up the corporate ladder.

I don’t use the term ‘corporate’ in a strictly metaphorical sense, more and more the Church is having to take up the tools and methodologies of the Corporation. To put it in these terms they are suffering from a decline in their traditional core markets, that is, in Europe.

Despite being extremely strong in South America, at least in the poor regions, that is most of them, the Roman Catholic Church has always seen Europe as its core markets, and the crisis of confidence they are suffering is shaking the foundations of Rome.

Canon Law is not, and has not been, written in stone. Over the centuries, the Church has adapted to the circumstances of the day, even if it was usually a self-serving adaptation. This begs the question, why has this changed? Why has the Church become so inflexible?

It might seem that the Church is unwilling to chance any change in the mix that they believe has served them well for over 2000 years. Rather like a company that produces a single product, a confectionery. The recipe was stumbled upon by accident, and before they knew it, the company had a market-stealing product on their hands.

The company is penetrating new markets in a major way, but the core market is dying. The recipe cannot be changed, because it is doing so well in the new markets.

This is a problem, because there can only be one product, which has to be universal, there is no alternative.

Returning to the actuality of the Church, there are those who would say that the Church stance on contraception has less to do with the sanctity of life, and more to do with maintaining and increasing the market in the areas and the demographics where it is strongest; the poor.

In places like South America, the Church enjoys the same level of influence as it did 50 years ago here in Ireland. Granted, there are many courageous priests who speak out in the name of freedom and against oppression. Yet again the foot-soldiers have retained their sense of justice.

And what of Fr. Michael Noonan? Just another victim of market forces.

(This article was written in 2004)

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