Domhnall MacAuley: Bishops, doctors and, God

Domhnall MacauleyRemember being called to the headmaster’s office? Of course not. All you doctors were goody-goodies, never misbehaved. But, when I see the 24 Irish Bishops summoned to Rome after publication of the recent Murphy report on clerical child abuse, it looks just like Form 6c lining up to be carpeted.  And you can imagine the schoolboy disagreements and blame shifting, eyes down, shuffling in their shoes as they are called to account. The newspapers would have us believe they don’t get on. And not just in private; one is indignant that his integrity has been questioned and others appear in various stages of disgruntlement. Little sign of Lenten repentance.

Don’t expect any radical changes. Not much came of their trip to Rome- a staged press conference and public relations spin about a historic meeting. These were seismic scandals with a barely broken silence-a couple of quiet resignations but few prepared to take responsibility. And, with the hierarchy and structures of the church undermined, so is its authority as both formal and informal determinant of morals and behaviour. As the ageing church slowly crumbles, even the pious are disenchanted. 

Critics might accuse the hierarchy of being out of touch, too overcome with their own importance to sense the views of ordinary people, too preoccupied with their own little rules and dynasties to see the quiet revolution in people’s attitudes.  But, couldn’t those very same criticisms be aimed at us. What do ordinary people, our patients, and the media think of the medical profession. How do we deal with major scandals? Are we open and transparent, humble and understanding?

The message for the Church is that it is time for humility, recognition that they have failed to address their problems openly, and a need to engage more with their people. We could learn the same lesson. The core of any church’s message is their conviction that they know the one true way to God. Doctors don’t have the same problem. Many of us, patients say, already think we are God.