In the past forty years secularism has contributed much to the decline in Church attendance in Ireland. In more recent times however distrust has added to this as the silence of survivors is broken in the multiplied allegations of sexual misconduct. The most recent development in this sordid saga has proven to be the most destructive for the Church. One victim told the BBC “I feel as though I have been touched by the Devil…The state of the Church right now in 2011 is corrupt, evil, rotten; absolutely rotten. It is a diseased organization.” Added to this is the Irish Prime Minister’s unprecedented attack of the Vatican on the floor of Parliament.
In the wake of the most recent “Cloyne Report” which reveals a series of Church cover-ups and lies at the highest levels the Prime Minster “exposed the elitism, dysfunction, disconnection, and narcissism that dominated the Vatican” (BBC News), he went on to say “The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”
This brings us to question the primary role of the Church as an organization. The “primacy of the institution” is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church; it is the potential failure of all denominations. In 2009 J. I. Packer identified one of the root causes for the division that has plagued the Anglican Church of Canada; “idolatrous institutional defensiveness.” It appears that the same defense of denominationalism could be the downfall of Roman Catholicism in Ireland.
Multitudes of Protestant evangelicals have cited the same reason for nonattendance. Fear of “organized religion” is endemic in all parts of the Christian Church, for the same reason that Rome has covered up its sin “the primacy of the institution.”
What can we learn from this? Surely the first and loudest lesson is that the organization (i.e. denomination) is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Paul said in Ephesians 4:12 that the gifts to the Church, the “pastors and teachers” are for “the perfecting of the saints…” This is the primary purpose of the church as an organization because it is through this that God is glorified, and not the security of an institution.
Coming soon: Is the Church losing its grip on the world? How Protestantism has failed the people.