A group of lay Catholics are fighting for their faith using their strongest weapon — their voice.
Catholic Comment is an organisation of ordinary Catholics who are offering themselves as contributors to media debates on developments within the Church and on social and moral issues in general.
Some might say that’s offering themselves as lambs to the slaughter, given the intense scrutiny and criticism the Catholic Church has faced in recent times. But co-ordinator Petra Conroy says that’s exactly what inspired the group to form.
“There has been an understandable backlash against the Church, but there are things said now about the Church that, if they were said about any other group, would not be acceptable,” she said. “It now takes real courage just to present the case for the Catholic vision on many key issues affecting Irish society — from the right to maintain a Catholic ethos in schools which remain Catholic, to articulating the Catholic view on sexuality and on marriage.”
Courage isn’t enough, however, particularly when debates turn into noisy confrontations, and the group has been running training programmes for members to help them become effective speakers.
“We train the speakers to prepare, to remain calm and to remember that the person arguing with you is another human being with very passionately held convictions for very good reasons and you need to listen to them and what their reasons are. And hopefully we get the same approach in return.”
The group, which is independent of the Church hierarchy, was set up in 2012 to coincide with the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin and is similar to the Catholic Voices which formed in Britain in 2010.
They’ve just completed their second training programme for their newest intake of speakers, who represent a broad cross-section of society, including a newly qualified solicitor, a mother of six who’s a fertility care expert, a financial services executive turned hospital chaplain, a secondary teacher with degrees in philosophy and education, and a young father who works in IT.
Anne Murray, from Youghal, Co Cork, who has just joined the speakers’ panel, said she got involved because she felt the need to stand up for her faith during the abortion debates.
“I went to a Pro-Life rally for the first time ever and you could see me in the background on the television news,” recalls the mother of three grown-up daughters. “So many people said to me afterwards, well done for getting involved, that it made me realise that there is a large body of opinion similar to mine out there, but they’re nearly afraid to speak out.
“It’s not necessarily about winning an argument. It’s about putting a viewpoint across in a way that it’s heard. Hopefully it might give other lay Catholics the courage to be open about their faith in their daily lives.”
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