13th Sunday (B)
27th June 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Groupthink” and its fallout…
“Groupthink” as a word was used a number of years ago to describe the nature of the decision making inside an RTE production team who chose to broadcast a documentary about a retired missionary priest which included accusations that proved to be untrue. He was eventually awarded a large figure in compensation for the reputational damage caused.
“Groupthink” is more common than we realise. It happens all the time when a group wants to agree on something and individuals who though they disagree go along with the decision.
The term “Groupthink” was first used in 1972 by an American Social Psychologist Irving L. Janis. He observed that consensus or agreement arrived without critical thinking leads to some really bad decisions that can have enormous consequences for many people who had no part in the original decision.
For that reason, we ought to be concerned when our public debate shuts down or shuts out voices that ask awkward questions. Currently, we are experiencing a social and political discourse that has all the negative features of “Groupthink”. When the Oireachtas are of one voice ‘round something, as they are ‘round the National Maternity Hospital site, we should be concerned. The option for the Sisters of Charity and their representatives is “give it to us” or “we will take it off you”. That is an abuse of power and a negation of rights.
Why is there no political support for them? The consensus of “Groupthink” is the soft option. This current controversy, while it seems to be only about the hospital and its ownership and ethos, is revealing a deeper intolerance for those with a commitment to Christian faith and our role in society. The desire for a separation of Church and State is a worthy aspiration. It is a whole and entirely different desire to eliminate expressions of religious faith in health care and education in facilities under administration of various faith organisations.
The Church as a public entity is rightly subject to critique. However, much poorly researched current commentary on Church affairs is barely short of anti-Catholic bigotry.
The Church is a communion of people on life’s journey. Along the way sickness, hardship and suffering is encountered. The communities in the Church find inspiration and grace through the Lord Jesus who walked among us and with us. The Church to-day seeks to walk that same path – reflected so powerfully in to-day’s Gospel. He came ashore having stilled the storm on the lake to receive a request from Jairus whose daughter was ill – on the way the woman with the haemorrhage reached out – touched Him in faith and hope and was healed. He still proceeded to Jairus’ house and raised up his daughter.
My friends, there are those in the commentariat who say they do not want charity anymore from the Sisters of that name or anyone else. They would do well to remember that there are no millionaire Sisters of Charity – long before many of us could afford to pay tax they, out of love, sacrificed their lives for those entrusted to them. Surely wrongs were done and mistakes made by some. Still, through the decades the vision of Mary Aikenhead and others like her did not die and has not died. It is thriving anew in parts of the world where hospitals are in fields rather than sterilised wards.
The observation of one historian suggests we have difficulty with the presence of religious orders in our society because they remind us of past poverty and need.
“Groupthink” political and social is alive and well. Many of those pushing a particular narrative cannot be trusted so we should be alert and courageous in our questions and our questioning.