The Irish Turn Away From the Catholic Church

While I don’t have a problem with religion, I certainly prefer secular societies that know the proper place of religion in their politics and culture. Ireland seems to be reaching that point as well, and, just so you know, the proper place to me is separate and distant. Your government should never be religious-based, and your religion should never be based on taking control of the government.

The overwhelming influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland is well known; seeing Irish priests kiss the ring of the Pope shouldn’t elicit anything other than delight in the faithful. In point of fact, the opposite has happened—many Irish citizens are angry that the current Pope has done nothing to help address the sexual abuse crimes committed by members of the church:

Andrew Madden, the first person in Ireland to go public about his abuse by a priest, described the meetings at the Vatican as “a complete waste of time” and the greatest act of window dressing he had ever seen. Abuse survivor Marie Collins saidit was an insult that the resignation of bishops didn’t even make the agenda. Additionally, she said it was deplorable that the pope’s statement was “so far away from accepting that there was a policy of coverup.”

Of course, it’s not unusual for bishops to kiss the pope’s ring, and the Vatican has always been heavily male and ornate. The difference now is that Irish Catholics, after decades of alienation from the church, are finally nearing a breaking point.

Not so very long ago and for the great majority of Irish people, their Catholicism was synonymous with their national identity. To be Irish was to be Catholic. It was something of which most Irish were very proud.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the church grew to become the most powerful civic institution on the island, controlling most of Ireland’s schools and the greater number of its hospitals.

This allowed the church unparalleled influence throughout most of the 20th century in what is now known as the Republic of Ireland. That continued to be the case until the latter decades of the last century when its influence began to wane due to increased affluence and a better-educated population. With the events of the last few years, church leaders can no longer ignore the extent to which they’ve lost control of Irish society.

In this way, the scandal doesn’t really mirror what happened in the United States. Going back at least twenty years, legal cases have been brought against the church in the United States. Accountability has had a long, tough road in the United States but, at the very least, many victims have had a chance to appear in court and see their abusers punished. The church has withdrawn priests and hid them; in Ireland, they simply refuse to acknowledge the crimes.

This has to figure into how the church approaches the issue of priest sex abuse. In a country where there is a highly developed legal system or a small number of practicing faithful, the chances of the criminal code being applied to the church and then issuing a severe punishment is fairly high. In Ireland, the church is very closely tied to the government and the culture. Not only does this account for a lack of accountability, it also accounts for the possibility that the problem will never be solved or dealt with. That means more victims, more coverups, and more obstruction.