Jun 27 2008

The Irish Values Debate: Part Two – Catholicism And Its Role In Irish Society

Published by at 6:50 pm under Blog,Politics

This is probably the most important area when discussing the origins of Irish Values, and also the hardest one to write about without giving a very biased view. I have a sincere loathing for the Catholic Church. I have a long list of bad experiences with priests and the  Church (not that type of bad experience, don’t worry) and the simple fact that the Irish Church is, for many, synonymous with abuses, paedophilia, lies, conspiracies and power-mongering surely points to the Church as being a generally bad influence on our lives.

That is, of course, not entirely true, because nothing is ever black and white, is it?

At the Dublin Writers Festival, Lean, one of the coordinators, was eager to remove the question of Catholicism from the floor. She wondered why, firstly, other religions weren’t being discussed – the broader Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. – but also why the panelists were reluctant to look at values beyond the religious divide – those of Atheists or those of people who are simple not religious. It is true Catholicism is the major religion in Ireland – the last census revealed 87% of the population considered themselves Catholic (the second highest religion was Church of Ireland at only 2.85%). When we look at those born in Ireland only, the figure rises to 92% (Church of Ireland at 2.35%). So, it is understandably important to spend time looking at Catholicism, but when other surveys reveal regular mass attendance in stark decline, we must wonder what influence other religions and cultures are having on our nation, we must ask how many of those Catholics truly have faith or are they simply marking an X in a box because they were raised Catholic.

These are not irrelevant questions but they are questions I can’t fully answer. I will attempt to look at the influence other cultures and beliefs are having on our society though.

What did the Roman Catholic Church ever do for us?

(any excuse to play some Monty Python)

Figuratively speaking, they did indeed build our aqueducts and roads. They paved the path of Irish education and pumped money into the fledgling Irish healthcare system at a time when Ireland was horribly impoverished.

On a grander scale, and bringing us back to morals and values, I spoke about the Ten Commandments and other guidelines handed to us (or perhaps foisted upon us) by the Church in my opening post on the topic; the Church gave us the basis for our moral code. We were told to live good lives, love our neighbours (not their wives though), be good Samaritans, be generous and charitable. When Catholicism first came to Ireland around the fifth century, the priests believed they were guiding beacons, ready to tame the savages. And to some degree they may have been right. Churches were built and communities and parishes grew around them. People would gather and pray and community spirit developed. The Church infiltrated ever aspect of our lives and this continued to be true right the way through to the encroachment of Protestantism on Irish life. Priests would hold mass in makeshift churches in forests, with rocks for altars, and many would still cling to their beliefs and the comfort and guidance the Church would provide.

So, at some point, did things just go wrong, or were there always questionable practices at the core of the institution?

The Papal Visit and What Went Wrong?

In 1979, Ireland saw its greatest ever mass gathering – when Pope John Paul II visited our country. It is odd that from this pinnacle moment things began to change. Mass attendances declined, the number of people entering the seminary dropped dramatically and, of course, the scandals began to break.

Allegations of child abuse, sexual abuse, cover ups, enslavement and cruelty began to surface publicly in the 1980’s and came to a fore in the 90’s. There are supporters of the Catholic Church who will say that these were mainly isolated incidents. I refute this – compensation payouts to date exceed €1billion (only €128million of this being paid for by the Church), this does not point to isolated incidents; mass cover-ups from high ranking member of the Church do not point to isolated incidents; the revelations of the Magdalene Laundries and other institutions are not isolated incidents; and the Ferns Report (and the Church’s efforts to block it) make it very clear that these incidents were widespread in the Church and were well known about among the upper echelons of the administration.

Is it any wonder people are turning away from the Catholic Church in their droves? The disappointment people must feel in an institution that has been a guiding light for Ireland for so so long is magnified because the Church was our moral compass and when our compass is in such a broken state, we are asking ourselves how we will ever find our way again. So we look to new religions, so we look to new outlets, so we look to the West in search of answers and guidance.

I remember reading about the replacement of religion with ‘fashion culture’ and consumerism and this makes sense. For many of today’s youth, communities are built in the shopping malls and guided by Hello, OK, Glamour and Cosmo. It is not surprising that many people look to The OC, One Tree Hill and Hollyoaks as a basis for a values system. I’m not saying it is right (quite the opposite), but it is not surprising.

Does the Church Have the Right to Interfere/Intervene in Our Lives Anymore?

In short, absolutely not! I would argue that it should never have been in that position of power in the first place. The good things that stemmed from the Church are still evident in our lives today, but those good deeds should never have elevated the Irish Catholic Church to such a position within our society, where today they still influence political opinion.

The Church long ago gave away their right to preach about morals, about values. Today’s Ireland has moved on. Many of us ‘live in sin’ everyday of our lives and to hear that priests offer marriage guidance classes in this day and age is a disgusting act of hypocrisy. Even the Church has conceded that it needs to take a step back from our educational system, something that should have been addressed many years ago. This is the fault of the government rather than the Church, however.

The Future

In 1979, Pope John Paul II said “Be what you are, and you will set the world ablaze…Rather than conform to the world, the world will conform to you”. Well, I apologise for distorting his words, but by continuing on its current course, rather than set the world ablaze, it will see its world burn down around it, and by not conforming to a modern world, the world will simple move on without it.

In 2012, the International Eucharistic Congress will be held in Ireland for the first time since 1932. Bock talks about it here, and Twenty here while Dublin Blogs looks at it in a slightly less emotional way here. The 1932 gathering reportedly saw 25% of the Irish population attend at some point. I find it hard to imagine today’s Ireland (easier as it is to travel now) managing a fraction of this attendance.

In the 1970’s more than 90% of Irish Catholics said they went ot mass once a week. Now trhe nuimber is 44% (and this includes a strong Polish immigrant contingent). Although this is a dramatic drop, the level is still high amoung Western nations. It will be interetsing to watch how swiftly that numbere declines further.

Á la Carte Catholicism is also maintaining a certain amount of followers where the ban on sex before marriage is ignored, where contraception is the norm. Other practices, such as confession, are being dropped while the likes of marriage, christenings and communions still play a huge part in the lives of Iriah people.

160 priests died in 2007, while 9 were ordained, and 228 nuns were lost being replaced by a mere 2 new nuns. This is further exacerbated by the some highly publicised moves by some Catholic Priests to Protestantism, the Church of Ireland. Rev Dermot Dunne, a former Catholic Priest, became Dean of the Church of Ireland’s Christ Church Cathedral and made a point of kissing his wife while standing on the steps of the cathedral as he took up his new post.

It is predicted that the current number of priests, over 4,700, will drop to less that 1,500 by 2028. Father Eamonn Bourke, director of vocations in Dublin, said “some priests are even reluctant to offer priesthood to people as a valuable way of life. It will take a long time to increase this confidence”.

Conclusion

The days when almost everyone was a church-going Catholic, when the parish Priest was revered and when Church doctrine was central to public policy and private life are no longer. Catholicism is a relic of the past. It’s outdated and it’s obvious that few are devoted to it anymore; if people were truly interested then they wouldn’t have manning shortages in the priesthood. Perhaps if they updated the religion they could attract new followers, but their death-grip on traditions is what has them in their current state. If they don’t modernise to keep-up with modern society then the Church will not survive the ever-growing generation gap.

Once responsible for forming the communities in Ireland, the Irish Catholic Church is now in search of a community of its own.

In this post I have discussed the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland, but I have been lighter on the subject of Irish Values. Towards the end of my series of posts I will try to nail down our Core Values and discuss, among other things, the Church’s part in defining them.

Update: In my next post on the subject, I hope to talk about New Communities, New Cultures, New Ideas and New Values, with an emphasis on how the Internet and other technologies have changed both Irish life and the global landscape.

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17 responses so far

17 Responses to “The Irish Values Debate: Part Two – Catholicism And Its Role In Irish Society”

  1. B'dum B'dumon 28 Jun 2008 at 11:40 am

    Brilliant, better than the last one. You said it was gonna be short though?

    Anyways all bits of conversation I was going to contribute were smashed from the shock of reading that there were 2 people turned into nuns this year! Can you get me some more info on these two people? The bit of info I want most is WHY?!

  2. MIdgeon 28 Jun 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Love your post, the reason Catholicism is so strong in Ireland is actually to do with how strong paganism was in Ireland, Catholicism is very mumbo jumbo when you think about it? The worship of the Goddess was so strong in Ireland, St Brighid was actually a pagan Goddess and her croisog (cross) was a pagan symbol, which just happened to look like the cross Jesus died on! Our worship of the saints…..the way to have a polytheistic sysem within the monotheism of Christianity? I could go on and on and on…..but I won’t!

    Again great post!

  3. Darraghon 28 Jun 2008 at 5:47 pm

    To stick to the topic of values Darren, I think you’re missing out on a very, VERY important aspect here. The Church is the community – in fact the origin of the word church has the same root origin as community does and therefore the “church” cannot be solely held responsible for the faults and failures of the Roman Catholic Church – the community and the people who let it happen share the blame.

    Where Ireland has come from has a lot to do with this debate and circumstance and the structures, the resources, the culture, the style of the times, the poverty, the power given and the ignorance through lack of choice and lack of understanding.

    Politicians, garda, doctors, nurses, parents all KNEW about the abuse that was happening in orphanages, laundries, seminaries and hospitals and DID NOTHING about it. Most of the bad experiences of a lot of children who weren’t abused but who had a catholic upbringing do not come from the rules of the Roman Catholic Church but from corporal punishment, being beaten for not knowing Irish, for things like being dyslexic, being illiterate, being poor. We’ve come far from a society where class distinction was rampant, where money really was part of the social divide and where poverty was epidemic in so many ways.

    You point to falling vocations as a sign of lack of interest in the Roman Catholic Church. I strongly refute same and will point you in the direction of the hundreds of thousands of charity workers, volunteers and social entrepreneurs, all of whom are working in the area of helping people, education, community and collaboration. Their personal belief in God is not strictly an issue in this exact point, as it’s an indication not of their belief in the religious aspect, but in the power of people helping people.

    To return to the poverty of Ireland, remember that many of those who entered religious orders did so to escape the grinding poverty of their families, to make their mammies proud by elevating the social status and to feel part of a community, to have the opportunity to study, to learn and to do what they believed they were being asked to do. Modern psychology points now to the evidence that most paedophiles did not enter the Roman Catholic to abuse children, but to atone for their obsessions, which evidently and unfortunately became too much for them. They should never have been allowed in and it was the fault of the hierarchy and the community that they were allowed to continue in their roles.

    Most of us do not have the same poverty now. This and the last generation have opportunities and freedoms that were never even possible before. Travel, free third (and second) level education means that more jobs and careers become possible and that you hear from them. Smaller families mean there’s no need to go into an institution that offers you a career, food, housing and a chance to do something for the community.

    Education was offered through the Roman Catholic church simply because they were the most educated people to do the job. Before the EU or EEC Ireland had 2 sources of money – emigrants sending money home and the Church, which as you say gave us a lot. So “apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order and brought peace…” what have the Roman Catholic Church done for us? Taught us how to read and write. Different to “education” but still valuable. Gave us a community structure to gather around. Built schools and hospitals and churches and homes for the homeless and the St Vincent de Paul and Barnardos and so on. And because of that education, we’re now in the position today to be ungrateful. We can look up from our Google searches, the wikipedia entries and newspapers and say “tut tut” mostly because of that influence. Bear in mind that most of the educators in our parents times were in their early twenties and had classes of 30 to 40 ill fed, ill educated children who didn’t have television even as a moral guide of where we should be and how we should live. There was no such thing as teacher training in today’s terms, no child or educational psychology, no options. The church did what it did because people were happy enough to let them. Now, more educated with more options we see the fault in this system, but it was the only one available. Not the only one imposed, but the only one available.

    Is it any wonder people are turning away from the Catholic Church in their droves? – Gosh no, because we perceive it as outdated and irrelevant, because we were the generation who rebelled, who didn’t follow our parents the same way they had followed theirs. Instead of a church going public we now have a population of teenage pregnancies, alcoholics, cocaine addicts, heroin junkies, e-addicts, nightclub goers and worse. because of the Roman Catholic Church – no. Because of the choice we have available. Because we as a society have stopped caring. We’re happy to be without guidance, and yet when something bad happens we blame everyone, every system, everything but ourselves. We’re in a finger pointing society and happy to let it wash all over us as we snort our white powder, sip our macchiatos and watch the homeless, the alcoholics and the poor survive around us.

    The days when almost everyone was a church-going Catholic, when the parish Priest was revered and when Church doctrine was central to public policy and private life are no longer. Few points here – we were NEVER church-going Catholics, we were church-going Roman Catholics and that’s a big difference. The Parish Priest being revered – well again it’s down to social status at the time, when the priest was often the only one who could read important letters, who gave money to the poor women whose husbands drank their wages, who intervened and mediated for people who needed same. Just to bring in another comment on this one “It’s outdated and it’s obvious that few are devoted to it anymore;” is so one sided and fucking insulting to so many people. I invite you to share that with my father, who spent much of his time in St Luke’s Hospital in the oratory praying as it gave him solace. I invite you to offer that to the families of so many dying people who have great comfort (rightly or wrongly) from the presence of the priest, who visits the dying and comforts the bereaved. I invite you to say that to the elderly who have been abandoned by their families in this day of busy lives in nursing homes and on their own, whose often only visitor is the priest. I also invite you to share that with those men and women who have a genuine vocation and who have stuck with their love of God, no matter what’s gone on because they believe in the message of Jesus, the very thing that this Roman Catholic church was meant to be founded on and stuck with but who like every other society and organisation out there have been corrupted by power and by the fact that so many were willing to turn a blind eye to them, that the administration of said “don’t say anything”. Share that with those people who get up to say mass every morning and the rest of their day is spent visiting hospitals, sick and dying people, helping the poor, the dispossed, those in violent relationships and more who look to these people for support because the rest of us are happy to let them. Say that to Fr Peter McVerry and Sr Stanislaus Kennedy who do so much with the people that people just don’t care about. Say it to the families whose kids are killed by drunk or speed drivers, by drugs and by symptoms of the very lack of values that the Roman Catholic Church once offered.

    The “C” word as discussed in the very debate that sparked this whole thread was so prevalent in Irish Society only because it was the one doing most of the work.

    There is no one – most of all me – who suggests that the Roman Catholic Church – or indeed any religion – offers the solution to all the problems. The issue is that they were allowed to. As much as the abuse is sickening it was done by people, not as part of the church. The hiding of the abuse was shocking, absolutely shocking, but I imagine we’d find a lot more permeation into other areas of society and an even bigger can of worms being opened.

    I’m not defending the faults of the Roman Catholic Church (of which its history and origin are probably most at fault), but I find the supposition that all of its faults indicates “the Church as being a generally bad influence on our lives.” to be such utter, utter crap that the rest of your argument, as factually accurate as it may be to break under the strain of such a statement. Irish people bear the brunt of the responsibility. The ones who only go to baptisms, communions and weddings and still expect a catholic funeral. The ones who spend their money on drink and the consumerism that you talk about rather than donating their money to help the community. Rome does itself no favours but they’re just a bunch of old men in a building saying the way things should be. You want to take values from the Church, the community – look at what it can do, the solace it can offer, the charity it has given when people work together.

    We’ve lost SO so much in Ireland. Walk down any street (including your beloved Talbot Street) and you’ll see it. I’m not suggesting the Roman Catholic church is at all the answer. People working together is. And for years that was the only place it happened.

    I could go on, but my caramel macchiato is going cold, because ultimately I’m as hypocritical as everyone else. And that’s not the Roman Catholic Church’s fault. That’s my own.

  4. B'dum B'dumon 29 Jun 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Darrag… that reply is huge

  5. Darraghon 29 Jun 2008 at 4:16 pm

    As is the topic B’dum! Blaming everyone but ourselves and the choices we make in how we live our life for the problems in this country – especially relating to values – is far too easy to do and something we do far too often. Darren’s post deserved a response appropriate to the matter.

  6. B'dum B'dumon 29 Jun 2008 at 7:35 pm

    oh sh!t, that whole reply was meant to be “Darragh that reply is huge, you should’ve made it into a post on your site”.
    I shall point out the lack of a correctly spelt name and a full stop as proof of this statement.

  7. Andrewon 30 Jun 2008 at 2:55 am

    You pretty much know my thoughts on this because we discussed it a bit last week. Essentially the church is not to blame for the bad things that have happened, human corruption within the church is. You think that is the same thing, I maintain that it is very much not. I suppose it depends somewhat on your definition of ‘church’.

    Midge is absolutely correct about the origins of Christianity, unless they lied their asses off to me in college.

    Darragh’s response is stunningly well argued and I hope he does turn it into it’s own post. It’s sad (but true in so many other cases as well) that your experiences of the church have been almost solely negative but that doesn’t mean the great things about it aren’t out there. I worked for a while with refugees under the St. Vincent de paul association and met amazing, realistic people (including nuns) who did fantastic, unfeted work with those who really needed it – inspired by nothing but the sense of a calling to do what is right for the poor and suffering. I’ve seen so many cases where altruism blends inextricably with egotism but it was certainly not the case with these people.

    Many of the structures and dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church are indeed massively outdated and irrelevant, but it’s open to human error as well as, hopefully, evolution.

    Finally, just to be a little pedantic: You should, strictly speaking, always refer to the religion you’re addressing here as the ROMAN Catholic Church. Christians of all sorts of denominations profess to believe in “the one holy, catholic and apostolic church”, as the word Catholic simply means ‘united’. I brought a class of mine on a trip to see a gospel choir in a Church of Ireland church and one Roman Catholic student was highly confused as to why people there were publicly claiming to be ‘catholic’! Understandably.
    It’s just a bad habit we’ve picked up in society as a whole (and I do it myself all the time), but it becomes unacceptable when the mainstream media start doing it.

  8. Miche;;eon 03 Jul 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I am a writer, and poet, who has come through the care system and ya know what!!! I was raised by Nuns, and hell as a single mother of four beautiful children now, they sure aren’t gonna open their wee arms for me, so I reckon to thank them for making my first 3yrs of life hell!!! I should have an Ann Summers party in the largest convent in Ireland !!!
    Problem is how do I get the eqipment back off them lol
    I believe God stands for good orderly direction, the rest is blind faith God gets blamed for everything though why!!! he aint gonna come down and eat ya for it so religon is a guide Jesus was a story teller with a damn good PR Agent and publicist……. “love the debate though

  9. Darrenon 07 Jul 2008 at 6:17 pm

    @BdumX2 Cheers! I tried to keep it short, but couldn’t do it. I’m getting better though.

    @Midge I wish you would go on and on – you have a really interesting perspective on it.

    @Andy In my opinion (and that’s all it is) the good and effective members of the Church are the exception. There are some wonderful people who do wonderful things, but I believe that the great majority of Irish Catholic Priests, Nuns, etc. are lazy, misguided and not truly interested in helping people or their community. My issue is in the fact they preach righteousness and very few of them seem to truly practice it.

    As for the Roman Catholic thing, I’d imagine that the large proportion of Irish people, when saying Catholic, they mean Irish Roman Catholic. It’s a touch pedantic and the ‘error’ is so widespread, I don’t believe the mainstream media have any obligation to ‘get it right’.

    @Miche;;e Sorry to hear your story. Sadly, it’s a far too common one. Thank you for the comment.

    @Darragh Reply to follow.

  10. Darrenon 07 Jul 2008 at 7:12 pm

    @Darragh Firstly, thank you so much for your extensive and interesting reply. I couldn’t have hoped for better.

    Addressing your first paragraph, I am not saying the Church is solely to blame. Far from it, in fact, but I am saying that an institution that was once upon a time the heart of the community is no longer seen as a guiding force. Instead, it has become a symbol for many (most definitely not all) of mistrust, lost values, corruption and lies.

    Yes, the community and the people who let the ‘bad things’ happen are also to blame. Yes, the government must share a colossal piece of the blame cake. Yes, the authorities who turned a blind eye to so many things should be held accountable. But primarily, the abuses (if I can use an umbrella term for a moment) were orchestrated en masse by members of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and, yes, the buck, most definitely, must stop there.

    “We’ve come far from a society where class distinction was rampant, where money really was part of the social divide and where poverty was epidemic in so many ways.”

    This sounds like you are trying to excuse some of the issues as being part of an era where these things were accepted part of life. I’ll assume I’m reading you wrong, because excusing any of those abuses as being symptomatic of a time and culture is sick and irresponsible.

    “You point to falling vocations as a sign of lack of interest in the Roman Catholic Church. I strongly refute same and will point you in the direction of the hundreds of thousands of charity workers, volunteers and social entrepreneurs, all of whom are working in the area of helping people, education, community and collaboration. Their personal belief in God is not strictly an issue in this exact point, as it’s an indication not of their belief in the religious aspect, but in the power of people helping people.”

    Well, that’s my exact point – a belief in God and wanting to do good deeds is a large part of humanity. I point to the falling vocations as a lack of interest in the Church, because that’s what it is. It is not a lack of interest in helping others, it is not a lack of interest in being good and it is not necessarily a lack of belief in God (although this must play a part in it).

    I will however agree with your next point and it is one I didn’t even consider – there may have been some paedophiles who joined the priesthood to ‘atone for their obsessions’ and this would certainly not happen today. There are psychologists, etc, who can help guide people rather than just simply throw them into an institution (whether that institution be a prison or an Abbey).

    “Instead of a church going public we now have a population of teenage pregnancies, alcoholics, cocaine addicts, heroin junkies, e-addicts, nightclub goers and worse. Because of the Roman Catholic Church – no. Because of the choice we have available.”

    Damn you for making that excellent point far better than I could have. I thought it worth highlighting again here. Again I assume you’re not suggesting those choices be removed in the hope that the old days will return. Choice is the most important of all human traits, I believe, and sadly with choice comes bad choices. We are in a fingerpointing society, but we are also in an intelligent society that questions its leaders and debates the big issues. This point hinges on where you stand on the question: Is it better to be ignorant and happy or wise and sad? Personally, I opt for wisdom and the risk of depression. But that’s just me.

    I understand that your father gained solace from that oratory and that many families gain comfort in their prayers, but for every empty altar and disillusioned grieving widow, there is nowadays, thankfully, teams of doctors, social workers and resources available to help people to cope. I find it hard to believe that prayer helped EVERYBODY decades ago, whereas I do believe that there are services available today in Ireland that can help everybody – the grieving, the suicidal, the injured, the lame, the blind, the deaf, those people forgotten so many years ago.

    “The “C” word as discussed in the very debate that sparked this whole thread was so prevalent in Irish Society only because it was the one doing most of the work.”

    Agreed, but Mugabe was once heralded as a hero. Times change as do motives. I don’t believe there are enough well meaning senior members left in today’s Irish Roman Catholic Church to truly make a positive difference to the masses. I do however believe that as the Church dwindles, its focus will change, as it begins to cater for a smaller member base, allowing it to grow with a new vigor and new positivity and I wish all the believers well with that. But it’s not for me.

    “…but I find the supposition that all of its faults indicates “the Church as being a generally bad influence on our lives.” to be such utter, utter crap that the rest of your argument, as factually accurate as it may be to break under the strain of such a statement.”

    Read it back, the very next sentence states that this is, of course, not entirely true:

    “…fact that the Irish Church is, for many, synonymous with abuses, paedophilia, lies, conspiracies and power-mongering surely points to the Church as being a generally bad influence on our lives.

    That is, of course, not entirely true, because nothing is ever black and white, is it?”

    This was my supposition as I wanted to explain that I don’t truly believe the Church to be entirely bad – I merely wanted to show that, as a result of the many bad things that it has had a hand in, it would not be surprising for people to conclude that the Church is generally bad.

    I do completely agree with you on your finish though. Change can only come in the form of people working together and building solid communities. This was once solely done by the Church, but now it must come from elsewhere.

    The Irish need a solid values base or we will lose ourselves to consumerism, to anger and frustration, to disappointment and apathy. Ireland needs to find a new direction and it is my belief that we will not have the ROMAN Catholic Church walking beside us, leaving a second set of footprints, on this journey.

  11. Darraghon 07 Jul 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Oh Darren.

    Firstly thanks for your reply. I appreciate that your illness can’t be fun so it makes the comment more worthwhile.

    Rather than making this a debate between us, I’m going to try and keep my comments open for others to respond to (and please do). Therefore any of your points above that I don’t respond to directly you can assume that we’re agreed.

    I was hoping, before you published this, to respond to your comment to Andrew above it. All I wanted to say before you wrote mine was that I’d ask you to consider the word “community” again before you write. I’ll come back to that.

    I wonder what you think of as “the Catholic Church”? Is it, shall we say, everything “Catholic incorporated?”, as in all buildings and lands owned by “Rome” and all the people “employed” by them – meaning seminarians, novices, deacons, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and all other clergy? Or would you include teachers employed by Catholic Schools, medical staff employed in catholic hospitals etc as part of it? What is everyone’s understanding of that word “Church”?

    I think there’s a bit of pedantry going on between us and as such, I’m happy for this debate to accept “church” as Roman Catholic but I have to offer that my initial response to your debate was based not on the “church” being “the hierarchy” (though I’m fully aware that’s what people think of” but that the Roman Catholic Church comprises of everyone who was baptised into it because that’s what it actually is (or at least “should” be).

    In much the same way as your birth cert marks your nationality, the idea behind the baptism cert is to say “you are now Roman Catholic”. It is this that I am referring to for my definition of the Church – not just priests and nuns, but everyone participating in the community that was meant to be. Therefore your values should be taught to you by the community and you should use your values to better it and society. Is that a fair (if completely idealistic and unrealistic) assumption?

    Regarding values then and the RC church’s influence on them, both in the past, present and future:

    –PAST–:

    … primarily, the abuses (if I can use an umbrella term for a moment) were orchestrated en masse by members of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and, yes, the buck, most definitely, must stop there.

    There’s a risk in any argument to run into both “You said, but I’m saying” and “this could mean” but even worse “this is the argument” and in your conclusion above you’ve pointed out it’s the role of the church in society rather than its influence on the values that you’re covering, but I’d like to address this one.

    Child abuse, paedophilia, bullying, murder or any of the other atrocities carried out by those in authoritative positions in Catholic Schools, Hospitals, Orphanages, Borstal Homes, Laundries or wherever is EVIL. I struggle to find a word that conveys my complete and absolute abhorrence of these acts.

    These all happened in institutions under an institution whose primary charge was to protect the very people that were being hurt under its responsibility.

    Darren, these did not happen because of the Catholic Church. I’m going to labour the point here to avoid any accusations of in any way excusing this but while they happened in Catholic buildings and were perpetrated by Catholic priests and nuns, it was not Catholic doctrine or dogma that “caused” the abuse. It was Catholic people – as you say “members of the Catholic church” and it is at them that the “buck must stop”. Every priest, nun, doctor, nurse, teacher, farmer – every single person at whose hands a child suffered bear the responsibility. Later in your response you comment on our “finger-pointing society” and indeed it’s convenient to say that because it happened in Catholic grounds that it’s a “Catholic fault”. But that’s akin to saying that all the Irish are terrorists because of the killings that were carried out by members of a paramilitary organisation. This abuse was widespread and not just happening at the hands of clergy. I fully accept that the church must atone for the secrecy, the moving of paedophiles, for not dealing with the problem, for hiding the problem and not prosecuting the individuals to the fullest power available to them, but I’ll return to the society of secrecy, politics and power that allowed them to do this, accepted by the people (for the most part) and say that while it’s inconceivable that it happened at all, it’s a society fault as much as an organisational one. I wish I could make myself clearer here.

    My point here related back to “values” and the comment you make: “This sounds like you are trying to excuse some of the issues as being part of an era where these things were accepted part of life.” I’m not. But I am trying to explain this. In Bock’s Eucharistic Congress post he writes

    Happy, happy days, when nobody needed to think. Great days when a kindly Church would do any thinking you required, and tell you what your opinion was.

    They were allowed to, Darren. That’s the worst thing. There’s the Irish values of the time down the toilet and lying in the sewerage they deserve to be in. Take the Ferns report that you link to on Wikipedia, and read:

    “Between 1960 and 1980, the Report found that Bishop Herlihy treated child sexual abuse by priests of his diocese exclusively as a moral problem. He transferred priests against whom allegations had been made, to a different post or a different diocese for a period of time but then returned them to their former position.

    By 1980, Bishop Herlihy recognised that there was a psychologicial or medical dimension to the issue of child sexual abuse. “

    Darren, our politicians, our gardaí, our medical professionals, our teachers and the clergy allowed this to happen to those abused. I can’t stress how much this upsets me. They knew and (apparently) did nothing. Because it was easier to. I remember a victim being interviewed about the disbelieving attitude of his parents. We cannot point to the doctrine of the Catholic Church as being solely at fault here, it has to be accepted that this was a major, major fault with society in which many, many people were implicated.

    You ask if it’s better to be happy and ignorant? What do you think was the attitude back then? I point out to the class distinction, the social divide, the religious prejudice and the poverty as factors in this “value” that people seem to have had. They occupied themselves with surviving under the radar, rather than challenging an authority they happily gave their power to. Of course it was taken advantage of. That’s the human way.

    Therefore, in the discussion of values at the time, in my opinion it cannot be held that the Catholic Church (meaning the institution upholding the catholic dogma and doctrine here, rather than my assertion of “everyone”) bears complete and sole responsibility for everything that was wrong (the “issues” you refer to) with Ireland at the time. While we’ve found it convenient to point the finger and say “You, (the institution) the “mistrust, lost values, corruption and lies” are all your fault“, they’re not. How could they be?

    –PRESENT–

    For this point, I’d like to address your comment to Andrew here firstly, as it’s relevant to what comes next:

    In my opinion (and that’s all it is) the good and effective members of the Church are the exception. There are some wonderful people who do wonderful things, but I believe that the great majority of Irish Catholic Priests, Nuns, etc. are lazy, misguided and not truly interested in helping people or their community. My issue is in the fact they preach righteousness and very few of them seem to truly practice it.

    It’s here that your “sincere loathing for the Catholic Church. I have a long list of bad experiences with priests and the Church” statement becomes very visible. Again I suppose I’m picking you up on the “people of the Church” terminology and the words you use, but it goes back to my “who do you believe the church to be” question. If we just take priests and nuns in this, let me ask you something – why do you think they are lazy, misguided, not truly interested in helping people or their community? Could it be because that’s exactly what they’re dealing with from all angles and it’s worn them down because they’re only human?

    The world has changed Darren, it has changed so so much, and Ireland along with it. The more that happens, the more we learn, the more we experience, the more different our reactions become. The reasons that someone would have a vocation – a desire to serve God – nowadays would be very different to those of 30 years ago. It’s a different place.

    You call them “lazy” and “not interested” but Darren, what age are they? You point out that 160 priests and 228 nuns died in 2007 – let’s say the vast majority was illness or old age. What are the rest? The Times online article you quoted extensively for statistics above also points out that “most priests are already close to normal retirement age. The average age of Irish priests is currently 61.

    So for the most part these priests are men who have been at this for around 35 years (after training). That’s starting in 1973 in a country where the Catholic Church still has a lot more resources, where people are a lot more willing to help out, where in fact the church offered people something to do, simply because there wasn’t that many (a) occupations, (b) professions, (c) educational systems and (d) things to do, especially when compared to today. Where they have more opportunity to do good and more people willing to help them.

    (I don’t know enough about nuns to talk about them, forgive me)

    And now it’s different. Because of the actions of their colleagues and superiors, because of the expanded choices and services we have available and because of money. We don’t need the church to help us Darren – they won’t pay our mortgages, they won’t entertain us the same way UGC or the pub will, they won’t give the same insight to life as Dr Who, so feck them. Why do you need them? Would that be a fair attitude? If falling Church attendances but the crowds of people in town at shopping centres, restaurants, pubs, clubs, gigs and venues is anything to go by, surely it’s a fair assumption?

    Would you trust your parish priest to help you? Would you ask him to? Would you need him to? And if you didn’t, why would you have any interaction with him other than passing him carrying your resentment towards the church? Because Darren that’s an attitude not just particular to you, but endemic in society.

    An example I often hear is how a priest (shock horror) gets a bride’s name wrong at the wedding or a child’s at baptism. Well, how could they? They meet so many people (now that there’s not enough priests to cover all events) and in all likelihood they’ve met the child for the first time. Years ago, certainly where I’m from, the priestS would have known everyone by name, by family and so on because they were invited to. Now, it’s a la carte Catholicism. “Sure we’ll do it to keep Granny happy”.

    Put it another way, would you honestly continue blogging if you had no commenters, no visitors, no one responding? If all you got was criticism, scorn, suspicion, accusations and disinterest would you keep going? Honestly? I certainly wouldn’t.

    Indeed that’s a big issue in the church now. You agree that it’s not a “lack of interest in helping others” but it is something. I’m in full agreement with Lottie on this – a lot of it has to do with enforced celibacy, with the choices people have now, the need for stability, for a family, for love and acceptance in an increasingly scary and anonymous society and world. This is what needs to be addressed. Previously you were in a community (in a wider community) and now most of your contemporaries are dead. You were in a good job where you could help people. Now you can’t, most because they don’t want/trust you to.

    Back to statistical fact, currently there are about 4,750 priests in Ireland. Taking Ireland’s population to be 4,109,086 as of June 2007, and your statistic of 87% Catholic, that’s 3,574,904.82. So that’s conceivably 865.07 people that a priest, a 61 year old man, would have to deal with. That’s a lot, no?

    We were born into an era where we had had a huge influx of entries to seminaries between 1920 and 1960 – much higher than the norm – so in a way, we accepted this as what should be, when in fact it’s not. Teh current rate of vocations is far more in keeping with it, a fact born out by a statement from the same Father Bourke, Director of Vocations that you quote:

    once students enter an Irish seminary they are far more likely to stay the course and be ordained than they were 20 or 30 years ago.

    Finally on this point, a couple of things on the job of a priest to consider, again from the Times:

    Priests in Ireland work six days a week. They are encouraged to take one day off. In quieter parishes, some priests also get Sunday afternoons to themselves

    Priests are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and will respond immediately to midnight phone calls summoning them to the bedsides of seriously ill patients

    — Priests are self-employed and receive a stipend of €1,000 (£750) a month. This grows dependent on years of service and can also increase if priests take on extra jobs outside their parish responsibilities.

    — They receive the statutory 21 days’ holiday every year, although they are expected to work on Bank Holidays

    — Would-be priests who enter seminary spend seven years training. The retention rate of those who enter compared with those who get ordained is about 60 per cent

    — Retirement age for priests is 75 but most continue if they are in good health. Older priests give up their parish administrative duties but continue to celebrate Mass and the sacraments

    Sounds like fun, eh? I guess that makes the men (and women) who stick at it and continue to be the exception in your eyes all the more special. They’ve given their life to something beyond their control.

    I’m not suggesting they’re all brilliant or great, or ideal or suited or well motivated, but rather than (and sorry to use the phrase again) point the finger, it might be worth asking “why?”

    (I’ll be very impressed if anyone gets this far.)

    for every empty altar and disillusioned grieving widow, there is nowadays, thankfully, teams of doctors, social workers and resources available to help people to cope.

    Really? Oh, there was me under the impression we had a health service in crisis, a completely under resources social worker service and places up and down the country crying for help in suicide and depression prevention. There are now far more things wrong with us and ways to treat them than ever before. While I’m so happy that mental health problems (1 in 4 people apparently) are being dealt with at all in Ireland, what we’ve lost as well are people to talk to, a community place to go, somewhere we feel we belong. The parish church used to be that place for so many people. Now is it the pub? The solace of drugs? Of suicide? I’m not qualified to answer that Darren, but if prayer didn’t help people years ago, company certainly would have.

    Equally, many of the services you point out – those for the “grieving, the suicidal, the injured, the lame, the blind, the deaf, those people forgotten so many years ago” all have their roots in the Catholic Church, all were started as Catholic initiatives by Catholics and funded by the Church before they became independent. So many people have also been helped in Ireland by the Church, in more ways than they know.

    –THE FUTURE–

    There’s a wonderful scene in The Last Temptation of Christ where Jesus, post crucifixion, meets Saul in the desert who is preaching about how Jesus died and was resurrected and wanted people to form a church and get rid of Rome and many other blatant falsehoods. Jesus challenges Saul, only to be met with “I’m glad I met you, but your part in this is over”.

    The Church that exists, as I said in Lottie’s post, is not a true reflection of what Jesus wanted. He was a Jew who wanted people to live better lives, be better Jews. He didn’t claim to be divine (as he was voted in 325 at the Council of Nicea), he didn’t ask for basilicas or celibacy or novenas or rosaries – these are all man made. He wanted us to live better lives, and to listen to each other and maybe to God, whatever we decide God to be.

    In his time, because the oral tradition was so strong and with a lack of TV and easily distributed photos etc to give an image, he used the image of a “Father” for God. Now it may be the “Universe”, the “mother”, “Nature”, “Destiny” or whatever to so many people. But that’s the core of it. Be nice. Do good things.

    The values that we have now and are forming for the future are not completely at the origin of the Catholic Church. A lot is to do with the apathy, ignorance and quite frankly the unbelievable stupidity of our predecessors, and by us learning more and moving away from it.

    In the past we let our values be dictated to us. Now they’re in our control. What will we choose to do with them? What will we, as a community, if we choose to be, teach each other in the ways of life, in how we live now and in the future?

    And to take your last image, let me ask you, on your dawn walks on the beach with Lottie, isn’t it always a little more comforting to have 2 sets of footprints, rather than be on your own with just one?

    Just a thought, mind, just a thought.

  12. Darraghon 07 Jul 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Just for the hell of it I pasted my response to you into a word doc just to see… 3,126 words – 6 pages of A4, and I didn’t even get all the links in! Slightly obsessed, moi? I hope it’s just a sign that I’m thorough. 😉

  13. Darrenon 09 Jul 2008 at 12:41 pm

    @D I think I need another day off to reply to that. Thank you again for your diligent reply. It’s appreciated.

  14. morgoron 09 Jul 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Jaysus, there’s a couple of essays reading here, so i scanned through quickly.

    I’ll keep mine brief.

    1. I consider the church to be the priests, bishops, nuns etc not the attendees of the church. I had my communion before I even have any memories of even being alive.

    2. When you say the church gave money to the poor, where do you think they got it from? they don’t produce or earn anything themselves.Back in the day they used to get it from tithes from everyone (bar the rich).

    3. I agree we can’t just blame the church for everything, but that said they did wield a lot of power in the day.

    I had more points when i was reading your comments but that was about 30 minutes ago.

  15. Peteron 12 Aug 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Loved the topic but only time for a very quick response! I believe that you would love a book called ‘Vicars of Christ’ by Peter De Rosa.
    Its a great read and I urge any and all Catholics to have a go at it. It may not change your mind one way or the other but it may at least increase your knowledge – always a good thing.

  16. Darrenon 12 Aug 2008 at 5:25 pm

    @Peter I will look into it. I’m reading a few books at the mo on Irish Society and have a few posts to follow up this one. I’m really enjoying my education on the topic.

  17. Peteron 12 Aug 2008 at 7:17 pm

    I have a copy of it if you want a lend. Well I have a copy of just about everythign LOL.

    very interesting discussion. I had the luck of never being baptised into any faith but living in Ireland you cant but help be influenced by catholisism. The book explores the history of the papacy and is very good. Its writen by a former ex priest but as he says himself he is playing devils advocate – an important role in the church.

    To paraphrase the book I think the point he makes is that as horrendus a history as the church may have (and its about as bad as it gets) there must be something good to be going for 2000 years….

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