It is certainly too late for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to dissolve the Dáil to try to ensure political stability during the event. Yet that was one of the reasons Mr Kenny’s predecessor, in party and in office, William T Cosgrave, dissolved the Dáil at the end of Jan 1932.
It is more than unlikely too that Mr Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore will act as canopy bearers for papal nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown as then taoiseach Éamon de Valera, his cabinet colleague and later president, Seán T O’Kelly, and opposition leader WT Cosgrave did for Cardinal Lauri, the papal legate who presided over the 1932 congress, and Cardinal MacRory, the Archbishop of Armagh.
Indeed, in the light of Mr Kenny’s celebrated Dáil attack on Rome for the curia’s role in protecting ordained paedophiles, and Mr Gilmore’s decision to close the Irish embassy in the Vatican, it is unlikely that they might be offered the opportunity to so subjugate themselves, and through them, this State.
It may not be as unlikely, because hatred persisting even in tiny pockets can have an undue influence, that Catholics travelling from the North to participate might be attacked by those who still subscribe to the wild bigotry advocated by a young — and later in the European parliament a not-so-young — Ian Paisley when he stirred the mob by declaring the Pope the antichrist. Any such attacks would, thankfully, be more than surprising.
In one of the greatest contrasts between 1932 and today, next week’s event will devote a day to celebrating ecumenism, whereas the 1932 event was one of the two high-water marks of Catholic hubris in this Republic — Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit being the other.
In the history of Christianity, eight decades is hardly a shake of a thurible but the seeds of today’s turmoil in the Irish Catholic Church were sown all those decades ago. The deference, an unquestioning population presided over by a church that would not be questioned, created the environment for all of the horrors revealed in recent decades to go unchallenged for far, far too long.
There is another, more significant, Catholic anniversary being celebrated this year. Next October will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the battle lines dividing today’s Catholics are around reforms agreed at that consistory. Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II are accused of trying to reverse those reforms and a number Irish priests have been silenced in that battle.
Welcoming the decision to hold the congress in Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin promised “an Olympian year for the Catholic Church in Ireland”. That may imply a willingness on the part of us all to quickly forget the horrors of child sexual abuse, the lies and the cover ups and the primacy afforded canon law over our Constitution, so in that context the archbishop’s aspirations are quite premature.
As an occasion for people to celebrate their faith, renew and make real their commitment to strictures that should make them better people and better citizens, it is an event we can all celebrate. However, we can all celebrate too the reality that this society is no longer one in awe of any single church.