Some of the data published in the first extracts from our most recent census shows that over 80% of Irish people describe themselves as Catholic.
Though this is a significant majority it seems unlikely that all of these good people — you, more than likely — would regard themselves as Catholic in the traditional, subservient, knee-bending, Dr John Charles McQuaid way.
Just as there are many kinds of Irish people there seems today to be many kinds of Irish Catholic. This week’s revelations by the BBC about Cardinal Seán Brady’s role in investigations into the outrages inflicted by Brendan Smyth may force more people, born and raised Catholic and more or less practising as such, to question their commitment to the institution of the Catholic Church. They may question how they can be part of an organisation that automatically puts corporate security before anything or anyone else, no matter how many children have been raped, no matter how many high churchmen have colluded to cover up the outrage.
They may decide that the magnificent, empowering, life-sustaining Christian principles — love, faith, hope and charity — can be honoured, observed and made real without the imprimatur of a consistory of old men who, though living in our time, seem to be from a completely different time and place.
Whether the changed circumstances which oblige any member of the clergy aware of even a possible offence against a child to report the matter to the gardaí is enough, each individual must decide. That this imposition, which now has the force of civil law, was resisted by a considerable rump of the hierarchy until they could no longer do so may colour that judgement.
It must be acknowledged that some Catholics are so secure in their belief, the kind of belief that sustained them though the publication of the Murphy, Ferns, Cloyne and Raphoe reports, that they are unlikely to flinch. That is their right and they must be admired for their steadfastness. Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine that their loyalty is misplaced and not reciprocated. Maybe that faith in an organisation rather than in principles might be put in context by a question: if, say, the Garda Commissioner, was in Cardinal Brady’s position could he stay in his job? It must be asked too that if he was to offer his resignation would Rome accept it?
The relationship between the Catholic Church and this society has been the defining influence on this State and, as yesterday’s calls from political leaders show, that relationship is in jeopardy. Even European states determined to be, and to be seen as, Christian Democratic struggle to find empathy with a censoring, silencing curia.
All this week, as Cardinal Brady defended his untenable position, it was impossible not to think that had he been a parent, that had his life been shaped by children of his own rather than by shepherding a flock, that he would have immediately seen, 37 years ago, that what he learned from a raped schoolboy reached far, far beyond his role in that shabby process. Had he been a father with the responsibilities and motivations that confers it is impossible to believe that Smyth would have been allowed to rape children for another two decades. This is one of the fatal disconnects, one inspired by clericalism, that is destroying modernEuropean Catholicism. It has almost become a case of Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.
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