Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Catholicism in Ireland (Part 1)

Micheal asked, 'Can you imagine Enda Kenny publicly kissing Archbishop Martin's ring?'  He recalls seeing, as a young catholic, Dev kissing Archbishop McQuaid's ring.  How things have changed?  Micheal in now a member of an independent evangelical church and attends a study group with me.

We were discussing Ingrid Harley's book on spirituality in contemporary Ireland.  I was chairing the meeting which focused around her chapter on the demise of Catholicism.  I posed the question, 'when do you think Catholicism was at its peak in Ireland?'

'Without doubt, the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979,' suggested a younger member.  I disagreed (sorry Elton, but I do think that your insights in today's discussion were very helpful).  Ingrid cites someone who says that the peak in the relationship between catholic church and the Irish state was 1937-1960.  1937 is the date of Dev's constitution, with its special place for the Catholic church.  But what went wrong after 1960?  We came up with a number of suggestions.

An American member of the group wanted to take the discussion all the way back to the reformation.  But we were focusing on the special place that the catholic church had in the Irish state, thus we were limiting ourselves to post-1922.  He suggested the influence of the World Wars.  But it was countered that World War II actually served to illustrate how inward-looking the young Irish state was.

One key date is 1958 and the White paper that was issued by economist T. K. Whitaker.  This marked a change in economic policy.  No longer was Ireland seeking to be a closed state but now wanted to be a small open economy.  Later Ireland would join the EEC.

Another key date is 1962 and the events of Vatican II.  While it was clear that the catholic church in Ireland was unable to handle some of the challenges of Vatican II I am still uncertain how this fits into the wider demise.

As the conversation resumed in today's meeting we thought of the effect of the charismatic renewal.  This began in 1969.  It was open to outside influences, although 1975 was the last time they had a non-Catholic, David Watson, address their main conference.  This movement was never embraced by the catholic hierarchy.

In the 1960s the outside world began exerting increased influence on the nation's views.  There was the accessibility of foreign media and the advent of television.  As I watched the 50th anniversary edition of the Late Late Show on Friday night I wondered how conservative Catholics would have felt in knowing that there licence fee was going towards Gaybo spouting his opinions (I later read an article that suggested that Gaybo didn't so much shape opinion as reflect the public mood, I think he did a mixture of both).  Of course the sexual revolution of the 1960s didn't entirely pass Ireland by.

In The Transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000 historian Diarmaid Ferriter points to the issue of family planning.  I have a person interest in this as my father set up a family planning clinic in Cork at a time when that drew fire from the catholic hierarchy.  Ferriter points out that here was an issue where the public chose to ignore the teaching they were receiving from the church.  Was this the start of a la carte Catholicism in Ireland?

Of course there were factors that post-date 1979.  The sexual scandals may have accelerated the decline, but they did not begin it.  Notable dates are the X-case in 1992 and the Murphy report in 2009.

The Pope's visit in 1979 remains a strange phenomenon.  I remember been surprised that a Church of Ireland neighbour went to see him, she went simply because he was one of the most important people in the world.  He warmed the nation's heart as he kissed the tarmac on arriving (nothing wins us more than being shown how special a little nation we are).  At Drogheda he pleaded 'on my knees' (without actually getting on his knees) for the men and women of violence to stop their killing in the north.   Then there are the ironic pictures of Bishop Casey and Father Clancy leading the youth rally in Galway (both men tool the title 'father' in its literal sense).  Was it all just the last hurrah of a fatally wounded institution?  If so, what do we call the response to the visit of the bones of Saint Teresa (2001) and what can we expect at the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress?

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