Thursday, July 24, 2003

From earlier this month, Andrew Greeley defends the state of the Church in Ireland

It's difficult to discover what the various authors mean by their announcements that Ireland is no longer Catholic. Perhaps they mean the church no longer dominates Irish life the way it did in the middle decades of the last century. They may mean the church no longer gives orders that the government feels (or pretends to feel) it must obey. They may mean the hierarchy realizes that it can no longer control the sexual life of the laity. They may mean the Irish constitution no longer assigns a special place to the Catholic faith (this was changed to facilitate peace in the North). But one of the authors, a priest, says Ireland now is even more secular than the Czech Republic.

The implication of all this babble is that a more realistic separation of church and state means that Ireland is no longer Catholic, without any need to take into account the faith and religious practice of the Catholic laity. That may be an appropriate methodological stance, but it seems to leave behind a massive reality: the veneration of the Little Flower, the religious faith of the youngest cohorts who may not go to mass much but are firmly Catholic, have more respect for their parish priest than their parents, and are more likely to consider the mother of Jesus integral to their identity than their parents.

The response of these folks seems to be that the clerical scandals will certainly drive the laity away from the church. The faith of the Irish people is based on the virtue, intelligence and competence of their religious leaders? So little do those who suggest it understand either religion or Ireland!

The sex abuse scandals are worse here than in the United States. The media are vehemently anti-clerical (perhaps not without reason). Some of the scandals have occurred in government-owned orphanages staffed by religious orders. And the Irish hierarchy is even more clueless than the American. Moreover, they could have learned from the American scandals what not to do, but they resolutely refused to do so.

The truth, I think, is that like Catholics in the United States, Catholics in this country are still Catholic, but now on their own terms. Bishops tell me that the laity can't do that, which proves how clueless they are. They can no longer control the laity with the threat of mortal sin and eternal damnation. Such tools may have been appropriate in the Dark Ages and after the French Revolution, but they don't work anymore.