Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wither Goeth Catholic Ireland?

This is a great read on this Sunday commemorating the Transfiguration of Jesus.  The following article from the Irish Independent asks an important question in spite of all the fun:  How will Catholic Ireland transfigure itself in order to find a future which transcends it's "Roman" Catholic past?  And to be even handed, there is this far less humorous post from the Sydney Morning Herald

Stifled by weight of Rome's pomp, power and stubborn patriarchy

By Carol Hunt - Irish Independent - Sunday, July 31, 2011
WHAT with the Taoiseach being compared to Hitler, the Vatican throwing a hissy fit and the rest of the world enthralled at little Catholic Ireland standing up to the big boys in Rome, perhaps it's time we asked: "What would St Patrick do?"

Not the snake-slaying, shamrock-waving bishop of later invention, but the Patrick of humanity and pragmatism, with all his foibles, failings, loss of faith, love of women and bloody awful Latin.

Because, since the Taoiseach fired the first official salvo against Rome, the Irish Church seems to have been mobilising itself for a schismatic war. As Catholic commentator David Quinn noted: "It is as though we are now being asked to choose between the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Irish Catholic Church. Catholics in the past have had to make a similar choice. How will we choose?"

Bishop Willie Walsh, Fr Enda McDonagh, and the Jesuit theologian Fr Gerry O'Hanlon, among others, have advocated the idea of an Irish synod involving clergy and laity -- and, God bless us, women too -- to map out the future of the church. As O'Hanlon has noted: "It will not do any more for priests, bishops, cardinals, the Pope to simply tell us what to think, what to do. People rightly want a say." Is this heresy, or just a return to the church of our ancestors?

Well, it's probably fair to say that the idea would go down like a cup of cold sick in the Vatican. God knows what would happen if some of those more outspoken Irish clergy (like the ones who called the new translation of the missal sent from Rome "elitist" and "sexist") got together with a disillusioned, increasingly secular and very angry Irish populace. Ninety-five theses? I bet they could come up with 195. Are we about to have our own Reformation?

Well, we weren't always good Roman Catholics. Though historians no more accept the idea of a unified "Celtic Church" than they do a united Celtic people, it wasn't until the Synod of Whitby in 664, about 150 years after the death of St Patrick (who, if he was sent to "Romanise" us -- very doubtful, he was later confused with Bishop Palladius who got short shrift from the Irish -- failed miserably) that the highly individual, monastic, forgiving and relatively egalitarian Irish Church submitted somewhat to Roman law.

According to one historian: "Irish Christianity was pure, spiritual, intensely personal, dedicated only to the absolute word of God. Rome's was materialistic, tightly organised, widely social in intent, intolerantly conformist."

But after the decline of the Roman Empire, the so-called Golden Age of Irish monasticism blossomed when we modestly declared that our monks, abbots and abbesses (mixed religious communities existed) "saved civilisation". Celibacy was a choice, not a necessity, and many church offices were handed from father to son -- and even sometimes, it was rumoured, to daughter. ("How The Irish Saved Civilization" is one of my all time favorite books.)

But then came the Vikings, disorder, disruption and the implementation of Gregorian reforms. From 1111 a series of synods changed the monastic Irish Church into a parish-based system. They still weren't overfond of celibacy though, or of sending cash to Rome. And consequently the (forged?) papal bull of Pope Adrian I was used by the Angevin King Henry II as an excuse to invade Ireland.

Chronicler Gerald of Wales complained: "Of all peoples it [Irish Catholics] is the least instructed in the rudiments of the Faith. They do not pay tithes or first fruits or contract marriages. They do not avoid incest. They do not attend God's church with holy reverence."

Oh dear. Well, Gerald had a habit of exaggerating, but it can still be said quite truthfully that the official reason for the Norman invasion of Ireland was to turn us all into good Roman Catholics. Now, how ironic is that?

Did it succeed? Well yes, up to a point -- in that the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church most definitely replaced the Irish monastic one. But now that the great days of the learned monks had ended, the general mass of people never bothered with all that Roman theological stuff, preferring a mix of ancient pagan beliefs and rituals combined with an Irish style Catholicism. Celebrations at holy wells, harvest bonfires and wild Irish wakes co-existed with a soft Catholicism practised under the Penal Laws. Mass and confession weren't such a big deal for the average Irish peasant. And anyway, there were never enough priests to go around. Hanging was a pretty good deterrent to vocations.

It wasn't until after the great famine that Roman Catholic Ireland as we know it was eventually established. The old superstitions had failed to protect the people from catastrophe, and the newly emancipated, increasingly middle-class Roman Church (heavily influenced by Victorian attitudes to sexuality) was well set to step into the breach.

The "devotional revolution" commandeered by the Roman-trained Cardinal Paul Cullen revolutionised the Irish Church. The British cheerfully handed control of new schools and hospitals to the clergy -- a cynical move as they knew the threat of eternal damnation from a bishop was a most excellent deterrent against sin.

We had so many "Mammy vocations" that we began to export our religious abroad. Mass attendance increased exponentially. And national identity became inextricably linked with Roman Catholicism. So when the British finally left, the real victor was not so much the Irish people but the Roman Catholic Church.

Perhaps future historians will look back on the 20th century as an unfortunate period when the Irish replaced one foreign overlord for another, with disastrous consequences.

Perhaps the Irish clergy calling for a national synod to discuss the future of the Catholic Church will realise that whereas Ireland has given so much to Rome, Rome has given little in return -- bar contempt for our laws, our women and children and our young, struggling Republic.

There are still many Irish people who sincerely desire to maintain a spiritual, Catholic religion. Yet they are finding it impossible to do so under the weight of Roman pomp, power and stubborn patriarchy.

Yet community, spirituality and ritual are still very important to many Irish Catholics. Do Wiccans Have Hymns? asked writer Barbara Scully in a blog post last week where she articulated the innate desire of many lapsed Catholics to be members of a church that valued community, equality, spirituality, ritual and support rather than the inflexible "doctrinal truths", invented over the centuries by Rome.

She is not a "secular-atheist or pseudo-rationalist", and neither are the majority of the Roman Church's critics in Ireland and abroad. Nor are they so ignorant as to be blindly led by some imagined "hysterical anti-Catholic media agenda".

What would the humble, nomadic Patrick we know from his Confession do? Would he support the Church of Rome in its attempts to retain control of its empire? Or would he advocate a return to the simple, spiritual yet pragmatic practices of the early Irish Church?

What do you think?  (Well, since you've asked, see below.)


I think Catholicism has somewhat lost the idea of 'simple, spiritual yet pragmatic practices'.  I think if one reads the Gospels with the idea that Jesus practiced a 'simple, spiritual yet pragmatic' ministry, one has a good idea of where Catholicism should move in the future.  It should certainly move away from 'pomp, power, and stubborn patriarchy'.  Instead we are moving in the exact opposite direction with huge mega parishes, more pomp, and desperate attempts to hold onto secular power and influence.  It surely doesn't look like we will see much movement from Rome in the direction of a simpler pragmatic spirituality.  Instead we get World Youth Day, which is neither simple nor devoid of pomp.

World Youth Day will be held in Madrid in the middle of this month.  In all the press about Ireland, I think it's also important to remember that Catholicism in the other crown jewel of the Vatican--Spain, is also suffering from a serious down turn in participation and has it's own anger level directed at Rome.  The Zapatero government of Spain was taking on Rome long before Enda Kenny came on the Irish scene.  WYD is most likely being held in Spain this year so the Church can be seen flexing it's Spanish muscles as a visual reminder to the Zapatero government that Rome is still a player in Spain.  The truth is more likely that those Spanish Catholic muscles are pretty soft, and WYD will not be the steroid shot that produces any lasting effect.  Just as I doubt the 2012 Eucharistic Congress to be held in Ireland is going to save the Catholic Church from Irish civilization.

Pomp, power, and stubborn patriarchy just doesn't cut the mustard in most of the developed world.  That world has moved on.  But as Carol Hunt points out in this article, that doesn't mean the developed world has stopped needing real spirituality, or real communion, or meaningful ritual. It prefers a more simple and pragmatic form of spirituality.  Hollywood produces more than enough pomp and magic and Hogwarts sequels for the average person.  

Religious escapism isn't what most people are seeking.  They are seeking answers to serious questions that make some sense in a world being consumed with consuming,  it's resources gobbled up by fewer and fewer people.  Instead Rome offers advice from the indicted head of the Vatican Bank advising white Europeans to have more babies in order to produce more consumers in order to pay for the upkeep of the elder generations whose very existence is the reason for the current economic crisis.  I'll grant you that's a somewhat simplistic solution to our economic woes.  Have more babies.  Not consume less or regulate the out of control banking system, or figure out a way to share wealth or adjust for changing life styles,  just have more babies.  Wow. 

You go Ireland, maybe it is your destiny to save civilization from this kind of Roman thinking.



  1. Hear hear! I agree Ireland, and all of us stateside who are as equally tired of Rome's BS say hello!


  2. Hi Colleen,
    A great post much of which I agree with but the WYD in Madrid is something that has a place in my heart, I was feeling jaded and pretty much tired of the "same old " thing when I read this week of the comments made by tow of the hierarchy about it not going to eb a Woodstock event and this made me quite annoyed and I wrote a post on it but today I decided to find out more and came across some wonderful examples of young faith that really did come across well and not at all full of froth and pomp.Maybe I am jaded and cynical and the young can deal with it all in a far better way. So I posted on this too and I think that is why being a Catholic these days is so full of the frustration we have of it being something so full of potential and at the same time full of b.......t !

  3. "Bishop Willie Walsh, Fr Enda McDonagh, and the Jesuit theologian Fr Gerry O'Hanlon, among others, have advocated the idea of an Irish synod involving clergy and laity -- and, God bless us, women too -- to map out the future of the church. As O'Hanlon has noted: "It will not do any more for priests, bishops, cardinals, the Pope to simply tell us what to think, what to do. People rightly want a say." Is this heresy, or just a return to the church of our ancestors?"

    Heresy ? Not at all. It has precedents in tradition - a French writer suggested in 1309 that women should be present at Ecumenical Councils.

    It *looks like* a very big issue - but this AFAICS is almost entirely the result of the distortiung effect that fear for the status quo and for the present state of the Church'd tradition can have. The Church would be more fully Christian for being less unrepresentative & less biassed to one part of the Church; in this case, the male & clerical part. Change so often looks much more frightening than it should; as JP2 rightly said, "Do not be afraid".

    IMO this kind of reluctance owes a good deal to lack of faith; we may not be big enough to handle change - but that in no way means that God cannot. If the Church is to be hierarchical, it ought to be as far as possible a "hierarchy of love"; as Cardinal Hume entitled one of his books "A Civilisation of Love"; that is what the Church is *meant* to be. Rome used to be honoured for its charity, not resented because of its ambitious spirit.

    The Church is in such a mess that it may find that following the Good News of Jesus is its only way to survive. He cannot have intended that it should be the pyramid of power that it has come to be. Vatican II made a point of saying that the pyramidal model of the Church should be replaced by a concentric ring model.

  4. Apologies for awful spelling mistakes in my comments. I was rushing to get it done !
    Should be "two " of the hierarchy and not going to "be ".

  5. I think Irish Catholics have, since the devotional revolution, been victims of reverse psychology, a tendency to take something that is proscribed by the oppressing power (Catholicism) and obsessively, neurotically pursue it. Irish nationalism wanted the Irish people to have an identity, but they went about it by giving their identity a negative definition: we're not English. Ergo, "we're not Protestant." So, they attempted to make themselves a society that was super-Catholic, a system of government whose foundation was the values and principles of the Roman Catholic Church, and impressed upon its people the notion that if they are not Catholic, they are not really Irish.

    So, even today, citizens of the Republic of Ireland who wanted freedom from this extreme brand of Catholicism's harsh and oppressive strictures (for instance, regarding divorce or contraception), were stuck between a rock and a hard place. One Irish citizen said to me that people in Ireland rarely ever went from being Catholic to anything else, that they would identify as either practicing or not practicing, but still Catholic, because the idea of becoming a Protestant "still smacks of being a traitor."

    I think the problem rests in an inability to see that they can have an individual, national Irish identity without necessarily proclaiming themselves a singularly Catholic nation.

  6. One of my favorite books by Thomas Cahilll!!! Yes, you go Ireland!!!! Show those roman thugs what real Christianity is about!!!!

    F. O'Connor

  7. Phil I'm not surprised there are some smaller more intense spiritual happenings, but I guarantee Pope Benedict's Mass will be a huge pomp and ceremony event with lots of Catholic hierarchy. EWTN will show it and once again I will be counting the Cardinals and assorted archbishops who fall asleep during the long tedious event. They must also have very good bladders or..something.

    Rat: If Jesus intended a pyramid type structure his immediate followers didn't follow it. Peter couldn't even assert himself over James and Andrew and even Paul, who wasn't an immediate witness took all three of them on and won.
    Personally, I think Jesus was pretty specific about his desires for leadership. Servant to the servants.

    Macha: Ireland may actually be making a very important distinction and one I think gets lost in translation. I don't think Ireland is rejecting Catholicism so much as they are rejecting official Catholic leadership. It's a big difference, and it's why so many of us don't jump ship and change denominations. It's not about rejecting Catholicism per se, it's about rejecting a self serving narcissistic misogynistic leadership.

  8. I went over to the Clerical Whispers column that Colleen linked. Can anyone tell me what exactly was meant by this?

    "“Not to mention the factor of the changing concept of employment, which had been stable until some time ago.” "

    Exactly what concept of employment has changed? This sentence just makes no sense to me whatsoever. I can think of a lot of 'concepts of employment' but none of them have changed in any real sense of which I am aware. 'Work' is still a 4-letter word. ;)

    The Vatican seems to think that if we laity would just go ahead and have more children, we will work harder to make things better for the children. They can trust providence all they want, but the laity is beginning to see the futility of this assertion. There are only so many resources with which to sustain the human population. Can we make the use of resource more efficient? Probably. But that doesn't undo the ultimate limitation of the resources. It seems to me that this 'must have more children' is just another method by which to reduce human beings to mere cogs in the machinery. What exactly is the point of that?

    And still the Catholic hierarchy insists on imposing and enforcing its own worldview on others at the expense of others - be those others Catholic or not. Witness the current uproar over requiring birth control to be covered by health insurance in the US as preventative medicine. Just because it is covered doesn't force ANYBODY to actually use it. Although most US women do at some point in their lives.

  9. That piece from the Irish Times was one of the clearest, most concise and illuminative summaries of the Catholic Church in Ireland and Rome. Just as Ireland did save civilization--and the Church--during the Dark Ages, it may well fall to Ireland to save the Church again. Rome will never acquiesce to a synod. Even though canon law specifically calls for regular synods on diocesan and national levels they are rarely held anywhere that I know. We all know what they're not. But the People of God make their own faith in spite of the Roman Caste.

    As a high school theology teacher, I completely concur that young people do not reject the justice and spiritual riches of the Roman Catholic tradition. Catholic sexual theology is considered absurd, and what a shame, that so many feel they need to leave the Church since they cannot accept a part of the faith is not the central facet. It is the Church's sacramental signs and symbols that are at the heart of Catholicism along with a profound sense of mysticism.

  10. Kevin, I know exactly what you mean. I can't begin to count the young Catholics I have talked to or worked with who are desperate for real spiritual leadership, have a great feel for the Sacramental Church but have no idea where the hierarchy is coming from and why sex is the end all and be all.

    Come to think of it, it's not just Catholic kids.

  11. Here is an interesting article about what "good Priests" in Ireland are saying:

  12. There is no real spiritual leadership now. I followed this blog for a long time and it is not a mystic that writes here. You are big fake!

  13. Anon, When I see personal attacks such as yours, that have no bases what so ever in fact, I ask myself why? Somehow this blog touches you as you continue to watch it. If you can bring facts and reason for what you say we will discuss them with you. There are some who have come here with factoids and some partial truths that have in the end just attacked the personhood one person or another on this board. I think such attacks are made because the attacker brings no sense of reasonable understanding and is left with hate, anger and envy. I do not know who you are or why you have such emotion against Colleen and others on this board, but it only shows a deep hurt inside you, a hurt that is very primitive and perhaps if you could learn from where that is coming you might be able to grow and develop a more full sense of your own self.

  14. Thanks Dennis, I really appreciate your support and I also know I have hurt other people because I am not the standard mystic they need. I am not Padre Pio, although I have done Padre Pio things. I do not seek acceptance nor do I promote that aspect of myself.

    There are more than enough 'sages on the stage' for those who need that kind of thing. It has really made me very sad to read the pain in the comments from those who follow Catholic sages such as Corpai, Eutenuer, and Maciel. I have zero desire to follow in their footsteps. But..... I will also admit, I have not really used this blog as well as I could have to teach the things I have learned.

    I thought about this comment from anon for a long time today. I really am what I say I am, but finding the words is really difficult because it's not an easy path. There are no easy solutions. It starts with fear and hopefully ends in love. I will have more about this in my next post.

  15. Colleen,

    I do not think I am a mystic, but as your words come, I will be happy to lsiten and grow as I may. dennis

  16. I read this today and thought it might fit here:

    "A diverse team helps make enchantment last, because people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and skills keep a cause fresh and relevant. By contrast, when a naked emperor runs a kingdom of sycophants and clones, the cause moves toward mediocrity." -- Guy Kawasaki, Enchantment