Byline: by Dave Hannigan
EARLIER this year, a man who had been sexually abused by a priest went to meet Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The individual was apoplectic at the childhood suffering inflicted on him by a member of the Church and the subsequent reaction of the clerical authorities to these horrendous crimes.
Predictably, he told Martin that he had come to detest the institution and would have nothing to do with it for the rest of his life.
Then, at the very end of the conversation, he thanked the Catholic prelate for hearing him out and said: 'I believe you will be confirming my little lad later this month.'
In that vignette, we have neatly encapsulated the bizarre, almost schizophrenic attitude most Irish Catholics have towards the sacraments.
All over the country during the months of March, April and May, families are in a tizzy about First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies.
Expensive outfits are being bought, restaurant rooms booked and, in some hideous cases, stretch limos and horse-drawn carriages lined up as modes of transport.
In a country where significantly less than half of all Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis, a lot of houses where nobody ever goes to church are spending a lot of money they don't have on a religion they have little time for.
'For many,' said Archbishop Martin recently, 'the sacraments are the social events of a civil religion rather than celebrations of the Church.'
Even an atheist could agree with Martin on that score. That he made this comment while freely admitting just 5 per cent of Catholics in certain parishes in his own diocese attend Mass every Sunday lends it added credibility.
The enormous disparity between the numbers participating in the Communion and Confirmation rituals each spring and the sparsely populated churches every weekend illustrates just how popular a rather ridiculous brand of a la carte Catholicism has become in 21st century Ireland.
People don't have the courage to rear their children outside the faith, don't have the faith to rear them as proper Mass-going Catholics, and yet still want to enjoy a couple of excuses to throw serious shindigs. It doesn't have to be this way.
There's an easy alternative available that would improve the long-term health of the Catholic Church, appease those who wish to remove religious control from the vast majority of the country's schools, and take the sacraments back from the party planners.
THE teaching of Catholic doctrine should be given over exclusively to the churches and be conducted totally outside school hours.
This would end the monopoly position the religion has enjoyed in the classroom since the foundation of the State, force parents to face up to their own ambivalence towards the faith in which they were reared, and give teachers more time to devote to academic rather than spiritual counselling.
I know this is an option because this is the situation facing American Catholics whose children are in state schools, secular institutions where the teaching of any religion is strictly prohibited.
When my son turned six, we received a letter from the church where he was baptised here in New York, inviting us to enrol him in a weekly class so that he could make his Communion two years later.
The programme involved bringing him to the church for one hour of religious education be-fore school every Monday morning. It doesn't sound like much but in a country where the yellow bus picks every child up at the bottom of his or her street and magically ferries them off to class, demanding that parents drive anywhere before 8am is a big ask.
Although this is a question of much more than traffic, the scheduling alone makes you think long and hard about whether you want to bother with religion at all.
As a typically collapsed Catholic of my generation, I had to give it some serious thought. …