You're Right about Rome, Enda. but Do We Want to Remove ALL Religion from Our Society?

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

You're Right about Rome, Enda. but Do We Want to Remove ALL Religion from Our Society?


Byline: John Waters

I WAS in Limerick on Thursday launching a book by Bishop Donal Murray about the challenge of renewing Irish Christianity. It was like walking behind a curtain into a different Ireland than the one I hear about on the radio every day. Here, among people who care deeply about the condition and future of Irish Catholicism, one finds a more nuanced response to present controversies than is to be picked up in the general conversation.

Such people I find, are at least as dismayed and troubled by the clerical abuse scandals as anyone else, but they understand that this crisis goes much deeper. They know that it is not merely a crisis of Catholicism, still less one of the institutional Church, but a crisis of culture, in which the stakes are as high as they could possibly be.

Going around the room before speaking, I encountered, unsolicited, a variety of attitudes to the Cloyne report, and the responses it has provoked. Views were as mixed as they might have been anywhere, but more intensely so, probably because most of those present were priests, nuns and active lay-people with a life commitment to a faith which for them is at the centre of reality.

Some of those present were jubilant at the clarity of the remarks by both Enda Kenny and Diarmuid Martin. There was a palpable sense of relief that at last Ireland had sent out to the world a clear message reflecting the gravity of the crisis confronting the Catholic faith here. More than once, people spoke approvingly about that reference by the Archbishop of Dublin to a 'cabal' in the Vatican. It might surprise people to learn that there are priests who cheer at such statements, but in my experience many of them cheer more loudly than anyone else.

ON THE other hand, I picked up that some people felt Enda Kenny had gone over the top in his remarks about the Pope, and had been at least disingenuous in accusing the Church of failing to uphold child-protection standards that the Irish State has itself refused to enshrine in law.

Personally, I welcomed the tone of Enda's speech while feeling that it contained too many evasions and half-truths to be the epoch-making moment it has been feted as.

Two years ago, in this column, I called for the resignation of Bishop John Magee. Many times in the past few years, I have found myself in conflict with Catholic voices, particularly outside Ireland, who sought to suggest that the clerical abuse controversy was being exaggerated for political reasons. Invariably, I assured them that the evils perpetrated in this country under cover of the collar can scarcely be exaggerated.

Listening to more stories of institutional victims on Liveline during the week, I was stuck once again by the sense that what we are contemplating here is the legacy of a profoundly warped society. Much of that warping, let there be no doubt, was inflicted by a twisted form of Catholicism, but it was not then, and is not now, a religious problem. It was a disease born of power-lusting and damaged humanity and infected everything in this society, Church and State.

The litany of the guilty must also include the names of judges who cast children into abusive institutions, and the succession of political cabals who nurtured a sick culture of deference towards both Drumcondra and Rome. The most welcome aspect of Enda's speech is that it signals an end to all that.

There is, though another level to all this, which is rarely if ever reached because of the objectives and agendas which often infect media treatment of these subjects. On national radio and television, for example, discussion of these matters is almost invariably conducted among the smallest imaginable range of contributors, mainly people violently opposed to Catholicism per se.

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You're Right about Rome, Enda. but Do We Want to Remove ALL Religion from Our Society?
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