Ireland’s Catholic Collapse
I’m off to Spain next week for a book tour, and will be stopping off in Dublin on the way home to give a Benedict Option lecture in Dublin, on January 21 (see here for details). I don’t usually give a stump speech in these talks; rather, I try to tailor my talks to local circumstances. Unfortunately, in non-English speaking countries, I can only talk for half the time I usually do, as I have to be translated. And, the Benedict Option ideas are new for a lot of people, so I have to go over the basics.
I don’t think it’s going to be like that in Ireland — and not simply because of the language advantage. A lot of Irish folks have been reading my blog for a while now. And, more to the point, Irish Catholics are facing the conditions I write about in The Benedict Option in a sudden, traumatic way.
One of my Irish hosts e-mailed this column from an Irish Examiner columnist named Gerard Howlin, reflecting on the cultural meaning of abortion, which is now legal in Ireland. I urge you to read it, and to reflect on the profundity of what Howlin has to say. In case you missed it, abortion became legal in Ireland on New Year’s Day. My host told me that this would be a good backgrounder for what I’ll find in Dublin. Excerpts from Howlin’s essay:
In Catholic Ireland, nearly everyone practised a religion that, there is reason to suspect, almost no-one really believed in.
In shifting our identity, abortion is comparable to the loss of the Irish language after the Famine, and to the rejection of organised religion, as prescribed the Catholic Church, over the past 40 years.
I can’t think of another instance, in so short a time, when pillars of identity as fundamental as language and religion were as completely cast aside. Ireland is as defined now by what it walked away from as what it stands for.
Howlin hearkens back to the massive, million-plus gathering in Dublin for Pope John Paul II’s mass:
Measuring the distance travelled since 1979, what seemed then the greatest triumph, a monster meeting in the Phoenix Park, to outdo all the Liberator’s meetings combined, was actually the moment it was already over.
So busy were they running vast organisations that not just overlapped the State but outbid it, it is understandable that the clergy had so little time for religion.
Bishops were local chieftains. They were, in so far as there was one, the only social project in existence. It was a project, which for so long as it suited, enjoyed the support of the vast majority.
Legal abortion is the continuation of that same system, by other means, in other hands. Apparently, it’s the morals that matter. Actually, what really counts is who gets to tell you what they are.
Soon, perhaps in little more than a decade, what we call the church will no longer be here to kick around.
Catholicism will continue, but the panoply of the institution will collapse within a decade, under the demographic pressure of an aging clergy.
The parish system, indelible with our sense of place, since it was established in the latter half of the 19th century, will simply disappear. The kicking-out from under the roof of a pillar whose foundations are already crumbling will leave a bigger void than indifference to closed churches.
Read the whole thing. Howlin despairs that the post-Christian Irish will have anything with which to replace the Church.
For those Irish who remain Catholic, they are going to have to develop a new way of being Christian, one that can thrive in the ruins of the old. That’s what I’m going to talk about in Dublin. I believe that as in continental Europe, over the rest of my lifetime American Catholics (and other Christians) are going to have a lot to learn from our European brothers and sisters on how to be faithful in a time of mass apostasy.
It’s a hell of a thing to contemplate: how a country goes in 40 years from over a million Catholics rallying in a Dublin park for Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope — one-third of the nation’s population, the equivalent of 110 million Americans — to the collapse of the Church and the popular acceptance of legal abortion. Forty years! Everything that is solid melts into thin air…