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Elegy For Catholic Ireland

The faith is dying there, and Churchmen helped to kill it. But has Ireland improved, or just rearranged the evil?
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In First Things, John Duggan writes a heavy, sad, but insightful review of a new book about the collapse of Catholicism in Ireland. Here’s how it begins:

Ireland nowadays seems filled with people who are content to ignore, forget, or step around what’s left of Catholicism, including the actual church buildings themselves. Don’t be fooled by the shaky residual attachment to things like First Holy Communion. As I write, almost uniquely in Europe under COVID, Ireland has made offering or attending Mass a criminal offense. Even outdoor confession is illegal. This is the true measure of how things stand.

Good God. In the video from which I took the screenshot above, the narrator says that the sex shop is open on Easter, but churches are closed. “This is the degenerate country we live in now,” she adds. More:

Scally goes on to burrow into some of the most notorious scandals, abuses, and cover-ups that triggered the implosion. He shows how victims, before they were abandoned to their anguish, were first rendered helpless and voiceless as the power of the few coalesced with the docility of the many. And he widens the lens away from just victims, perpetrators, and complicit superiors to those one might call the bystanders—everybody else, more or less. Scally’s reflections on the shifting burdens of shame and guilt are subtle and persistent. He speculates on whether habits of deferring to authority, or looking the other way, or avoiding too much fuss, are still at large in post-Catholic Ireland, in how the legacy of old scandals and the eruption of new ones are handled.

I know little to nothing about the sex abuse scandal in Ireland, but I do appreciate very much that Scally indicts the bystanders. This is one of the more appalling, but underreported, aspects of the abuse scandal in the US Catholic Church (and not just among Catholics, I hasten to say): how ordinary pewsitters far too often turned a blind eye to what they had reason to know was going on, because facing the truth would be too painful for them. I think of the broken older man I used to know in New York, in recovery from a life of alcoholism and debauchery, who was (he claimed) anally raped by the monsignor who was the principal of his Catholic school in Queens. When he told his working-class Irish Catholic mother about it, she slapped him and told him never to speak ill of a priest. He was twelve years old, and became the monsignor’s whore.

This is very good:

Casting a cold eye over the deeper past, Scally provides an excellent analysis of the ways in which Ireland’s calamitous nineteenth century provided the impetus for Church and people to embrace a form of moral perfectionism: it seemed the country’s best stay against returning to the abyss. A new Catholic Ireland, emancipated but highly disciplined, in possession of both the land and a watertight moral code, would never again succumb to squalor.

I finished this chapter confirmed in things I have long believed. The Irish Church provided a precious gateway to the transcendent. However, it often enforced a severe price of entry in terms of behavior and compliance—a price that many could not or would not pay, and that others only pretended to (itself a recipe for all kinds of nasty pathologies). Irish Catholicism was unable to find its way to being both orthodox and humane, both popular and intellectual; to both engaging and withstanding modernity.

This is the challenge for communities formed to live out some form of the Benedict Option, of course: to find their way to being both orthodox and humane.

Read it all. I cannot imagine wanting to return to a world in which moral certainty and the emotional and psychological comforts of religion were bought with the lives of sex abuse victims and silence enforced by communal agreement. Those days are gone, and I’m glad of it. However, look around you. Seriously, look around you at this degenerate society we have become. It seems that we have not gotten better, we have only, at best, rearranged the evil … and have jettisoned the one thing (religion) that could have helped us find our way back to sanity.