Friday, December 2, 2011

Hello, The Building Is on Fire, Anyone Noticing?

Quin Abbey in County Clare--a fitting symbol of the
fact that The Irish Church is in ruins, but this time
because of its own abuses of power.  Will the American
Church be far behind?
One gets into the most fascinating conversations here in Rome.  A Vatican friend of mine was discussing his hopes that the new Nuncio to Dublin, the American Archbishop-designate Charles Brown (Charlie Brown? An Archbishop’s name?  amusing) would be able to smooth things out a bit with the strained Dublin-Vatican relations.  Ireland recently closed its embassy to the Holy See.  While the reasons given were “cost cutting,” observers could not but note the diplomatic crisis that had led the Vatican to recall its ambassador several week earlier.  Moreover the Irish government has apparently said that it will not issue a formal invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to attend next year’s Eucharistic Congress in Dublin and that if the Holy Father wished to come he could do so “as a private citizen.”  Who would have foreseen such a turn of events that once Catholic Ireland would turn on the papacy?  Well, Daniel O’Connell for one who in the 19th century, when the Holy See was supportive of British colonial policy towards Ireland, warned that “Ireland will always be Catholic but may not always be Roman.”  But even O’Connell could not have—nor would have wished to have—foreseen the day when the Irish all but gave up their faith.  This “national apostasy” is not about the sex-abuse crisis—that is just the “frosting on the cake.”  This is the result of a long tradition of the Irish clergy trying to exercise power and control over public life.  The Irish have long resented clerical interference in their lives.    During the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century many of the Irish clergy, and especially the friar orders, were very supportive of the Irish people in their struggles to free themselves from colonialism but the episcopacy and prominent secular clergy invariably favored the British upper classes.  Once Ireland won its independence from Britain, (1921 or 1949, depending on one’s (Irish) political views), the Catholic Church dominated public life to the point where the Irish Constitution prohibited not only divorce but even contraception.  These sectarian features were done away with in the 1970’s but the clergy continued to exercise undue influence in the most minute of local matters such as the appointment of village school masters or the opening and closing of pubs.  Clerical interference in secular matters built up a huge sea of resentment towards the institutional Church.  The situation of the Church in Ireland now is desperate with very few vocations and rapidly dropping Mass attendance.  This is not just a Catholic problem however as attendance at Church of Ireland parishes, and Methodist and Presbyterian chapels is no better.  The issue is secularization, a disillusionment with religion.  You may recall from my posting this past Tuesday about the gentleman on the plane and his not wanting his children to be exposed to religion which he saw as a negative force in society.  And there are reasons why people have such strong feelings on this matter; it may be worth our while as Catholics to look at those reasons and examine our collective conscience. 
       Speaking of secularization, another tidbit that got dropped this afternoon from a Dutch friend of mine is that Dutch dictionaries no longer carry “Catholic” words such as tabernacle, thurible, miter, font, or confessional.  This is perhaps even more alarming as it represents a clear pushing of religion to the margins of society when you take its vocabulary out of public use.  It is hard to believe here in Rome with a church on every corner and votive shrines in the alleys between but secularization is fast overtaking European society—and America is not long behind.    Wise church leadership would look at the reasons and forces that are pushing religion out of the public square and do something about it, but then a Church as fractured as the American Church has allowed itself to become is having its energy drained by internal squabbles and is in no shape to face external crises.  Que peccato as they say here in Roma. 

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