A Church in Crisis

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 3 (Autumn 2000), Volume 8

A section of the 1.2 to 1.3 million people who greeted Pope John Paul II in Dublin's Phoenix Park, 1979-despite appearances the Irish Catholic church was already in trouble. (Irish Times)

A section of the 1.2 to 1.3 million people who greeted Pope John Paul II in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, 1979-despite appearances the Irish Catholic church was already in trouble. (Irish Times)

When Pope John Paul II made his famous visit to Ireland in 1979, it must have looked to the outside world as if the words ‘Irish’ and ‘Catholic’ still belonged easily together, as they had for centuries. Semper fidelis was the phrase confidently pronounced by the pope just before he departed from Shannon airport. As many as 2.7 million people were estimated to have turned out to greet and worship with the pope at one or another of the major venues of his visit, including the enormous throng of 1.2 or 1.3 million in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. This estimated total of 2.7 million represented more than half the people then living on the island of Ireland. Appearances, however, were highly deceiving. Already in 1979, after roughly two decades of rapid economic growth, openness to the outside world, and fairly sweeping cultural change, the Catholic church in Ireland was in serious trouble. The indications of its malaise included the steep fall in religious vocations, the worrisome decline in Mass attendance among adolescents and young adults, and a dramatic loss of moral credibility owing to its rigid stance on artificial contraception. Indeed, the openly acknowledged purpose of the Irish hierarchy in inviting John Paul to Ireland was largely that of halting or at least slowing the damaging inroads of materialism and secularism on the attachment of Catholics to their ancient faith. But apart from conferring certain limited short-term benefits, the papal visit did not in fact better equip the Catholic church in Ireland to deal effectively with its challenges and problems.

The challenge of Vatican II

Among the more difficult challenges at the outset of this period was that of how Irish Catholics and their leaders would respond to the far-reaching alterations in liturgy, theology, church governance, and ecumenism promoted by the Second Vatican Council (1962-5). The prospects for a successful renewal of Catholic religious life in Ireland along Vatican II lines were quite unpromising, given the history of this church since 1850. Prior to Vatican II the Irish Catholic church was rigidly authoritarian in its governance, Manichaean in its general approach to the modern world, conversionist in its stance towards Protestants and the Protestant churches, heavily Marian in its devotional emphasis, devoid of a scriptural tradition in either scholarship or popular piety, and strongly inclined to privilege ‘externalism’ in religious practice over interior spirituality. In all of these areas Vatican II pulled strongly in the opposite direction, insisting on a major role for the laity in church governance, finding much good in the modern world, encouraging respectful dialogue with other churches and common effort towards Christian unity, focusing devotion much more on Christ than on Mary, stressing the importance of interior spirituality, and grounding both theology and popular piety in the scriptures.
Against the odds, however, Irish Catholicism did accommodate itself to some of the injunctions of Vatican II, though in other areas the response was incomplete or sadly deficient. Liturgical reformers had relatively little about which to complain. Writing in 1985, the broadcaster and cultural commentator Seán Mac Réamoinn could declare expansively, ‘On the face of it, liturgical renewal has been the success story of Vatican II in Ireland’. From the beginning, Mass in the vernaculars (English and Irish) was thoroughly accepted. Mass attendance rates remained remarkably high overall (well above 80 per cent), especially in comparison with the rest of Europe. In addition, the participation of Mass-goers in the liturgy was generally much better than in the pre-council era. As Mac Réamoinn observed, ‘the days of the silent congregation are numbered, if not over, and the people’s voice is heard, even—mirabile dictu—in song!’ Common all over the country by 1985 were lay scripture readers, lay ministers of the eucharist, and communion in the hand.
If liturgical renewal inspired by Vatican II was generally a success in Ireland, change came much more slowly and hesitantly in other spheres. The lay role in church governance has certainly expanded, but more in form than in reality. Surveying this scene in 1985, Kevin O’Kelly, the RTE religious affairs correspondent, concluded pessimistically:

There are many parish councils, but no evidence that any significant number have been given decisive powers in matters of importance. The national council of the laity has not been asked to make decisions of consequence. There has never been a national pastoral council, though there have been innumerable bishops’ pastorals.

Changes since 1985 in these respects have been unimpressive. Priests as well as laity have found it difficult to express their collective voice in effective ways, as the bishops have been reluctant to relax their authoritarian control.

No ecumenical revolution

The burden of the past has continued to weigh heavily not only on communication between different elements within the Irish Catholic church but also on inter-faith relations. It has been said by the Irish theologians Gabriel Daly and Alan Falconer (Daly is an Augustinian priest, Falconer a Presbyterian minister) that in the matter of ecumenism Vatican II ‘was less a reform than a revolution’. No ecumenical revolution, however, has come to Ireland. Admittedly, in certain elementary respects there has been striking change since the mid-1960s. As Daly and Falconer declared in 1985

Relations between the churches in Ireland will never again revert to a pre-conciliar situation, and an immense amount of positive worth in the restoration of relationships has been achieved in the past twenty years.

But ecumenical activity in the first twenty years after Vatican II was too often restricted to rarefied theological discussion and rarely extended to co-operation on such critical social issues as unemployment, housing and education. Nor was there much inter-faith activity at the congregational level.

Decline of Marianism

Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 1959-within a decade Marianism had been dethroned. (Paddy Fahy, Brent Archive)

Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, May 1959-within a decade Marianism had been dethroned. (Paddy Fahy, Brent Archive)

Relations with the Protestant churches in Ireland should have been greatly eased by the dethronement of Marianism in this period from its central place in Irish Catholicism. This major devotional change, stemming partly from Vatican II and partly from cultural developments within Ireland, began in the 1960s with what traditionalists regarded as the near collapse of the rosary devotion, particularly the praying of the family rosary. Other Marian devotions also went into gradual eclipse, including those of the Brown Scapular and Miraculous Medal. Strongly favoured by Lourdes and Fatima enthusiasts both before and after Vatican II, these particular devotions had once been very widespread throughout Catholic Ireland, but by the late 1960s they were distinctly on the wane, along with such traditional rituals as Marian processions and household altars in the month of May.
The receding of the Marian wave in Irish Catholicism was also reflected in the decline of its flagship institutions—the Legion of Mary and Our Lady’s Sodality. A steep fall in membership overtook the Legion in the 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s. By the end of 1995 total Legion membership in Ireland had declined to only a little more than 8,000, or less than one-third of the corresponding figure three decades earlier. The fall was much sharper in the case of junior members, reflecting the Legion’s increasing difficulty in attracting young people to its ranks. The adverse consequences of rapid economic, cultural, and religious change were even worse for that other great Marian institution, the Jesuit-led Sodality of Our Lady. In 1958 there were as many as 823 local sodalities of this organisation in Ireland, with more than 250,000 members, making it second only to the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in size among Catholic lay bodies.
Responding to the call for religious renewal stemming from Vatican II, and as a direct result of the 1967 Rome congress of the World Federation of Marian Congregations, Irish Jesuits attempted in the late 1960s and the 1970s to transform the old-style Sodalities of Our Lady into so-called Christian Life Communities (CLCs). These were to have a distinctly Christological focus, with a spirituality based on retreats and grounded in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius Loyola. This Jesuit effort, however, was an abysmal failure. Marian sodalists overwhelmingly refused to embrace this kind of renewal and either drifted away or were demobilised. A national survey carried out early in 1975 indicated that ‘there were approximately 82 sodalities in existence’—barely one-tenth of the number (823) operating in 1958. Even the relatively small number of Marian sodalities that converted themselves into CLCs in the 1970s faded during the 1980s.
Though Irish Marianism has been progressively marginalised since the 1960s, ardent Marianists have by no means disappeared or been silenced. They have identified themselves with a variety of Catholic traditionalist organisations, including the Public Rosary Movement, the Apostolate of Our Lady of Fatima, and Padre Pio and Medjugorje prayer groups. Members of these primarily religious Marian organisations have also been active politically during the last three decades over the issues of contraception, abortion, divorce, and the rights of homosexuals. Though politically active Marianists and other Catholic traditionalists have scored several notable victories, adding a pro-life amendment to the constitution in 1983 and defeating a divorce referendum in 1986, Irish laws relating to sexual morality have been comprehensively overhauled and liberalised since the late 1970s. In these political battles the Irish Catholic hierarchy and lay traditionalists (Marianists above all) have generally been aligned with one another. An outspoken Irish Redemptorist priest, Fr Tony Flannery, has recently declared that the Catholic church in Ireland ‘has suffered greatly by allowing itself to be hijacked by [traditionalist] lobby groups that have grown up around the issues of abortion and divorce’.

Humanae Vitae

Although ‘hijacked’ is perhaps not the right word, there can hardly be any doubt that the Catholic church in Ireland has lost much of its once great moral authority by its persistent mishandling of issues connected to sexual behaviour and morality. In retrospect it can fairly be said that Irish bishops and many priests seriously misjudged how they should respond to Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s notorious encyclical of July 1968 imposing an absolute ban on all forms of artificial contraception. On this issue the Irish bishops ‘held totally to the strictest version of the Vatican line, without any deviation’. Open, public dissent from priests was simply not tolerated. Unlike episcopal conferences in many other countries, the Irish bishops never issued any ‘pastoral guidelines on the issue that would have given priests some flexibility in their dealings with the question in confession’.

Eamonn Casey at the Galwaymen's Association dinner at the Camden Irish Centre, London, 1969-his subsequent fall from grace was all the more painful because of his positive reputation as an activist bishop. (Paddy Fahy, Brent Archive)

Eamonn Casey at the Galwaymen’s Association dinner at the Camden Irish Centre, London, 1969-his subsequent fall from grace was all the more painful because of his positive reputation as an activist bishop. (Paddy Fahy, Brent Archive)

Gradually, understanding priests and anxious penitents worked out their own moral solutions. ‘Liberal’ priests would advise penitents torn between the fear of pregnancy and the fear of hell that in reaching a moral judgement on whether or not to use artificial contraceptives, they needed to take into account all of their own personal circumstances, which might well justify departing from the blanket prohibition of Humanae Vitae. But such adjustments occurred only after much painful experience. Fr Flannery ruefully recalled in 1999 how he and his clerical colleagues had ‘spent endless hours in countless confession boxes listening to married people, almost invariably women, explaining their circumstances to us and asking our opinion’. As this honest priest readily conceded, that was a rather incongruous position for male celibates—ill-informed about married life and about women—to be in.
Many seasoned observers of contemporary Ireland believe that rigid adherence to the Vatican line on birth control by the Irish hierarchy and numerous priests irreparably weakened the moral authority of the institutional church. Writing in the Irish Times, the former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald sweepingly insisted that ‘the institutional church lost virtually all moral credibility with the great majority of people…by its insistence on elevating the issue of the possible impact of contraception on sexual mores to the level of an absolute that must take precedence over all other considerations—including the maintenance of normal relationships by many married couples, and in extreme cases the safety of a wife’s life’. FitzGerald pinpointed an especially potent source of the general clerical loss of credibility in all areas of moral teaching. This was the appearance of clerical hypocrisy that resulted when priests who recognised the absolute ban on artificial contraception to be morally invalid nevertheless pretended to accept the rigid rule laid down in Humanae Vitae.

Clerical sex scandals

Even if the contention is accepted that the Irish Catholic church as an institution had already forfeited most of its moral authority long before its standing was depressed even further by the scandals of the 1990s, no honest account of the contemporary church could pass over these scandals in silence. The decade just closed has exposed the church and its religious personnel to an avalanche of scandals, and though defenders of the church are certainly correct in pointing out that only a small fraction of Irish priests, brothers and nuns have been guilty of crimes or serious misconduct, the significance and impact of the scandals cannot be gauged by numbers alone. Other issues, especially betrayal of trust, absence of accountability, and the exercise of deception in various forms, have come to dominate the way in which the media have presented these scandals and ordinary people have understood them. Though the scandals have been of different kinds, sex has been the common thread running through virtually all of them. Though unrepresentative and in most respects the least troubling, the 1992 sex scandal centring on Bishop Eamonn Casey of Galway riveted the country. The Irish Times disclosed that almost two decades earlier, when he was Bishop of Kerry, Casey had fathered a son by Annie Murphy, an American woman seeking refuge in Ireland from a broken marriage, and that he had used diocesan funds to make payments to her. In human terms Casey came off badly as the scandal unfolded, not so much because of his repeated violations of his priestly vow of celibacy but because of other deeds or omissions: his indecent pressure on Annie Murphy to give up the child for adoption;  his failure to develop any significant relationship with the son whom he had fathered, and the deceptions which he had practised to keep what had happened from disclosure, including the diversion of diocesan funds. Bishop Casey’s fall from grace was all the more painful and damaging to the institutional church because he had seemed to embody the most modern and attractive features of its multivalent modern face. He had built his considerable national reputation as an effective proponent of welfare centres for the emigrant Irish in Britain, as an outspoken leader of Trócaire, the agency of the Irish episcopal conference for Third World development, and as an activist bishop with a strong interest in expanding social services for all age groups. The scandal underscored for Irish Catholics how difficult was the priestly vow of celibacy, and it was a lot harder in 1992 than when Casey broke it in the early 1970s.
Hypocrisy, a deadly cardinal sin in the court of public opinion, was a relatively minor note in the Bishop Eamonn Casey affair, but it was the dominant feature of the scandal of 1994-5 surrounding the name of Fr Michael Cleary. About a year after his death in December 1993, it was revealed that Cleary had long had a common-law wife, his ‘housekeeper’, Phyllis Hamilton, and that with her he had fathered two children. What gave this sordid revelation its potency and capacity for much wider damage was Fr Cleary’s status as ‘Ireland’s most famous Catholic priest’—a media personality and a notorious defender of Catholic traditional values, especially in the sexual realm. Long in the public eye, he had held a string of media positions, writing a regular column in the Sunday Independent for five years, followed by another column in the Star, and as presenter of a phone-in radio show on 98FM that ran for an hour five nights a week over a period of four years. Though Cleary delighted traditionalists with his vehement advocacy of ‘the official line on contraception and on Catholic church teaching on sexuality generally’, he infuriated ‘liberals’ and non-believers as much by his tone and style as by his message. Among Cleary’s traditionalist utterances was this declaration: ‘The church can alter certain regulations and laws that it makes itself, but it can’t change the laws of God. We give the maker’s instructions and we can’t bend them—they’re not ours to bend.’ But bending the rules was the very essence of Cleary’s secret life, as virtually every Irish adult and adolescent learned some six months after his death.
In between the Casey and Cleary scandals the case of Fr Brendan Smyth, a Norbertine priest, broke into the headlines in the autumn of 1994 after he was convicted in a Belfast court of sexually abusing children. A television documentary, ‘Suffer Little Children’ (broadcast in October 1994), disclosed that Fr Smyth had an appalling record of paedophilia in the United States, Britain, and Ireland stretching back to the 1950s. His grievous misconduct was known to his order and to diocesan authorities. As the distinguished journalist Fintan O’Toole has observed, ‘Each time he was sent to a parish, whispers of scandal would begin to emerge. Each time he would be sent back to Ireland and then posted off to another parish.’ In this case, and in the many other cases of clerical paedophilia which sprang into the harsh light of day earlier and later, critics declared that the church authorities had habitually shielded the perpetrators or covered up their heinous misdeeds.

Fr. Michael Cleary-his secret family life was at variance with his very public defence of traditional Catholic values. (Irish Times)

Fr. Michael Cleary-his secret family life was at variance with his very public defence of traditional Catholic values. (Irish Times)

Such charges were only partly true, for bishops and religious superiors often administered warnings to proven or suspected offenders or required them to undergo medical treatment. But all too frequently, what the church authorities did not do was to take steps to ensure that paedophile priests and brothers were restrained from resuming contact with children. As scores of victims of sexual abuse, often years after the events, came forward to press charges, the Irish hierarchy, in consultation with priests and professional psychiatrists and psychologists, belatedly (in 1995) developed a series of pastoral guidelines to ensure that suspected criminal activity is reported to the police for investigation, and that church officials are accountable in the way that the public has come to expect. But because the bishops were slow to take decisive action, the church has paid a heavy price for its dilatory response.

Institutional abuse

Among the scandals which badly tarnished the church in the 1980s and especially the 1990s, none have been more deeply distressing than those arising from the disclosure of the sexual and physical abuse of children and adolescents in residential institutions run by religious orders, male and female. The worst abuses occurred in the years before 1970, but there have been others of a serious nature which have taken place since then. Though it may well be unfair to hold the religious orders responsible today for the offences of a small minority of their members committed three or more decades earlier, neither the surviving victims, nor the media, nor the general Irish public have been inclined toward leniency in relation to the distant or the more recent faults of the institutional church. Even before victims began to tell their stories and the media started to focus on the issue,  many people knew at least instinctively that something was wrong. But a considerable body of firsthand testimony has accumulated in recent years and revealed that both sexual and physical abuse were much more widespread and deep-seated than had previously been thought. This became indisputable with the publication in 1983, 1988, and 1991 of three books detailing abuses in three different industrial schools:  Mannix Flynn’s Nothing to Say (about Letterfrack, County Galway), Paddy Doyle’s The God Squad, and Patrick Touher’s Fear of the Collar (about Artane in Dublin).
A far greater impact, however, was made by Mary Raftery’s television documentary series ‘States of Fear’, which RTE broadcast in late April and early May 1999. For their thoroughly researched set of programmes the editors of this powerful series mined the files of the Department of Education, which exercised supervisory authority in this sphere after 1921, and interviewed more than a hundred people who had come through the industrial school system, which at its peak embraced fifty-two such schools with almost 7,000 inmates. Although the system was abolished in the 1970s following the publication in 1971 of the damning Kennedy report, Mary Raftery estimated in April 1999 that there were as many as 40,000 people still alive who had been inmates of the system at one time or another. Sexual abuse occurred all across the system. ‘Virtually no industrial school where there were boys over ten’, declared Raftery, ‘has not had or is not having a Garda investigation into sexual abuse, and this includes the schools for the blind, the deaf, [and] the mildly handicapped’. In absolute terms the offenders among the religious teachers and custodians were numerous. Referring to the now notorious Sister Xaviera of Goldenbridge in Dublin, Raftery insisted: ‘Every place had one, two, or three Xavieras. The brothers had hundreds’. And besides the sexual abuse there was usually serious physical deprivation (largely owing to the scantiness of the state financial provision) and often outrageous corporal punishment. The haemorrhaging of the church over this issue is likely to persist for many months, if not years. So far-reaching was the impact of ‘States of Fear’ that even before the last instalment of the series was broadcast on 11 May 1999, the government announced a package of measures to deal with the sexual abuse of children.

Decline in Mass attendance

There is some reason, however, for guarding against exaggeration in assessing the consequences of all this for the institutional church. Deeply worried that the scandals might be inflicting heavy damage on the church, the Irish episcopal conference authorised the conduct of an independent survey of religious beliefs and practices among Catholics in July 1997. This survey, carried out by the firm Irish Marketing Surveys, involved 1,400 adults in the Republic of Ireland drawn from ‘a controlled, representative cross-section of the population in terms of age, sex, geographic distribution, and social class’. Most of the findings of the survey were reassuring, or at least were presented as such. In what was termed ‘something of a pleasant surprise’, 72 per cent of respondents asserted that their religious beliefs and practices had been ‘completely unaffected by various revelations which have become public since the beginning of the decade’. By wide majorities respondents indicated that their confidence in the priests of their parish and in the bishop of their diocese had remained unimpaired. As many as 63 per cent of respondents maintained that the scandals had not adversely affected their confidence in their local priests, and exactly the same percentage made an equivalent declaration about the diocesan ordinary.

‘If you can't ban it, bless it'-Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in the opening broadcast of Irish television in 1961, one of the many secularising influences of the 1960s. (RTí‰)

‘If you can’t ban it, bless it’-Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in the opening broadcast of Irish television in 1961, one of the many secularising influences of the 1960s. (RTí‰)

On the other hand, the pollsters conceded that some of their other findings gave grounds for serious concern. Slightly more than half the respondents (51 per cent) ‘felt that the church in Ireland had been permanently damaged by the recent scandals involving clergy and religious’—a proportion that might well be higher still if the same question were asked today in the wake of ‘States of Fear’. In addition, as many as ‘four in ten respondents did not believe the bishops had taken appropriate action to deal with the issue of child sex abuse by priests and religious, and only 25 per cent thought the media had dealt unfairly with the issue’.
Alarmingly, the survey also confirmed earlier evidence that Mass attendance rates began to sag badly in the 1990s, though whether or not the scandals had much to do with this development is debatable. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, in spite of the uninterrupted advance of materialism and secularism into most corners of Irish society, the general Mass attendance rate remained impressively high, especially by international standards. But a national survey carried out by Adelaide Market Research in 1992 indicated that for the first time since such data began to be collected, weekly Mass attendance had fallen to 78 per cent. Three subsequent polls, all conducted by Irish Marketing Surveys, showed that the slippage had worsened considerably. Mass attendance rates (weekly or more often) of 64, 67, and 65 per cent were recorded in 1995 and in July and September 1997 respectively. Though these figures could still be regarded as remarkably high by any other than recent Irish standards, the decline of 20 percentage points since 1990 alone (85 to 65 per cent) sounded the alarm bells among the bishops. More worrisome still was the finding that about two-thirds of the urban young aged fifteen to thirty-four no longer treated Sunday Mass as an obligation.

Decline in vocations

If the thinning of the pews was generally delayed until the 1990s, the same cannot be said of depletion in the ranks of the clergy and religious. The impact of secularisation and modern sexuality was evident in the downward spiral in the number of priests, brothers, and nuns in Ireland from the late 1960s. Altogether, since 1967 their numbers have plunged from almost 34,000 to slightly less than 20,000, or by 41 per cent. The decline has so far been quite modest for the diocesan clergy, whose numbers have fallen from just under 4,000 in 1967 to about 3,500 in 1998, or by only 11 per cent. But very much larger declines have been registered over the same period in the number of brothers (67.4 per cent), religious order priests (45.8 per cent), and sisters (41.5 per cent).
The plight of the institutional church looks even worse when viewed in terms of ordinations to the priesthood and religious vocations generally. From a peak of 412 in 1965, the annual number of ordinations to the priesthood fell to only forty-four in 1998. Between 1990 and 1998 ordinations plummeted by 66 per cent, and the decline for the diocesan clergy alone was as much as 63 per cent over that same period. In 1998 deaths (172) and departures (38) from the religious life among Irish priests, diocesan and regular, outnumbered ordinations (44) by a factor of almost five to one. Even if ordinations do not decrease any further or departures rise any higher, the situation overall will inevitably worsen owing simply to increased mortality as the Irish Catholic clerical population, starved of new recruits, continues to age. Indeed, across the entire spectrum of its personnel the Irish Catholic church is in dire straits. The present is bleak and the future is even bleaker. No statistics illustrate this better than those which record entrants into religious life. In 1966, when vocations reached a peak before turning down sharply, some 1,400 people in Ireland began formal preparation for the priesthood or the religious life. In 1998 only ninety-two  were registered for preparation to become that ever scarcer trio of figures in Ireland—a priest, a nun, or (rarest of all) a brother.

The future?

The radical contraction in personnel has largely disabled the institutional church from continuing to staff schools, hospitals, and other public services—a set of functions which constituted a major part of its power and influence prior to the 1970s. With the disappearance of ever greater numbers of its front-line troops, the church has been compelled to retreat into the management of schools and hospitals and to depend increasingly on lay women and men, who are no longer easily amenable to clerical control. Thus the last three decades have seen the institutional church transformed to the point that its political influence, its moral authority, and its practical role in Irish society have never been less in the 150 years since the Great Famine or perhaps in the 200 years since the Act of Union. It is possible that the institutional church will recover a substantial portion of this lost ground in the new millennium. The Irish Catholic church may be passing through the institutional equivalent of the dark night of the soul, with a future in which a purified church becomes a more faithful witness to the gospel.

Children outside a Dublin tenement on the feast of Corpus Christi, 1969. (National Library of Ireland)

Children outside a Dublin tenement on the feast of Corpus Christi, 1969. (National Library of Ireland)

Certainly, there are some signs of hope, some achievements on which to build—the training of significant numbers of Irish lay people in pastoral and catechetical work as well as in theology, the addressing of major social problems such as substance abuse, inner-city poverty, and the plight of Travellers by self-sacrificing Irish priests and nuns, and the work of the Conference of Religious of Ireland in sensitising politicians and the public in general to the needs of the poor at home and indeed all over the world. It is also a healthy sign that some Irish bishops are deliberately shedding the trappings of wealth and power which long distinguished the episcopate, and are embracing a more modest lifestyle in an effort to reduce social distance between themselves and the people of their dioceses. Indeed, a thoroughgoing repudiation of clericalism in its various non-spiritual dimensions would seem to be a necessary requirement for an effective repositioning of the institutional Catholic church in Ireland at the beginning of the new millennium.

James S. Donnelly, Jr is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Further reading:

T. Flannery, From the Inside: a priests view of the Catholic church (Cork 1999).

A. Falconer, E. McDonagh & Seán Mac Réamoinn (eds.), Freedom to Hope? the Catholic Church in Ireland twenty years after Vatican II (Blackrock 1985).

F. O’Toole, The Lie of the Land: Irish identities (London & New York 1997).

M. Raferty & E. O’Sullivan, Suffer the Little Children: the inside story of Ireland’s industrial schools (Dublin 1999).


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