With little attention given to the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last week, Evan O’Quigley looks at how relevant Catholicism is in Ireland today
Last week’s Eucharistic Congress took place in Dublin, aiming to promote awareness of the mission of the Catholic Church and to help improve understanding of the liturgy. However, a poll conducted by MRBI for the Irish Times last week showe that forty-one per cent of Irish Catholics were not aware of the festivities at all.
The same study also revealed that the majority of Catholics do not believe in general, in much of the central teachings of the church. The poll showed that under a third of people who claim to be Catholic attend Sunday mass, while another thirty-nine per cent said they never or very occasionally do. The poll also showed that while only nine per cent of Irish people believe the country would be better off without the church, forty-six per cent believe it would make no difference at all. None of this is particularly surprising. It is not a recent discovery that the Catholic Church no longer plays a large role in Irish society.
In 1932, we saw the thirty-first International Eucharistic Congress take place in Ireland. It was one of the largest in the twentieth century. This year Ireland hosts the fiftieth congress, and it would seem the location is all the two have in common. In 1932, most Irish people considered themselves to be practicing and devoted Catholics. In today’s Ireland, a majority of eighty-five per cent still identify as Catholic, although in a far more cultural than religious sense. Most in Ireland today vaguely believe in some the tenants of Christianity but reject Catholic teachings on morality and sexuality. Since the 1970’s Ireland has rapidly moved away from religious Catholicism and secularised society, and for the most part this has been for the better.
The revelations of the abuse scandals in the church have shaken many former believers, who now cannot associate with the Vatican, its crimes endless and horrific. It has become clear that there are genuine systematic and endemic problems within the church that have not been addressed substantially.
This year’s Congress has already sparked protests. There are of course the obvious ones, like those by Atheist Ireland, but also there has been the protests by LGBT groups who oppose the hostile language levelled against them by the current Pope, Pope Benedict and some other high-ranking clergy, who seem to be for the most part, utterly opposed to any kind of capitulation on this issues related to LGBT rights. In some ways the protests show above else that t is not radical to protest against religion in Ireland. It has become normal, accepted and has gone largely with little notice during the Congress. There has been no furore either largely in favour of the Congress, or against it, but rather one giant collective shrug from the Irish public.
It has become such that perhaps to protest in favour of the Congress, and of the Church in general, would appear more radical, more outside the mainstream and more out of place in Irish society. In terms of the Church’s views on morality and sexuality, it is now generally accepted that they are wrong on the issue and their view on it is totally irrelevant. The most significant protests of this week’s events were perhaps those by victims of sexual abuse.
Paddy Doyle, one survivor of abuse by the Church who protested the events, pointed out this week that despite the fact that the Vatican has put almost twelve million euro in funding towards the Congress, they continue all the while to claim there is no money that could be given as reparations towards abuse victims. This essentially sums up the Catholic Church as an entity itself. The Vatican is an embarrassment of riches, decorated from head to toe in gold, while the poor and abused are told that prayer is the only solution and they cannot help them financially.
It is for this reason the Pope did not visit last week. Relations have become tense over the past several decades due to various scandals with the Vatican and the Church, many of which have resulted in tribunals and investigations into the crimes committed by the Church, and the subsequent ‘handling’ of these scandals by the Vatican. It was announced last week that the Pope would not be giving a live address to Croke Park, but rather a pre-recorded message would be played instead.
The Eucharistic Congress has shown above all else the irrelevance of the Church in Irish politics, culture and society. As Miriam Lord pointed out in the Irish Times, the Irish public have their eyes turned to Poznan and not to Dublin this week. The lack of any revival in Catholicism this week has simply proved that Ireland has changed permanently. People still tick the Catholic box on a census form, but for the most part, Catholic Ireland is dead and gone, and with de Valera in the grave.