Thursday, September 13, 2018

Irish Hostility for the Catholic Faith

From Crisis:
I was braced coming home this time. The abortion referendum showed a Church that was whipped. It had been whipped for a while, but the sheer euphoria that greeted the decision to greenlight the killing of countless babies only made sense as a delirious dancing on the Church’s grave. Very few supporters of abortion (some, but very few) get genuinely excited about abortions. The supporters who were dancing in the streets were celebrating the death of what they see as the “wicked witch” that is the Catholic Church.

This perspective is spectacularly ignorant. Don’t misunderstand, the Catholic Church in Ireland (in the twentieth century and beyond) has contained sin and corruption and crime and heresy in staggering proportions. Sexual abusers were protected, the Church hierarchy, time and again, cared more about protecting the image of the Church than tending to the needs of victims. In fact, the Church in Ireland was a witch’s brew of clericalism and cultural Catholicism, faithlessness and cronyism, and it produced horrors. These horrors make it understandable that when people think of the Catholic Church they think only of them. Understandable, but wrong.

The horrors that the Irish people, to an extent, and the Irish media, exhaustively, conflate with the Church, were also and at once symptoms of a toxic Irish society. It was an Ireland wracked by poverty, cronyism, Victorian puritanism, class prejudice, and more. These factors fueled the horrors that took place in schools, hospitals, and homes, Catholic and otherwise. The Catholic Church is rightly attacked for the treatment of women in “Magdalene Laundries.” But when Irish families kicked out children who were physically or mentally disabled, or girls who got pregnant, these places were set up to care for those rejected children. In them, mentally disabled children, cast out by their families, were cared for and given work to support themselves and each other, everything from arts and crafts to laundry work. And, horrifically, in these places, as in the society at large, there was often violence and abuse. For this violence, Irish society—the very society that rejected the disabled and girls who were shamed by their families, a society just as, if not more, violent and abusive outside the laundries than within them—hates and despises the Church. It hates and despises it with a passion that only makes sense if we understand that this hatred also is used in a way to absolve “us” Irish people from our complicity in these horrors.

We Irish savage Catholicism for the treatment of students in Catholic schools and of people being cared for in Catholic hospitals and institutions. But if such things also happened in secular schools and institutional contexts (and they did), then the belief that they were caused by Catholicism must, at the very least, be contested. But it isn’t. Not in the Irish media, and not in Ireland at large. Such nuance would rupture the cleansing balm the vilification of Catholicism provides a society reluctant to be shamed by the way it was.

You see, we forget that Ireland, after independence from England in the 1920s, was, like most post-colonial settings after independence, a “developing country.” That is, we were impoverished. We could not afford schools or hospitals, and we couldn’t educate or care for our people. People in Ireland in the twentieth century starved. What saved Ireland, in the first half of the twentieth century, from outright humanitarian catastrophe was the Catholic Church. It was the Church that fed, cared for, and educated the Irish people. Catholic faith was the impetus behind this. Catholicism was the formal cause of this compassion and charity. (Read more.)

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