Category: Archive

Dublin Report Scandals weakening church’s influence in Irish life

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Just when you think that it cannot get any worst – it does.

I am not referring to David Trimble, Northern Ireland first secretary and his Unionist Party. I won’t even mention the haul of information concerning suspected republicans in an Orange Hall in County Antrim.

The names of more than 300 people were discovered. All were potential victims of loyalist squads. Do we really have to debate whether members of the security forces are cooperating with certain violent loyalist organizations?

The possibility of loyalists and republicans hammering out a lasting agreement will probably get worse before it gets better as well.

But for Holy Mother Church, it gets worse and worse all of the time.

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Not long ago, the Roman Catholic church was a dominant, if not the dominant, force in Irish life. Hospitals, schools, orphanages, even sports, were spearheaded by eager clerics.

Not alone did the Irish Christian Brothers and myriad orders of nuns provide and control education at home, but they exported missionary teachers abroad to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and almost every part of Africa.

But a recent newspaper survey disclosed that there are now no more than 80 Christian Brothers teaching full-time in Ireland. Recruitment is almost zero. Even the nuns are vanishing as the yearly priestly intake declines to low single figures.

Mass attendance, particularly in the cities, has declined to the extent that many parishes have canceled Sunday evening services. Those who still attend are invariably middle-aged and up. Few young people join them.

A country that once provided a surplus of missionaries throughout the world is now almost in need of missionaries itself.

During the last decade, the church has come in for a right public pasting. The scandals have had an enormous impact.

Repeated disclosures of pedophilia, homosexuality, illegitimate love affairs involving even prelates of the church, like Bishop Eamon Casey and respected priests like Fr. Michael Clery, have had an enormous impact. Even those whose faith has been consistently firm no longer know what to believe.

Intellectually and emotionally, they are scandalized.

What a contrast it is with the 1950s. Then, churches were frequently overcrowded. During Lent, some ate only bread and drank tea for the entire period.

The church was an all-prevalent, all-controlling, social influence.

At its head, in the Archdiocese of Dublin, was a powerful administrator called John Charles McQuaid, a close friend of Eamon de Valera and a man who shared with him a common love for astronomy.

The archbishop, deliberately or accidentally, became involved in most of the major controversies of his time. Theologically, he was also a deeply conservative man, wary of sudden change and the social impact it could have. He operated in what was then the closed administration of the church in those pre-Vatican Council years.

He did what he was publicly expected to do. He performed Confirmations and ordained the young priests who then thronged student halls at Clonliffe and Maynooth College. His crosier clasped firmly in his hand, he opened new churches and schools in a city that was slowly beginning to grow out of its endemic poverty.

Behind the scenes, he accomplished much more. He organized and participated in vital charities to aid the poor, the depressed and the disadvantaged, particularly the very young.

Outwardly, an austere, ascetic individual, remote even as he mingled among members of his flock, he was one of the primary clerics consulted by Eamon de Valera during the framing of the Irish Constitution.

Later, he became the central figure in what has become known as the "Mother and Child Scheme," the social welfare plan devised by the coalition government, headed by John McEntee with the enthusiastic promotion of the youngest-ever minister for health, Dr. Noel Browne.

Apart from his pioneering introduction of a social welfare system, Browne’s biggest and most urgent task was to combat the ravages of tuberculosis. Thousands died daily throughout the country, especially in the cities. The shortage of hospitals and the lack of medical facilities were chronic.

As ever, John Charles McQuaid was wary of the massive social change entailed in the Mother and Child Scheme. He quickly became a hate figure for the young minister for health.

However, later evidence suggests most strongly that the minister’s real enemy was, in fact, the powerful Irish Medical Association.

It certainly operated against the sudden introduction of the new social welfare scheme as effectively as McQuaid did. If anything because its full cooperation was necessary if T.B. were to be beaten, it was then just as powerful as the church.

Perhaps, this was why Browne refused to confront it, or perhaps it could have been due to the fact that his effective guardian was the famed consultant Dr. Raymond Chance, who funded his top-class education in the primary Catholic public school in Britain, Ampleforth.

Browne, who became a psychiatrist as a result of that free education, suffered a notoriously poor childhood even in a time when poverty was the norm. When his widowed mother went to work and live with the Chance family, the boy was favored by her wealthy employer.

The reluctant politician, pulled from obscurity, quickly became one of the best-known political representatives of the time. And he regarded McQuaid as his foremost enemy. He felt this to such an extent that he wrote a short essay, entitled "The Virgin Island" and featuring a character called, "John, the Bishop."

The obscure essay included an allegation that a school inspector had once confided to him that Archbishop McQuaid had fondled the young son of a Dublin publican while he drank whiskey in an upstairs lounge.

Now, a new biography on the prelate, serialized in the Sunday Times, written by John Cooney, a Scottish, Dublin-based journalist, alleges that McQuaid was, in fact, a pedophile and a homosexual.

The evidence, emerging in pre-launch publicity, is razor thin. But Cooney, who has an overwhelming ambition to be treated as a serious academic, has given it huge emphasis in his book, so much so that the Sunday Times is trumpeting it as an "explosive" account of the late archbishop’s private life.

It has caused considerable controversy already, particularly with the archdiocese press office in Dublin. It has strenuously denied the overhyped allegations.

It seems that nothing is sacred in Ireland any more.

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