Tag Archives: catholic church

An Irish … American … Catholic … tragedy

It seemed fitting that the latest scandals buffeting the Catholic Church arrived during Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland. The stormy conditions surrounding the church are far worse than the rain that tamped down the expected number of Mass-goers at Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Turnout for Francis was never going to match Pope John Paul II in 1979, much less the enthusiasm of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, which firmly established Ireland as the most-Catholic of nations. Now, Ireland has angrily turned its back on the church due to clergy and other institutional abuses, and the rise of secularism. We all know the litany: child rape, Magdalene laundries, and Tuam graves; plus popular referendums approving divorce, same-sex marriage and abortion.

But it’s the explosion of negative headlines from the church in America–a report on decades of abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, and similar behavior by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick–that have amplified the Holy See’s troubles in Ireland and around the world.

Irish and American Catholicism are deeply intertwined. Waves of Irish Catholic immigrants arrived in the United States from the mid-19th century famine into the 21st century. Until recent decades, Ireland provided hundreds (probably thousands) of priests to U.S. parishes. As members of their flock climbed the social-economic ladder, some of these immigrant, or first-generation Irish-American, clerics also became powerful bishops and cardinals. No U.S. or Irish prelate has become pope.

In 1990, the American-born McCarrick was selected as a representative of Irish immigrant families at Ellis Island. In 2006, he was succeeded as archbishop of Washington, D.C., by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who arrived from the dioceses of Pittsburgh. Within weeks of this summer’s revelations about McCarrick, Wuerl was accused in the Pennsylvania report of failing to protect children from abusive priests, many of whom … hate to say it … have Irish surnames.

Writing in National Review, Dublin-based Ciaran Burke has this slant on the U.S. and Irish churches:

To an Irish person who grew up amid the fallout of Catholic abuse scandals, the only surprising element of the Pittsburgh [sic.] (He means Pennsylvania.) grand-jury report is that it could happen in the United States. In Ireland, so great was the esteem in which the Church was held that it’s easy — though no less painful — to understand how clerical abuse could run unchecked by state authorities.

This description has never been true of the United States, though, where the Constitution and individual rights are supreme. … (The) abuses detailed in the Pittsburgh [sic.] report make a mockery of a society built on God-given rights. That any citizen could suffer such abuse in silence should outrage every American.

In the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Wuerl cancelled his scheduled appearance with Pope Francis in Ireland. He asked for his name to be removed from a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh, his native city. Now, as calls grow for his resignation, the Cardinal Donald Wuerl Division 9 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Pittsburgh must decide whether it too will drop his name.

Later this fall, the group plans to dedicate a new outdoor statue of Ireland’s patron saint at Old St. Patrick’s Church, the oldest parish in Pittsburgh, which once ranked with New York and Boston as a hub of Irish immigrants. The ceremony is now likely to be more subdued, even secular, than it would have been just a few years ago.

I will make a donation for the new statue once the date is set. I dearly love Old St. Pat’s in my native city, and have dedicated a section of this website to other similarly named churches, which are symbols of the once unabashed, if romanticized, Irish-American-Catholic identity. Like other Catholics in America, Ireland, and around the world, I am deeply angered and hurt by the church’s sins and crimes. But not as deeply as those who personally suffered the abuse.

Statue of Ireland’s patron saint outside Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, 2013.

Pope Francis in Ireland, Day 2

UPDATES: 

Pope Francis has ended his historic visit to Ireland after celebrating Mass at the Phoenix Park in Dublin. “In 1979, the Pope told Ireland he loves her. In 2018, he asks her for forgiveness. The theme of forgiveness has touched every one of his events: the quiet arrival, the sombre speeches and the modesty of it all,” The Irish Times reported.

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“A host of power alliances and socio-moral attitudes built up over two centuries operated to protect the lie that Ireland was a beacon of Catholic and sexual purity in an otherwise pagan world. The tragic historical irony is that the obsession with avoidance of scandal facilitated ever-greater scandal.”

ORIGINAL POST:

On his second day in Ireland, Pope Francis has again addressed clergy sex abuse, this time in a rainy talk at Knock, the Marian shrine in County Mayo.

This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.

Francis also extended “a warm greeting to the beloved people of Northern Ireland,” according to The Irish TImes.


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A former top-ranking Vatican official released a lengthily letter asserting that Pope Francis had known about the abuses of a now-disgraced American prelate, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, years before they became public, and has called on pontiff to resign, The New York Times reports.

The archbishop’s startling accusation will not come as a complete surprise to Vatican watchers, since he is part of a conservative camp that blames liberals, like the pope, for allowing homosexuality in the church. But it further complicates Francis’ efforts to convince Irish Catholics that the church is ready to confront its legacy of concealing sexual abuse.

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The Irish Times has a roundup of coverage from around the world. “Interestingly, much of the media coverage in the US has focused on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s personal life, taking his (gay) sexuality as an indication of the changes in Ireland.”

A giant mosaic unveiled in 2016 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock (Mayo) depicts the 1879 apparition. Photo from my February 2018 visit. My June 2017 story about the shrine.

Pope Francis in Ireland, Day 1

I’ll updated the blog throughout Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland. The most recent posts appear at the top. See full coverage from:

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Here’s a round up of first-day coverage:

Beginning one of the most fraught trips in his five years as pope, Francis described the “repellent crimes” and the church’s inability to deal with them as “a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community” — remarks some Irish criticized as familiar and lacking any mention of concrete steps for reform.

From the outside, it’s easy to conclude that the entire World Meeting of Families unfolding in Dublin this week is a sideshow, since the major question of the moment concerns what Pope Francis is going to say or do on the exploding clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Church. The thing is, however, it’s not a sideshow for the real flesh-and-blood families who are here, and who need the support. … Whatever may be exploding in the media at the moment, Catholic families still have deeply personal challenges for which they look to the Church for help, whether it’s raising a special needs child or coping with the fallout of a divorce.

On Saturday, as small clusters of supporters cheered the pope on sparsely populated streets, Francis sought to build a new church with his trademark pastoral style. He joked about marital spats and shared homespun wisdom with newlyweds, encouraged homeless people at a Capuchin monastery and rallied thousands at a World Meeting of Families event in a Dublin stadium. … The pope’s own advisers have warned that the church’s future depends on its success in addressing the existential threat of the abuse crisis.

If his visit were not so bafflingly short and he had taken the time to do what he does best – spend time with people who are marginalised and suffering – he might really have made a difference. He might have revivified the sense of Christianity as a radical option for the poor as opposed to a form of institutional power. But this visit feels too much like a ceremonial procession with a pastoral purpose added in as an afterthought for that to be possible.

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Pope Francis has arrived in Ireland, giving his first remarks about the clerical abuse scandal in the country.

The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share these sentiments.

But the speech is drawing criticism for lack of an apology.

Ireland preps for historic visit by pope

UPDATE: I’ll publish a new post as the visit of Pope Francis unfolds over the weekend. MH

A day before his arrival, the New York Times and Washington Post feature prominent stories about the clergy abuse problem in Ireland. In the Times‘ story, a Donegal police detective says the problem is “worse than the I.R.A.”

ORIGINAL POST:

“No God for Ireland! We have had too much God in Ireland. Away with God!”

The quote is from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As Ireland prepares for the 25-26 August visit of Pope Francis, the question is whether “Catholic Church” should replace “God” in the quote, which was more or less Joyce’s intention when he published the novel in 1916.

Ireland is a very different place today than 102 years ago, and also from 1979, when Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit the island. As The Guardian notes in When faith fades: can the pope still connect with a changed Ireland:

In the past four decades Ireland has embraced divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion, all once unimaginable in a country where the church and the state were in an intimate partnership. In 1979, 93 percent of the population still identified as Catholic and went to mass every week. Since then, there has been a marked downward trajectory of the proportion of the population identifying as Catholic to 78 percent at the 2016 census, while the second largest – and growing – category is people who say they have no religion, at around 10 percent.

In his The Papal Visit of 1979: Context and Legacy piece in The Irish Story, Barry Sheppard writes “the evangelical zeal of the Catholic Action movement which exploded in the 1930s still loomed-large in public life, and was in fact reinvigorated in the aftermath of the (John Paul II) visit, targeting the familiar old foes of popular entertainment and cinema as agents of the decline of Irish morals. … It is highly doubtful that next week’s visit can generate the same input.”

Crux Editor John L. Allen Jr. provides FAQs on Pope Francis in Ireland, including protests and counter-events.  A word of caution, however, to anyone who plans to follow the pontiff by car. The Marian shrine at Knock, County Mayo, is about three hours west of Dublin, not four hours to the “north,” as Allen writes. Trust me, I just made the drive in February.

Pope John Paul II during his 1979 visit to Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: May

Irish voters overturned a 35-year-old constitutional abortion ban by a decisive two thirds margin. More about that at the bottom of this post. First, a quick look at some other Irish news in May, from both sides of the Atlantic:

Let me make it plain: the departure from the EU of our nearest neighbour is not a good thing for Ireland. This development generates unwelcome challenges and uncertainties for us. It deprives Ireland of an influential, like-minded country around the EU negotiating table. It complicates our bilateral relations with Britain at a time when we continue to need to work closely together as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement so as to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. 

  • Researchers in universities across Ireland are embarking on an effort to help Irish bees survive and thrive. Their work grows from the 2015 All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
  • Solas Nua, the Washington, D.C.-based Irish arts group, staged “The Frederick Douglass Project” over several weeks. The “project” is  actually two short plays about Douglass’ 1845 lecture tour of Britain and Ireland – D.C.-based Psalmayene 24’s An Eloquent Fugitive Slave Flees to Ireland, which deals with Douglass’s life before his eastward journey across the Atlantic, and Dublin-based Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Notes, which explores his arrival. As The Irish Times reported:

The aim of the production is to highlight this critically-important time in Douglass’s life to an American audience. “This is about exploring the parallels of the Irish and African-American experience – Douglass arrived in Ireland during the Famine – but it is also about what happens when two worlds meet and the perceptions and misperceptions that both sides hold,” said Rex Daugherty, the show’s artistic director.

My wife and I enjoyed the production. I think it would do well in Ireland, where there is probably more awareness of Douglass’ 1845 visit than in America. The themes of human subjugation are universal, as made more clear in Kinahan’s play.

Is Catholic Ireland dead and gone? Probably not

The most predictable commentary about the 25 May abortion referendum has focused on the diminished role of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Some examples:

The New York Times headlined the referendum result as a “Rebuke to Catholic Conservatism.” A follow up story described Ireland as “a country that is clearly part of Europe’s secular sprint out of the Roman Catholic fold” and noted Pope Francis’ focus on the Southern Hemisphere. But an opinion piece by Eamon Maher, co-editor of the 2017 title Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism: From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, offered more nuisance:

The importance of Friday’s vote as a blow to the institutional Catholic Church should not be understated.  … But if it’s clear that the institution of the church no longer commands the moral authority or the loyalty in Ireland that it once did, the end of Catholic Ireland, too, is an overstatement. Ireland remains defined by its relationship with Catholicism, because it has yet to develop another way to be.

Patsy McGarry, the religious affairs correspondent at The Irish Times since 1997, added some historical perspective in his column, which described as “out of kilter” those observations that the referendum outcome represents the end of Catholic Ireland:

More accurately, what it illustrated was an end to a particular model of clerically dominated Catholic Church in Ireland. … What we are witnessing is the disappearance of what might be described as “the church that Paul built,” a reference to Cardinal Paul Cullen. Archbishop of Dublin from 1852, he “Romanised” the church, centralized its structures, and introduced processions and devotions from Europe. He laid the foundations for an Irish Catholic Church which became a powerful alternative institution in the late 19th century so that by independence in 1922 it was more powerful than the new state itself, particularly in education and healthcare. It dominated Ireland through most of the 20th century. [That institution may be gone, but with] 78.3 per cent of Irish people still identified as Catholic … reports of the death of Catholicism in Ireland are, to borrow from Mark Twain, “greatly exaggerated.”

Finally, some voices from the Irish Catholic Church itself, as reported in Crux:

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said the referendum result “confirms that we are living in a new time and a changed culture for Ireland. For the Church it is indeed a missionary time, a time for new evangelization.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin added, “The Irish Church after the Referendum must renew its commitment to support life. … Reshaping the Church of tomorrow must be marked by a radical rediscovery of its roots.”

There will more about this issue in the run up to Pope Francis’ scheduled August visit to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.

 

As abortion referendum nears, Ireland seems divided

Republic of Ireland voters head to the polls Friday, 25 May, for a referendum to decide whether to repeal or retain the anti-abortion Eighth Amendment in the country’s constitution, which gives equal value to the life of the fetus and the woman.

Early polling showed the repeal side favored to prevail, but the margin has narrowed in recent weeks, and anything is possible in the final days of the campaign on such an emotionally charged issue.

Here’s a short roundup of news and commentary as of 20 May, starting with a background piece:

History lesson: What happened during the 1983 abortion referendum?

An extremely strong campaign had emerged early in the 1980s to lobby the government to introduce a ‘Pro-Life amendment’. The move came in the wake of the Roe versus Wade verdict in the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed for the introduction of less restrictive regimes. There was genuine fear in Ireland that the courts could do something similar here unless a Constitutional provision prohibiting abortion was introduced. … [The Eighth Amendment] passed on 7 September 1983 with a 67 percent majority. It was signed into law just one month later.

From TheJournal.ie

As polls narrow before the [2018] abortion vote, is rural Ireland setting up a Brexit moment?

The polls have narrowed so much that a result once nearly taken for granted now hangs in the balance; the media are under fierce attack for bias; and questions are swirling about foreign influence and online ads. … The long shadow of two recent surprise election results – the Brexit referendum across the Irish sea, and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential poll – is hanging over Irish voters. … The final result is expected to hinge on the one in five voters still undecided.

Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian

‘Dark ads’ cast a shadow over Ireland’s referendum on abortion

Attempts by Facebook and Google to tackle ‘dark ads’ and foreign interference in the run-up to Ireland’s referendum on abortion haven’t been entirely successful, according to an online transparency group.

From CNN

The Irish Exception

[Repealing the amendment] would put an end to an all-but-unique experiment in Western public policy: an attempt to combine explicitly pro-life laws and generally pro-family policy making with a liberalized modern economy and the encouragement of female independence and advancement.

Ross Douthat, The New York Times

Irish abortion referendum: Abortions could be offered to NI women

Women from Northern Ireland could cross the border to have an abortion if there is a yes vote in the upcoming referendum. … Abortions are only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which they can be performed legally. Currently women from Northern Ireland can travel to England to have a free NHS abortion after charges were abolished in June 2017.

From the BBC

Legalizing abortion would betray Ireland’s future

In Ireland, one might suspect that on a sociopolitical level this referendum is further evidence of a longer-term reaction against the Catholic Church, whose decline in authority and influence in Ireland has been paralleled by referendums in 1995 that legalized divorce and in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. If so, there will be no small irony involved: that the Catholic Church’s support for the Eighth Amendment will hurt the amendment’s chances in Ireland.

The Editors, America, the Jesuit Review

One way or the other, the referendum will change Irish politics

If it is a No vote … the consequences for Leo Varadkar’s Government will be calamitous. This shaky and unsure coalition is almost certainly in its last year – actually probably its last six months – … and a defeat on Friday would be sufficiently destabilizing to bring the end closer, and maybe much closer. It is hard to see how the Government could muster the political capital to do anything after such a devastating defeat. … [A Yes vote] will reinforce the image of Varadkar as a young, liberal, progressive leader – and crucially as one who wins elections … [and] would carry the Government through the forthcoming Brexit travails and into the autumn budget.

Pat Leahy, The Irish Times

Which side will prevail in Ireland’s abortion referendum? Image from the BBC.com

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

I’ve now spent most of the first quarter of the year producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Before continuing the series, here’s another end of the month wrap up of developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

  • Pubs in the Republic opened on Good Friday (30 March) for the first time in 91 years, the result of repealing a 1927 law that also banned alcohol sales on Christmas Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The March 17, booze ban was lifted in 1960. Good Friday liquor sales remain prohibited in Northern Ireland.

Irish pubs opened on Good Friday for the first time in 91 years. This Dublin establishment photographed during my February visit. Note E.U., Irish and U.S. flags.

  • Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s my annual roundup. Also from this month, my piece on “More hand wringing about Catholic Ireland.”
  • Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will receive the Freedom of Belfast honor 10 April, in ceremonies that mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. He also will visit Dublin.
  • Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat, joining the U.K., U.S. and other nations in a growing feud with Moscow. The Russians promptly ordered the Irish envoy to its capital to return to Dublin.
  • The Republic’s referendum on whether to repeal the country’s constitutional ban on abortion is now set for May 25.
  • A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland cleared a hurdle in Parliament. Such unions are already legalized in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the Republic.
  • The U.K. is set to leave the E.U. at the end of March 2019. Resolving the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains a major sticking point of the Brexit, according to this Q & A from the BBC.
  • Hawk Cliff Beach, about 30 minutes south of Dublin, is becoming Ireland’s first “clothing optional” beach.
  • Atlas Obscure published the photo feature, “A Last Look at Ireland’s Disappearing Storefronts.” Graphic designer Trevor Finnegan has been built his collection of images over eight years, including this 2014 feature in the TheJournal.ie.

Butcher shop in Waterford, County Waterford. Photo by Trevor Finnegan.

An Irish shrine in the heart of Baltimore

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at 918 Lemon St. in Baltimore.

I visited The Irish Railroad Workers Museum and Shrine at the edge of downtown Baltimore.

The museum is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Irish who began immigrating to the city during the Great Famine and continued to the middle of the 20th century. Many worked at the nearby Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The museum is contained within two row houses typical of the West Baltimore neighborhood of the period. There is a nice introductory video narrated by Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor (1999-2007) and Maryland governor (2007-2015) in the museum welcome center, which also contains artifacts from the nearby St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church (now a Baptist worship space) and B&O rail yards. The adjoining house is restored as a typical workers’s home of the period.

The Memorial Garden in the rear features the shrine mural by artist Wayne Nield. The image depicts three phases of the Irish experience: the famine of the 1840s (right), the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic (center) and the new life in America (left), where the predominantly rural immigrants remade themselves as city dwellers.

Museum Board Member Barry Larkin and Managing Director Luke McCusker were very friendly and informative during my visit. I hope to return soon.

The shrine mural by Wayne Nield.

Catholicism is still Ireland’s largest religion, but …

… the numbers of faithful keep on falling, according to 2016 Census data released 12 October. A few of the details:

  • Catholics were 78.3 percent of the population in April 2016, compared to 84.4 percent five years earlier.
  • The percentage of Catholics in Ireland peaked in 1961 at 94.9 percent.
  • Ireland’s 3,729,115 Catholics in 2016 was 132,220 fewer than 2011, while the nation’s total population grew by 173,613.
  • People born outside of Ireland were 12 percent of the country’s total Catholic population, the same as 2011. It was 7.2 percent in 2002.
  • The average age of Catholics was 38.2, slightly older than the general population 37.4.

These numbers require more exploration and context. Growing secularism and diversity are part of the reason. Church scandals are another. One place to start is this 2013 piece by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin:

A Post-Catholic Ireland?: Renewing the Irish church from within

The causes of the crisis lie within the church itself. Much of the heritage of Catholic-dominated Ireland still entraps us from being free witnesses to the Christian message within a secular society that is seeking meaning. It is not a time to be lamenting; it is a time to be rising to the challenge with courage and Christian enthusiasm.

The long road from Chesterton’s 1932 Catholic Dublin

“The Ireland celebrated by G.K. Chesterton in his ‘Christendom in Dublin’ is no more.”

That’s the opening sentence of John P. McCarthy’s analysis of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which appears in the 16 March issue of The Catholic World Report. It’s a sober, thoughtful, well-reasoned piece.

Those who know Chesterton’s book, and perhaps–like myself–have even romanticized the 1932 Eucharistic Congress celebrated within its 99 pages, will immediately see the power of McCarthy’s lede. The professor emeritus of History and former director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Fordham University methodically assesses more than 80 years of change in the Irish Church, sans the anti-Catholic undercurrents of most contemporary journalistic accounts.

The 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin celebrated by C. K. Chesterton.

Here are three extended passages, including McCarthy’s conclusion:

What had happened to weaken the religious enthusiasm of so many Irish? Obviously a very major factor in distracting young minds from religious concerns was the substantial economic modernization and prosperity that had come to Ireland beginning in the 1960s. … A less-acknowledged explanation of the current sparsity of religious vocations in contrast to the abundance in the mid-20th century might be the mixed motives of many of the earlier ones. Economic considerations could have been as much a factor as religious devotion, especially on the part of aspirants’ families.

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Many rushed to attribute the decline in religious faith among many Irish as a reaction to the notorious clerical scandals that came to light in the 1990s, many of which had in fact occurred in earlier decades. … [T]here seems to have been a disproportionately large number in the second half of the past century—especially in Ireland. A possible explanation might be in the number of faulty vocations mentioned earlier. Admittedly only a small percentage of the total clergy were involved, although that scarcely excuses it.

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Hopefully, a Church exercising a dedicated minority position might prove to be more vital than a Church that had rested on unchallenged—but probably insincere—laurels from public officials or the media. A cynic might also suggest that the intensity of Irish Catholicism in the past century might have been prompted less by religious devotion than by nationalism. Fear and repression of Catholicism had been central to the British control of Ireland, and Irish separatism was reinforced by Catholicism. One hopes and prays, even if it is a minority position and one subject to harassment, that “the faith of our fathers” will live again in Ireland.