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The Congress is flying in the face of modern Irish culture – and is all the better for it

The Irish Church is defying its own reputation, too

By on Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Young people take part in a parade at the Congress's opening Mass (CNS photo)

Young people take part in a parade at the Congress's opening Mass (CNS photo)

Here at the Congress the air is alive with conversations about the best ways to bring lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics to the faith. There could be fewer less fashionable topics of discussion in modern Ireland. Mention this at a Guinness and oysters evening, and you’ll get a look that could split the oyster’s shell. The days of 1932 are being remembered fondly as a time when the Irish were of more modest means but of proud faith. This is a change from rubbishing our “poor Catholic” Angela’s Ashes past. When I was growing up in Ireland, it always felt as though cradle Catholics were apologising for their religion.
But I was flabbergasted by some countercultural surprises which happened yesterday, the day devoted to ecumenism.  Maybe because I am a strict, Latin Mass-loving Catholic I had been dreading the ecumenical day because I thought Catholicism would be presented as inferior to other faiths.  

Thankfully, I was proved wrong. At the start of the day, in the press conference on ecumenism Ron Crane and Jackie Ottoway, members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, asked the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, about Anglicanorum coetibus. They invited him to read their online magazine The Portal where they document the successes and struggles of the Personal Ordinariate. They enquired of him if he would like to join Anglicans in England who are swimming the Tiber. The archbishop was forthright that his flock have not shown “much interest”.  
To me this is the spirit of true ecumenism, sharing the good news about revolutionary developments like the ordinariate and generously telling others that there is room for them too. It goes to show what a great boon the ordinariate is – and that we have so many former Anglicans that are now brave Catholics.  
Not only is the Congress presenting a sign of contradiction to secular Irish society, but it is defying its own reputation. The Church in Ireland has long been characterised as one that dominates a muted lay people. But the Congress allows a two-way conversation. Yesterday two young Dublin priests arranged for talks from two lay converts to Catholicism. This was a courageous attempt to allow converts a chance to evangelise the cradle Irish Catholics. And it certainly goes against the craze of leaving the Church.  

Tracy and Gareth were brought up without religion. Tracy is from Canada and made prayer a part of daily life after a friend took her to Sunday school when she was 14. She decided to become a Catholic after moving to Ireland. But in 2010 she was the only person who was going through RCIA in her Dublin parish of Swords. She did feel a little daunted by the reports into clerical sex abuse, but persevered in becoming a Catholic because it was making her relationship with God “stronger”. Tracy said that at first it was a little lonely coming into the Irish Church, but that when she was confirmed in her parish, she felt like she received “a thousand welcomes” from her fellow parishioners.

Gareth hails from England, and first attended Mass when he was dating his wife. He moved to Ireland in 2000. At the beginning of his RCIA, Gareth “struggled” to understand the Gospels and found the ceremonies were way over his head. But he found that one exercise, “the lifeline”, helped him put his faith in perspective – it invited him to draw a line of his life and show the parts where he has felt close to God and parts where he didn’t. Gareth is now a sponsor to other people who want to become Catholic. I asked him if he feels he is swimming against the current tide: “It’s not ‘cool’ to become Catholic in Ireland now, but my conversion generated a lot of interest in the parish and the people that I met when I was in RCIA are now really good friends of mine.”

Most refreshingly at the Congress there are little or attempts to pander to Irish society. The Ireland that I grew up in was a hard-drinking one, where many of my classmates in primary school were used to furtive drinking at the age of 11. Young members of the Pioneers Total Abstinence are dotted throughout the crowd at the Congress. When I was in secondary school, there were pilot sex education programmes which taught that saving sex for marriage was an out-dated, freakish practice. The group Pure in Heart, a youth group that gives support to teenagers and twenty-somethings who want to stay pure, are some of the most active participants in the Congress. Some very high-profile Church leaders have said to me how “impressed” they are that Pure In Heart show other youngsters the benefits of chastity.
Irish Catholic culture is often stereotyped as one where priests prescribed penance and pilgrimage, but had took the easier options for themselves. The Congress is not about high and mighty Church figures lecturing us on sackcloth and ashes, while exempting themselves. One very prestigious example is that Cardinal Ouellet will undertake the gruelling Lough Derg pilgrimage. A prince of the Church he may be, but on the island, he will fast, stay up all night, eat dry crackers and endure the ceaseless rain.

  • Francis

    It’s great to have such positive feedback from the Congress – especially given the beating the Church in Ireland has taken in recent decades.

    (And I also think that “Angela’s Ashes” had much less to do with Irish Catholicism than in lining Frank McCourt’s pockets. Much better to read “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.)

  • JByrne24

    Best to read both I think.
    But the James Joyce goes deeper.

  • SudburyRealEstate

    Winston Churchill stated that he had absolutely no use for a man whose opinion or position didn’t change when he receives new facts.  Ratzinger falls into the camp of not changing.  He is actually moving the Church backwards into the time before Vatican II.  He’s leaving a lot of us behind as he regresses.  In the meanwhile, we have EUROPOL in the equation, and they may deploy a SWAT team to visit the Vatican and remove the child predator protectors (Ratzinger and 2/3 of all bishops).

  • JabbaPapa

    RUBBISH !!!!

  • theroadmaster

    Perhaps the current travails that the Irish Church is going through will lead to a Faith that will mature into one that is more true to the wishes of the Church’s Founder, Jesus Christ.  There is no doubt that the confidence of Irish Catholics  in the hierarchy has been shaken to the core by recent scandalous revelations and the pews have emptied in a lot of churches as a result.  Although one would strain one’s eyes to pick out any light through the doom and gloom, there remains good news items that give some evidence of hope.  In the 2011 National census, 83% of the respondents indicated their religion as being Catholic.  This was a very pleasant surprise, despite the unenviable attention that Ireland has been receiving locally and internationally, due to recent news-stories.   There is a long route ahead, but this Eucharistic Congress can act as a rallying point for both lay and religious Faithful to lead the way for a national revival.

  • theroadmaster

    This is nonsense on stilts, Suds.  The current pope has made very positive moves to counter the plague of child abuse within the Church.  In 2010 he strengthened Canon law to make it easier to remove priests found guilty of violating children.  On numerous occasions he has met with sex-abuse victims, during apostolic voyages abroad.  When he was head of the CDF(Congregation for the Doctrine of The Faith) in 2002,  the late, great Blessed Pope John was persuaded by him
    (Cardinal Ratzinger)  to pass global sex abuse cases to his department.   This was an overt sign that he was determined to prevent lax attitudes within the upper echelons of the Vatican from stopping his reforming campaign to deal firmly with sex-abuse cases.

  • James H

    Great news, but I’m afraid I’ve a bone to pick.

    It’s precisely because you are “a strict, Latin Mass-loving Catholic” that you’ve never heard of Pure in Heart, you’ve never seen lay people give talks on their conversion, and you expect the faith to be watered down in ecumenical meetings. These things are par for the course in modern Charismatic events (such as at Walsingham), Youth 2000, World Youth Day, Catholic Alpha and Soul in the City. The rest of the church isn’t ALL going to Hell in a handbasket, and your enclave is not the sole remnant of the faith.

    Please people, let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, can’t we? The World looks on and laughs when we pare off into laagers and point accusing fingers at each other. Remember the words of the Master: ‘Whoever is not against us is for us.’

  • nytor

    “He is actually moving the Church backwards into the time before Vatican II.”

    You mean he is faithful to the true Tradition of the Church and doesn’t treat the purely pastoral council of the 60s as a kind of liberal superdoctrine? In that case, correct.

    Let me guess, you’re what – 50ish? older? You simply have to be from the misguided generation whose vandalism those of us coming up behind you are having to undo.

  • Honeybadger

    Winston Churchill also said, in reply to a letter much like your post:

    ‘I have your letter in front of me and soon it will be behind me.’

  • Honeybadger

    The content of the International Eucharistic Congress is turning out better than I anticipated in Dublin.

    Could this be the turning point of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland?

    Prayers, prayers, prayers, people! Don’t cease!

    I won’t!

  • renming328


  • http://www.windsorlatinmass.org/ AlexB

    Please re-read the author’s post. She did not state that she had never before heard of Pure in Heart; you are jumping to a conclusion. She merely mentioned them in a positive light.

    With regards to conversions, you might be interested to know that this particular author has quietly been responsible for a number of converts to the Faith, using the rich liturgy of the Latin Mass as one of Catholicism’s selling points.

    The Church has many rooms. We should be grateful for Latin Mass supporters, Charismatics, and average suburban Catholics alike when they promote the entirety of the Faith, albeit via different expressions.

  • Nat_ons

    There are indeed signs of restoring a higher degree of orthodoxy to belief, teaching and practice in Ireland, and not least the example of true oecumenism in the witness of the English Ordinarate (a genuine blessing to all Catholics) but also in the humble yet firm lead by Cardinal Ouellett.

    I have noticed a tiny (very tiny) number of choirs tentatively actually start to chant the Ordinary and Propers of the Mass – with the priest – in English .. rather more in the Irish Mass which often have some (improvised) setting for the Mass in a Celtic (almost Byzantine) form of chant.



    What is lacking still – if I may pour some of the cold water of realism on your excellent witness to what is happening in Ireland – remains the irresolute teaching of the Faith, and that as actually outlined in Vatican II .. not the reinterpretation of it for a libertine media by a clique.

  • Cestius

    Not sure it’s anything to do with the chanting of Psalms etc. by a choir (which is IMO a matter of taste and also depends to a great degree on the musical talent available), but I would agree with you about the bedrock of teaching that is so important. Whether you chant the mass or have a spoken mass with Stuart Townend hymns etc., it’s the sound teaching of the Church and the attitude of the priests that matters so much.

  • http://twitter.com/oceanclub Paul Moloney

    The irony of this bashing of “modern culture” (boo hiss) vs old-style Irish Catholic culture is that this week, victims of the symphysiotomy scandal have been giving their testimony to Parliament. Considered a barbaric operation as far back as 1803 when condemned by an Edinburgh doctor, this procedure left many women with walking problems, infections and injuries and was performed in Ireland up until _1992_ in Catholic-ethos hospitals because caesarians were considered sinful.

    In the words of historian Diarmiud Ferriter:”Alex Spain revived symphysiotomy at the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) in 1944. By then, symphysiotomy had long fallen into disrepute. Spain himself admitted that symphysiotomy was ‘an entirely new procedure … that has to be faced against the weight of the entire English-speaking obstetrical world’. By 1944, Caesarean was well established in that world as the treatment of choice for obstructed labour.Contrary to what the Institute of Obstetricians and Gymaecologist would have us believe, symphysiotomy was never a norm. It was shunned––also on the continent of Europe–– because of its dangers, which had been amply described in the medical literature. In addition to the prospect of a dead or damaged baby, there was the certainty of a severely injured mother. As far back as 1803, the procedure had been damned by Prof James Hamilton of Edinburgh: ‘in no case whatsoever’, he said, should it be resorted to.Spain’s successor, Arthur Barry, championed the practice in the 1950s. But it was attacked by British doctors, who counted the number of babies left dead and brain damaged as a result of the surgery. Donal Browne of the Rotunda also pointed out that Caesarean would result in fewer infant deaths and less maternal injury.Symphysiotomy was preferred to Caesarean section for ethical reasons. Barry described Caesarean as ‘the chief cause of the unethical procedure of sterilisation’. Caesarean also encouraged the laity ‘in the improper prevention of pregnancy or in seeking termination’, he told a Catholic medical
    congress in 1954. ‘If you must cut something, cut the symphysis’, he urged.”

    Give me modern culture any day.


  • WSquared

     Ratzinger is “moving the Church backward in time”?

    Depends on whose concept of time you follow.  The only sense of time relevant to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is Christ Himself, who is Alpha and Omega– beginning and end.  Past, present, and future. 

    And Catholics believe that He is truly present– Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity– in the Eucharist via the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    Anything that detracts from, diminishes, and distracts from this is always a step backward.  And any “progress” toward something other than Christ is meaningless.

    In foregrounding the Eucharist as how we are to actually live as Catholics, Ratzinger is moving the Church in the right direction in going to its very heart.  He understands that it’s crucial to helping clean up the filth (his words, not mine) that does plague the Body of Christ, but which will not prevail, as per Christ’s promise.