The Catholic Church in Ireland: the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

After reading Theo Dorgan’s thought-provoking piece in today’s Irish Times, something struck me.

The horror and sorrow of those who trusted the Church at these latest revelations, and the bishops’ sadly inadequate reactions to them, is not present among my generation.

To those of us who grew up in the 1990s, this is completely normal.

We do not know a Church that engenders fear. We do not even know a Church that engenders respect. We know only a Church that engenders disgust, anger and the desire for retribution and the toppling from pedestals of idols who have been falsely worshipped for too long.

My childhood was full of the Church. Small rural villages were still built around the GAA and the Church in the early 1990s. These days my cousins go to Ju Jitsu instead of camogie, and the Crescent Shopping Centre instead of Mass. And why wouldn’t they?

I was the most dedicated member of our parish choir from 8 to about 15, when I got too cool. At about 9, I pleaded with my mother to let me be an altar server. The boys in my class had served Mass for years, and it was opened to girls later. She said no. Now, I know why. Not because she had any suspicions about our local priest,  a genuinely nice man, and one of the good guys. Because she wasn’t going to let me serve at an altar I could never preside over. She didn’t raise me to be anybody’s handmaiden.

By the time my Confirmation came about, I’d decided I was an atheist. Or maybe an agnostic. I didn’t really know the difference and I didn’t really care. I knew I didn’t believe in all the smoke and mirror, incense-scented hokum that had entranced me just a year or two previously. I have a bit more respect for the Catholic religion these days, but my views on the Church have steadily deteriorated.

Since my Confirmation, fallen idols like Eamonn Casey and paedophiles like Brendan Smith have become almost the norm. Throughout my teenage years there were reports upon reports, revelatory television shows and tell-all books that opened up the dreadful wounds of a country in its infancy where the price of freedom had been a new, more evil tyranny.

On a visit to the Vatican a couple of years ago, I found myself crying with rage. I was so angry I had to leave. The wealth and ostentation, and above all, cheek,  of a small group of Western men who are still telling the rest of the world how to live was like a ball of rage in the pit of my stomach. Comparing the splendours of St Peter’s Basilica with the misery of people in, in particular, Africa, who continue to spread and contract HIV/AIDS because the Vatican prohibits contraception was eye-opening. The fact, too, that this was the biggest club in the world, and as a woman I couldn’t fully join it, angered me. 

Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and the legion of books like it made the miserable Irish Catholic childhood almost fashionable, and most people my age have by now found out whether their parents experienced it or not. But it’s almost a given, now, that they did. To some degree.

The shocked reactions of people their age – fifties and older – to the latest series of revelations, first from Cloyne and now from Dublin, is to us, disingenuous at best. We’ve all known this was about to burst for quite a while now. So why the shock?

Theo Dorgan’s assertion that this is the beginning of the end for the Church in Ireland is interesting, because he is still in the mindset of somebody who grew up with an infallible Church. Find me somebody under forty who thinks like this. As far as we are concerned, the beginning of the end took place a long time ago.



  1. Fair account here. Honesty comes before religion – without honesty, nothing that is said can be assumed to be true, or even a valid reflection of another's true beliefs. Under the doctrine of "mental reservation, Irish clerics have been true to their INSTITUTION but untrue to their ADHERENTS. If the institution is to take first place, then current believers would be better off to save their donations.

  2. Hi Dee, just read your blog about the church, I am interested in your statement , "I have a bit more respect for the Catholic religion these days"What is the reason for this respect?Regards Michael McCoy

  3. Hi Mike,I think it's possibly more like tolerance than respect – these days I wouldn't refer to anybody's religion as 'hokum'! I have great respect for the notion of religion as a belief or way of life. I quite envy people who have religious beliefs and who try to live their lives using them as a barometer of how to treat people. Dee

  4. Jan 7/2010Read "The Power and the Glory Inside the Dark Heart of John Paul II's Vatican" by David A. Yallop. It will give you and idea how corrupt the Catholic Church . This information he got from inside the Vatican. Also "How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens. He has consulted with biblical scholars who say that there were major errors in translation from Hebrew into Greek and subsequently into Latin and English that will astonish you; such as there was no virgin birth.Meg in Canada

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