DUBLIN, Ireland — At official levels, relations between the Catholic Church and the Irish state are at their lowest point in recent memory.
For a nation traditionally viewed as deeply Catholic, the fallout from the Cloyne Report has made headlines around the world. The Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny launched a scathing attack on the Church and the Vatican, the state threatened laws that would breach the seal of confession, and the Holy See recalled its representative in Ireland.
The Cloyne Report investigated the handling of abuse allegations in the Diocese of Cloyne, County Cork. Ordered by the government, it was published in mid-July following an earlier one, published in 2008, which was undertaken by the Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children.
Both concluded that the diocese did not adhere to rules on the handling of allegations established by the Irish Church’s hierarchy as early as 1996. The former bishop of Cloyne, Bishop John Magee, once private secretary to Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and Blessed John Paul II, did not implement child-protection procedures. After a decade of shocking revelations about the global clergy abuse crisis, and the Vatican’s efforts to overcome past negligence, the revelations shocked the public.
Nevertheless, the fierce anti-clerical and anti-Vatican sentiments expressed in some quarters have been unprecedented. Members of the government called for the expulsion of Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, the papal nuncio.
Kenny branded the Vatican’s response to child-protection issues in Ireland as “disgraceful” and made noises about “adjustments” in diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See. Duly, the Holy See recalled the papal nuncio for discussion of recent events.
Secular media whipped up the storm even further. One Irish daily newspaper carried a picture of Pope Benedict XVI with the words “persona non grata” stamped over his head, while a newspaper columnist expressed his hope that the Church would hold “a last Mass” before shutting down for good in the country.
The Irish government was, in the past, at the very least complicit in much of what went on. As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin pointed out, “those in Church and state who have acted wrongly or inadequately should assume accountability.”
Speaking to the Register, Mary Kenny, a journalist and author of Goodbye to Catholic Ireland, noted, “The Church in Ireland has certainly been in crisis since all these scandals erupted, and a bitterly anti-clerical and anti-Catholic strain has emerged among a minority. Politicians, too, who formerly were more discreet about their agnosticism or secularism are now more outspoken.”
Genuine anger has still been the majority reaction. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising but least commented manifestation of this anguish has been from among several of the current Catholic hierarchy. Following the publication of the Cloyne Report, in a homily at Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral, Archbishop Martin — who has done so much to address the Irish Church’s past failings — spoke words of utter frustration.
He said that “the first emotion that came to me was one of anger: anger at what had happened in the Diocese of Cloyne and at the response — or non-response — that was made to children whose lives had been ruptured by abuse. Anger at the fact that children had been put at risk well after agreed guidelines were in place which were approved by all the Irish bishops.
“Anger at how thousands of men and women in this Diocese of Dublin must feel, who have invested time and training to ensure that the Church they love and hope can be different would truly be a safe place for children. Anger at the fact that there were in Cloyne — and perhaps elsewhere — individuals who placed their own views above the safeguarding of children, and seemingly without any second thought placed themselves outside and above the regime of safeguarding to which their diocese and the Irish bishops had committed themselves.”
He continued, “Paradoxically, appealing somehow to their own interpretation of canon law, they had put themselves even above and beyond the norms which the current Pope himself has promulgated for the entire Church.”
In a homily during the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage July 31 — when pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in imitation of St. Patrick — Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam commented, “It is understandable that many good and faithful Catholics experience distress and discouragement after the revelations of the mishandling of abuse cases. Many are angered and appalled by what they have learned. Indeed, these feelings are shared by priests, religious and, yes, bishops too.”
Archbishop Neary’s measured response places the anti-clerical vitriol dominating the Internet in a different light. For example, William Oddie, a blogger for England’s Catholic Herald, challenged papal biographer George Weigel over the latter’s characterization of Ireland as the vanguard of Western anti-Catholicism. Weigel issued his critique in a recent post on the website of National Review.
Mary Kenny, for her part, takes a nuanced view: “There is always a distinction, in Ireland — not always appreciated by overseas commentators, or indeed some Irish intellectuals — between the Church and the faith. The faith is something intermingled into the lives of ordinary people, and you only have to attend a Mass in any small town in Ireland to see that this is the case. A funeral or a tragedy illustrates this even more.
“The power of the Church is gone, or hugely diminished, in Ireland; but the bedrock of faith will not disappear, though it may re-emerge in altered forms.”
Indeed, the large turnout for the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage — about 20,000 — suggests Kenny may be right. An estimated 30% to 40% of Catholics attend Mass weekly.
Perhaps the situation is best summed up by a former student of Pope Benedict’s. Father Vincent Twomey, professor emeritus of moral theology at Maynooth Seminary, told RTE Radio that he was “incandescent with rage” after reading the Cloyne Report and described the behavior of Bishop Magee and other officials as “mind-boggling … incompetence, inertia and lies.”
He added, “I can understand the outrage. The people most upset by this are the people who have stayed faithful to the Church. They have been let down, to put it mildly.”
James Kelly, Ph.D., is a columnist for The Universe — the biggest-selling Catholic weekly newspaper in Britain and Ireland — and is a researcher at the University of London.