Ireland Shares America's Hurt, But Offers Little

Many would think: If there is one country in the world America can be sure of in its hour of need, that country is Ireland.

After all, America has provided a refuge for millions of Irish people who have migrated there over more than 200 years.

This makes the bond between the two countries strong and deep. Almost every Irish family has a relative in America, and about two dozen Irish people were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center last month.

And so it was that, when that terrible event took place, the great majority of Irish people were almost as shocked as they would have been had the terrorists attacked central Dublin.

The response of the government was to call a National Day of Mourning; this took place the Friday after the attack. Local churches responded by putting on special Masses and services up and down the country. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the churches on that day.

The response of the Irish intelligentsia, on the other hand, was quite different. The literal dust had barely settled when some of our most high-profile commentators began suggesting that America had somehow brought this upon itself. In their ideological blindness, the leftist Irish intelligentsia was at one with the left in countries that have almost no ties with America.

What of the churches? On the National Day of Mourning itself, they rose to the occasion magnificently.

If only the same could be said since then. At a time like this, what should be the proper response of, in particular, the Catholic Church's best thinkers? Surely it is to apply the moral doctrine of the Church to the situation and suggest a course of action for America and its allies, Ireland included, that is both moral and effective.

Instead of this kind of analysis, what we have been offered by most Catholic thinkers is one shallow platitude after the next; just the sorts of things everyone already knows: “The American response mustn't be indiscriminate”; “We must think of the Afghan people”; “We mustn't make a bad situation worse.”

One priest, the head of the Faculty of Moral Theology at St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, said that almost any military response by America would be immoral. In an interview with The Irish Times, he said that anything that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, even indirectly, would be wrong.

He admitted that he had nothing practical to offer to America by way of how they might stop bin Laden and his followers in the future.

At a time like this, what should be the proper response of, in particular, the Catholic Church's best thinkers?

The Irish bishops have offered better analysis than this, but there does seem to be a missed opportunity here. The Catholic Church has insights which can guide their own flock in Catholic moral principles in this area — not to mention a key perspective that might be of use to the Irish government.

This lack of a hardheaded, rigorous analysis on the part of the Irish Catholic leaders is indicative of an institution still trying to live down its authoritarian past by retreating into a guarded, somewhat effete stance on many of the major issues of the day.

Not so the rank-and-file.

Older people remarked that the National Day of Mourning was like Good Friday as it used to be marked in Ireland. Almost every shop was closed, as were pubs and cinemas. Almost everyone stayed at home with their families.

It was a very unusual day — and a reminder of what life must have been like before the onset of hectic, “24/7” consumerism.

Our response led some people to note that we seemed to be mourning more deeply what happened in America than we ever mourned over the various atrocities perpetrated by terrorists in Northern Ireland.

They had a point. Why would this be?

Perhaps it is because we have become inured against the situation in Northern Ireland. Terror in that part of Ireland, up until the peace process at any rate, had come to seem normal.

The attack on America, on the other hand, seemed like an attack on normality. Who could have done this, and why? What would be the aftermath? Would there be more attacks like this? Who would be the next target?

The Northern conflict was at least predictable. Mostly we knew who would be attacked, and who would be left alone. The horror on Sept. 11 made everything seem somehow unsafe, disordered, unpredictable.

So, in the main, ordinary Irish people felt instinctively for Americans. They didn't attempt to analyze the reasons for what happened, any more than they would have if some terrible fate had befallen a family member.

David Quinn, editor of The Irish Catholic in Dublin, writes his letter from Ireland every month in the Register.