Hope for the Irish church on St. Patrick's Day?

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By guest blogger Rory Fitzgerald

It has been a long, dark winter here in Ireland.

The church has been a rock for the Irish people for sixteen centuries. Ireland's economy has spectacularly collapsed. Now, people say that the ancient Irish church is collapsing.

The Dublin Report was published last November, just as the worst floods in recorded history submerged major Irish cities, followed by the coldest winter in years.

Patsy McGarry, the Religious Affairs Editor of the Irish Times puts matters like this: "The Catholic Church in Ireland, as we have known it, is seriously damaged and probably beyond repair. It is sinking and sinking fast. And, as indicated from recent revelations on the European continent, the Irish Catholic Church may have company on that journey down."

How different to the situation in the United States where Father Benedict Groeschel of Sunday Night Live on EWTN, when I spoke to him last week, confidently predicted a resurgence in the American Catholic Church.

The tenor of the debate in Ireland has changed. Ambivalence to the church has given way to open hostility. People could accept that there were some bad eggs in the church. They cannot forgive a cover up by senior clergy, and that is the core finding of the Dublin Report.

The bishops seem blinded in the headlamps as they stumble from disaster to catastrophe. Only the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has resonated with the people with his humble and open contrition. He seems lonely and embattled, a quietly heroic figure.

The few remaining pro-Catholic media commentators now seem like Horatio, trying to keep the bridge against a relentless onslaught. Even they see the possibility of collapse. David Quinn has said: "Thermonuclear war has been declared on the church by its critics. If it's going to go down, it may as well go down with its flags flying at full mast."

Like St. John of the Cross, Ireland is deep in a "dark night of the soul." Yet for St. John, the pains of darkness brought purification. Might it be the same for Ireland?

Father Gregory Collins O.S.B., says so: "Irish Catholicism seems to have one foot firmly in the grave. Yet, if it has, then maybe renewal can begin." (U.K. Tablet subscription required for link.)

He asks: "Why should a thinking Christian mourn the demise of such a culture with its legacy of abuse and institutional duplicity? Is today's church stripped, broken and humiliated? Well and good! ... Perhaps this is a wake up call to rise with Christ and remake our church"

Despite all the despair, or perhaps because of it, Mass attendance is on the increase, the Irish Times reports.

I was walking in the woods the other day. The small birds were busy, shafts of sunlight penetrated the gloom and buds were forming on the trees.

In Ireland, we can only hope that a bright spring will follow this darkest of winters.


Guest blogger Rory Fitzgerald is an Irish journalist who specializes in legal, political and religious affairs. His website ishttp://www.roryfitzgerald.com.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.