a few words of a kind…

Fooled by Faith: Ireland and Bishops

In her recent report, Judge Yvonne Murphy says the centralized culture of ecclesiastical secrecy of accountability, to civic and criminal law, was the root cause of church cover-ups of pedophile priests in the Dublin archdiocese. It appears that the Catholic Church in Ireland did what it liked, regardless of the laws of God or man. A tragic and despicable legacy from the convenient marriage of Church and State.

Though the fathers of Irish republicanism were Presbyterians, down the centuries, Irish freedom and Irish Catholicism grew entwined like the vine and the branch. You died for Ireland and you died for Jesus, same difference. Back in the 1900’s, the Unionists and Orangemen were on to something when they shouted ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule!” But the southern Irish didn’t listen and cuddled deeper in the bed with the Church. By 1922, Ireland was a Catholic Republic.

After the Civil War, it took Eamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil ten years to get into government. He was just settled in when the International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin, an event which marked the 1,500th anniversary of St. Patrick bringing the word of Jesus to Ireland. It was a big step on the world stage for the young nation and the theme for the congress was “The Propagation of the Sainted Eucharist by Irish Missionaries.” The extravaganza began on June 21st 1932, and ended with a star studded High Pontifical Mass in the Phoenix Park on June 26th. The Free State issued a special Congress stamp, with a cross and the legend “Inter-nationalis Congressus Eucharisticus”. It was a real church cum state love fest.

It’s estimated that over 25% of Ireland’s Catholics were in Dublin for the prayers and hymns. A big crowd of Irish-Americans came over as well — bishops and tycoons. The authorities calculated that a million worshipers attended the Mass in the Phoenix Park, which was celebrated by Papal Legate Lorenzo Lauri, well-bred Roman with a crooked nose. The Mass was broadcast around the world and was a great show of pomp, holy smoke, and men in odd costumes. Count John McCormack sang Panis Angelicus and a bell which supposedly belonged to St. Patrick was jingled during the consecration.

After the Mass, there was a procession to Dublin city center. Over 20,000 stewards herded the faithful along the route; every hundred yards, loudspeakers churned out hymns for the crowd. The procession was 15 miles long, from start to finish and was one unending prayer.

At the head of the parade was the Canopy of the Blessed Sacrament. This was carried by 16 Irish ‘gentlemen’ — top dogs in robes and cocked hats, who were noted for their piety and faith. They included de Valera, Sean Thomas O’Kelly, William Thomas Cosgrave, Speaker Francis Patrick Fahy, Senate Chairman Thomas William Westropp Bennett and the Mayor of Dublin. They all drank the Kool Aid.

Both the Church and State pulled out all the stops to present Ireland as a spiritual republic, a morally superior counterweight to the decadent British Empire across the pond. It was hoped that the Congress would heal the Civil War rift, but that didn’t happen. (Eoin Duffy set up the Blue Shirts a few months afterwards — fascist Catholics who later went to Spain to support Franco.)

In the wake of the Congress, Ireland became less a republican democracy and more of a clerical dominated theocracy. With the 1937 Irish Constitution, the Catholic Church was given preferred status and that consummated the marriage. An early agenda was to banish/punish anyone who thought ‘outside the confessional box.’ First up were the writers. They were a pain for both church and state, but thank God they were easy to deal with, you just banned their books and they went to England or America.

And then the Bishops were worried about dancing and the possibility for sin if things weren’t tightened up. They got a hand in forming the 1935 Public Dancehalls Act and it worked a treat for everyone. Country house dances were banned in a stroke of a pen and the cultural fabric of rural Ireland was ripped. There would be no more sets danced to flute and fiddle in Leary’s cottage and anyone caught breaking the law was brought to court. It drove Irish traditional music to the edge and destroyed the dancing customs. To fill the vacuum, priests built parochial halls in towns and villages. They hired the bands, took the money and watched over the dancers to ensure a sin-free environment. They paid a tax to the government and the dance proceeds kept the parochial house in steak and onions.

There wasn’t much protest when the writers were banned. There wasn’t much when the country-dances were stopped. Few questioned the interference of the Church in State matters and those who did were exiled. Ireland began to resemble a feudal bishopric more than a modern state. It got worse, much worse: the children were abused, psychologically, physically, sexually and spiritually. Nobody listened to their cries. The horror went on for at least half a century and neither government nor police tried very hard to break it.

In the fall-out from the Murphy Report we hear that a handful of Irish bishops ‘may’ resign because of their failure to act against the predators under their rule. We are told the Catholic Church in Erin is going to be overhauled, revamped, and sanitized. It’s too late, muckers, the damage has been done. Your time is up in Ireland: go home to Rome and bring the black prayer book with you.
Is it any wonder that Jesus wept?

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7 thoughts on “Fooled by Faith: Ireland and Bishops

  1. Richard Lamasney on said:

    One can hardly challenge Eddie Stack’s principled and articulate indictment of Catholicism’s leadership and their betrayal of the exraordinary loyalty of ordinary Irish and Irish Americans to Holy Mother Church over centuries. But the Church is more than the sum of all the reactionary capons who currently run it and oppose humane reform at every turn; we must not forget the good works and sacrifice of ordinary priests, nuns, and laity who have strugged to improve the lot of the poor and desperate in the Third World, even as they were being castigated and marginalize by their bishops for doing so; their service and charity are part of the Church, as well, the only part worth honoring.

  2. John Caulfield on said:

    Nice one Ned. It’s interesting looking at the big, historical picture.
    The Lord of the dance musta been pissed off at the 1935 Dancehalls Act.
    Think of what was going on in Germany at the time.
    Not so cool, Kool Aid in dem days.


  3. I had forgotten how big an event the Eucharistic Congress was. Prior to the Popes visit in 1979, my Father and others of his generation told of the crowds and the mass in the Phoenix Park. Then of sitting on steps in Drumcondra in awe as the parade passed. He told us the parade took almost a day to pass and we of course didn’t believe him fully….
    I had never put the Eucharistic Congress into a political context as you do in the article and of course it all makes sense when looking back at it.
    In textbooks it was the opposition to Noel Brownes mother and baby scheme where the church first intervened. We took the intertwined Church/State relationship as begining with Arcbishop McQuaid. Looking back of course it wasn’t the case.

  4. Ellen D. Murphy on said:

    This should be required reading in the U.S., where elements of the religious right continually exert their influence on the political process, heedless of the wisdom of the drafters of our Constitution who guaranteed us not only freedom of religion but freedom FROM religion. There is at present a legal action in North Carolina to remove a local officeholder because he refuses to take an oath that includes a reference to his belief in God. Jesus wept, indeed. Fine work, Eddie.

  5. peter quinn on said:

    Right on, Eddie, well put. You can have the Gospel or you can have power. The Church opted for the latter. The wind was sown, and now the whirlwind is reaped.

  6. The church wouldn’t have had the power if it hadn’t been granted to it by its rosary-waving followers – some (or many?) of whom are speaking out in the media and defending these same bishops outside their churches. Still the same old hyprocritical and narrow-minded Ireland… But the church has been always been corrupt – the same church that made saints and martyrs of children who were believed to have died at the hands of Jewish people as blood-sacrifices. These innocent people then had their lands and money confiscated. A shrine to one of these children still existed in a Catholic church in Europe until the 1990s… But what can be expected of an undemocratic, all-male institution?

    Yes, there may be good individuals within this organisation. But if they are not working to revolutionise it, then how sincere are they at heart? As for missionaries, aid workers do the same work for the poor and hungry without imposing their own belief system on someone else’s culture.

    Regarding your statement, “Irish freedom and Irish Catholicism grew entwined like the vine and the branch. You died for Ireland and you died for Jesus, same difference”, I disagree. There were many non-Catholics who supported Irish freedom fighters and who were active in 1916.

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