Originally posted by @no1marauder
The voters in the Republic overwhelmingly pass a referendum repealing a constitutional ban on abortion. https://www.politico.eu/article/official-result-percent-back-repealing-irish-abortion-ban-eighth-amendment/
Maybe the priests don't run the place like Finnegan once said.
...Here, in summary, is the history of modern Irish Catholicism – the long endurance of a popular religious identity that, very unusually in Europe, defied the rule that subjects should follow the faith of their rulers; the gradual emergence of a supremely well-organised and increasingly self-confident church; the triumph of an institution that came to tower over Irish society.
The church’s power had some very particular foundations. Oppression had made it the locus of endurance and defiance. Irish nationalism, in spite of its republican and non-sectarian rhetoric, effectively fused Catholic and patriotic forms of self-assertion.
Mass emigration made the universality of Catholic ritual – you could go to the same Mass in Brooklyn as in Ballina – a guarantor of personal and communal continuity in a broken society.
And, as Tom Inglis has pointed out, whereas in other countries it was factory life that “civilised” people, teaching them how to turn up on time and control their bodies, in Ireland this process was largely managed by church attendance.
These factors gave the institutional church extraordinary power over public discourse, collective identity and sexuality, especially the sexuality of women. With the formation of a partitioned State in which Catholics were an overwhelming majority, that power was fully institutionalised.
What we have to consider, though, is not that it was often brutally enforced but that this brutality was deemed necessary. You don’t have to enforce something if you’re fully confident of its strength.
Ostensibly, the Irish church in its pomp had every reason for confidence. It enjoyed the genuine allegiance of much of the population: in 1891, 89 per cent of the population of the 26 counties was Catholic; by 1991, this had actually risen to 92 per cent. Its strictures were deeply embedded in a culture of conformity and respectability. It controlled education and healthcare. It set firm limits of what politicians and governments could say and do.
Yet none of this was enough. Rigid censorship had to be imposed to keep forbidden images and unorthodox thoughts out of the minds of the populace. The laws of the State had to be made into force fields to protect Catholic teaching on divorce, contraception and health.
And most brutally, a reign of terror had to be imposed by incarcerating an astonishing 1 per cent of the entire population in a huge archipelago of industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother-and-baby homes and mental hospitals.
In 1950, when this kind of Catholic Ireland was at its height, the church ran a scarcely believable 51 industrial schools in which 6,000 children were held in conditions that can reasonably be compared to slavery.
Some of this vast abuse of power can be explained by sheer overkill: tyrants, after all, tend towards paranoia. But some of it may have come from a justified suspicion that, if they were let off the leash, the Irish faithful might be inclined to stray.
The spectre of emigrants “falling away from the faith” in the fleshpots of England and America haunted the church because it had some substance. John McGahern, who lived in Mohill, Co Leitrim, reported with glee the reaction of a neighbour to whom he explained that he did not go to Mass because, as an unbeliever, he would feel a hypocrite: “But, sure, none of us believe . . . We go to see all the other hypocrites!”
Hypocrites is probably too strong a word. Hypocrisy involves saying one thing and doing another. In the real, underlying Irish Catholicism, the gap between saying and doing was not so wide. It was wriggle room. Devotion was generally sincere.
The church’s practices, as McGahern pointed out, provided colour in an often dreary world. The Stations of the Cross and the Corpus Christi processions were the theatre of the countryside. The Redemptorist priests, with their blood-curdling sermons, were “evaluated as performers and appreciated like horror novels”. The larger-than-life parish clergy – “from a line of swaggering, confident men who dominated field and market and whose only culture was cunning, money and brute force” – were compelling characters in the local drama.
Clergy and bishops were looked up to. Families were very proud to have a priest or a nun in the family: the Catholic theologian Donal Dorr has written of the emergence of a “privileged clerical caste” and this was indeed a caste system.
The “foreign missions”, with their exotic tales and assumptions of cultural superiority, created the illusion of a “spiritual empire” that belied the obvious failures of the State at home. Even the sprayed-on odour of sanctity, the desire to be holier-than-thou (and especially holier than England) that culminated in the Eighth Amendment, functioned as a kind of compensation culture: God may have made Ireland uninhabitable for so many of its citizens but he blessed the remnants with divine self-righteousness.
If it had not been for the child abuse scandals, and the church’s catastrophic reaction to them, it is possible that this Catholic Ireland would have lasted much longer.
As it is, this long goodbye has now finished, and it is hard to foresee a resurrection of the authoritarian, clericalist and patriarchal church.
But Irish paganism was vanquished 1,500 years ago – and we are still tying rags to holy trees, drinking from holy wells and climbing sacred mountains. And where else would a community stunned by shock and grief go to light a candle against the darkness except to the place it has been going for centuries?
Religious rust belt
We are left, certainly, with a religious rust belt: hulking half-empty churches, too cavernous to be heated in the winter, that were once literal powerhouses, factories that churned out dominance and consolation, shame and beauty, terror and pride, for the Irish and global markets.