Plus ca changeDec 2nd, 2009 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Ireland
The rumblings about the future of the Catholic Bishop of Limerick are a distraction from the fact that nothing has changed.
The Ryan and the Murphy Reports have done little to really change anything. The religious orders had achieved a deal for a tenth of their liability in 2002 and have gone about avoiding even that very limited liability. The prosecutions are few and far between; the findings of the tribunals being not admissible as evidence in courts of law. Most of all, there has been little to diminish the power of the institutional church. Ireland was and is a deeply sectarian and a deeply unChristian state.
The faith proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth is a matter of choice, being a follower of his is a voluntary matter; nowhere in the Gospel is discipleship a matter of compulsion.
The church abandoned the voluntary principle in medieval times, compulsion became the order of the day. If being burned at the stake was the alternative, then most people accepted the authority of the church. By the 21st Century, one might have thought that the last vestiges of compulsion had disappeared, but they remain in subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, forms.
Because the Irish state began in 1922 with very limited resources (one of the first acts of the finance minister was to cut the old age pension from ten shillings a week to nine), the ideals that had motivated its founders soon faded as they grappled with grim realities. There was no option but to allow the churches to continue the roles they had played in the fields such as education and health care. Perhaps, given the nature of Irish society, this would have happened anyway.
Ireland in 2009 allows voluntarism, no-one is compelled to be anything, except choosing to be nothing can bring unanticipated consequences, like finding it almost impossible to find a primary school place for your child in a school where religious observance is not compulsory. It is a situation unchanged by the scandals and the Reports
Catholic primary schools have a strong Catholic ethos, religious devotions and preparation for the sacraments form an integral part of church life. The much smaller number of Protestant schools, which are heavily oversubscribed, tend towards a much broader understanding of what being a ‘church school’ means, the ethos would be ‘Christian’ rather than that of a particular church; none I know of would expect whole classes, or even the whole school, to attend overtly denominational occasions, such as Holy Communion. Outside of those schools, the Educate Together movement seeks to provide a third stream, but options to attend one of its schools are limited, particularly in rural areas.
Had the churches in 1922 been compelled to espouse Gospel principles, allowing people freedom of choice, allowing faith to be a matter of choice, they would never have continued to exercise the influence and power they grew to possess and the horrific stories that emerged from the tribunals would mostly have been avoided. As it is, the power remains mostly unchallenged and the removal or otherwise of a bishop will achieve little to change the nature of the State.