There’s a biting wind down Church Road this evening. At 9.30, a series of clusters of young people walked down the road: haircuts and track suits marking them out as not being from the social classes that fill the south Dublin fee paying schools.
Drink was in evidence, or its effects, at least. Some wavered from side to side, others burst into song. Some looked familiar; or maybe it was just the song they sang was familiar. Maybe they were amongst the dwindling number of the faithful who gathered at a local soccer ground.
Having drunk more than was wise when their age, and having sung football songs in the street, they didn’t seem so strange, though a middle aged cleric would have looked, to them, like someone from a different planet.
Walking in their footsteps, the church seemed an irrelevance.
In England, of course, it was.
The Church of England long ago turned its backs on working class people. Its huge wealth meant it had no need of the few pennies they might contribute and its dominance by the middle and upper classes ensured that the issues it addressed were confined to the nuances of its internal life and never questioned the fundamental issues of society. Read the Church Times and there is hardly an item of the remotest relevance to those who read The Sun and The Mirror.
in Ireland, the Catholic Church could not afford to turn its back on working class people, even if its all-encompassing theology allowed it to do so. It needed their financial support in order to fund its parishes. If not through church collections, there would be the bingo and the lotteries and the other fundraisers.
As socially conservative as the Church of England, the Catholic Church quickly established itself as virtually coterminous with Irish society by the 1930s. It had no desire to see changes that would lessen its dominance in every sphere of human life. Even modest reforms were rejected; minister Noel Browne’s very limited proposals to provide maternal and child health care were repudiated as ‘socialism’ and unwarranted interference by the state in matters that were under the authority of the church.
Working class people behaved as bidden by the bishops; when Archbishop McQuaid wanted something so seemingly trivial as the prevention of the performance of plays by Sean O’Casey, the trade unions co-operated.
The Church exercised complete control: sin was about having sex before marriage, or using condoms, it was not about anything the church did, nor was it about corruption and cronyism in society.
Not until the 1990s did it all begin to unwind. The scandals may have provided a reason but the rapid economic growth provided the opportunity; people with money in their pockets could make their own choices. Their choice was to do their own thing; to turn their backs on the church.
The comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the Irish Catholic Church are an irrelevance to the young people on the road this evening. They have gone, walked on by.
Being honest, in their place, I would walk with them.