The First Holy Communion dress did not fit everyone

Week II

If there isn’t some dramatic change, and matters as they stand are allowed to drift, it is easy to see that the impact of the child abuse scandals within the Catholic church have had a very negative impact on the present and future generations in Ireland. Despite being one of the most generous generations ever when it comes to helping others, young people today are quite indifferent to the church. In fact many are openly hostile.

As for the institutional Church itself, Brenda O’Brien, The Irish Times journalist and a teacher of religion, writes that as an institution, it is bordering on clinical depression. Her son, 20 years old, has never known a time when it was held in high regard. She has taken her students to a mosque, where they met devout Muslims, and learned how they pray often, and try to remain in constant awareness of God. The Irish students were taken aback. They had not ever experienced that in their own everyday life. ‘We are still waiting for a model of Church where lay people are central,’ she says.*

Whatever structure is hammered out, and hopefully sooner rather than later, I cannot entirely blame the Catholic church for its present crisis. There was something in our psyche 50 or 60 years ago that allowed the horrors of the Magdalene laundry to continue all those years. It seems incredible now that some intelligent and influential citizens, who were aware of the Magdalene culture, or were at least conscious that unmarried mothers were cruelly marginalised by society, did not march in to the laundries, and demand that the ‘double-locked doors,’ be opened.

A kind of horror

Abbot Patrick Hederman OSB, in John Quinn’s honest and challenging book, puts the dilemma in an historical context. ‘ People,’ he writes, ‘ regard darkness as dangerous or different, but it represents half of our life. Problems arise when we try and pretend it’s all bright. One of the symbols of the newly independent Ireland was An Claidheamh Soluis, the Sword of Light, when Ireland was meant to be the brightest place on the planet.

‘That’s not enough. There are two sides to every story. Whereas other cultures like Russia over-emphasised the dark and the underside of the human condition, the whole project of de Valera and John Charles McQuade’s Ireland was to create a First Holy Communion dress for all of us, which would make us the envy of the planet.

‘It was a disaster. By concentrating on the white and pure, everything went underground. We now see the chaos that was caused by not examining the other side of ourselves, and what was meant for families and institutions.

‘We had the same time span as Communist Russia (1916 - 1917 ). The Russians produced gulags and all the horrors of concentration camps. We produced a similar kind of horror that has recently emerged. All those inner life forces that we refused to deal with, or to admit their presence, developed a monstrous life of their own.

‘We must examine the darkness, the unconscious, that half of our lives spent in the sleep and dream world (which is exactly what Joyce was doing in Finnegans Wake ) in order to create a balance necessary to provide a lifestyle that will be total.’

Our own journey

Former presidential candidate Sen David Norris, believes in God, in Jesus Christ, but would always retain the ‘principal of positive doubt’. ‘ The abuse scandals were horrendous. But that was not a reason for not believing in Christ, or in the values of Christianity.’

The image that Gordon Linney, the former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, has of the Christian Church is contained in a line from the Book of Common Prayer: ‘The blessed company of all faithful people’. Embracing this ‘glorious diversity’, Archbishop Linney accepted that the church is made up of pieces of all shapes, sizes, angles, and colours, like a mosaic.

Writer Alice Taylor believes that we are over-institutionalised. The church has‘evolved into something like a corporate business. ‘There is far too much emphasis on structural hierarchies. We almost handed over responsibility for salvation to the institution of the church, when it was our own business, our own journey.’

The views and opinions of 20 well known figures are quoted in the book, including the author himself. And it is not all doom and gloom. Both the harpist Mary O’Hara and the former prison governor John Lonergan write that their philosophy of life is best summed up in the book of Micah : ‘Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God.’

NOTES: Credo - Personal Testimonies of Faith, compiled and edited by John Quinn, published by Vertias, and on sale in all local bookshops.


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