Conference: Irish Catholicism on Trial. Oct 6 & 7

Phil Greene, an occasional commentator on this site, attended the conference, and has sent us these notes to give some idea of what went on. Like Phil, I too found it a most enjoyable and stimulating two days. (Tony F.)

“Irish Catholicism on Trial – 2 day international conference” – the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies in the IT Tallaght – 6th/7th October 2017
Organisers Dr. Eamon Maher of the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies in ITT and Revd. John Littleton of the Priory Intitute in Tallaght.

It was the end of day 2 of the conference in ITT, I was packing up ready to say my goodbyes when Tony Flannery turned around and asked me if I would write a summary of the conference for the ACP website!!! My whole system went into meltdown (behind a calm façade I hope) and all I thought was “I am not good enough to do this..”. But here I am now and hoping all the while that I give both the course and everyone concerned the justice they deserve.
Let me say first to anyone reading this who wishes to attend a course on his/her own to just do it.. it can be a little awkward at times but always inclusive, you will find your own rhythm 😊
Dr. Eamon Maher replied to my mail to me in such a friendly manner and that set the tone for the whole conference. I was struck immediately and indeed throughout this conference of the existence of long friendshipsbuilt on mutual respect, supportive structures and enjoyment of one another’s company within this quite diverse group.
Eamon explained that the title was a bit of a misnomer.
The conference represented, to me anyway, a holistic approach, incorporating both the mind and the senses, ofbeing Irish and being a Catholic, and about being both – past present and future, the good, the bad and unfortunately the ugly. But this was not about bashing the institution to bits and asking the French to join in, no it was a well thought- out, objective, outward-looking conference that wants to help the Catholic faithful, clerical and lay, navigate the complex road ahead of all of us, together.

Panel 1 – Scriptural, literary and journalistic representations of Irish Catholicism – 4 panellists
Keynote No. 1 – Professor Dermot Keogh gave us a comprehensive history of the influence and control that the Catholic Church enjoyed especially since the state began up to recent times.

Panel 2 – Clerical Voices (3 voices, Patrick Claffey, Tony Flannery, Mark Patrick Hederman)
Keynote No. 2 -Dr. Gladys Ganiel asked “Understanding Post-catholic Ireland: Does religion still matter? Based on a 3 year study Gladys showed us the various ways in which religion still matters on this Island.

Panel 3 -Mapping paths and strategies for Irish Catholicism – 3 panellists
Keynote No.3 -Professor Catherine Maignant gave a thought-provoking speech about the Church’s pastoral and marketing strategy on the internet titled – The “digital continent”: an escape route for a Church in crisis?

Panel 4 – Stereotypes, formation and finding a way forward – 3 panellists

In looking at history we can understand how the institutional Catholic Church in Ireland achieved such power and control on our families and communities. What is unclear, beyond holding unto limited individual power, is why they are not addressing the problems we are facing into..?
As usual we are able to find ways in which the Institution in Ireland is unable or unwilling to provide leadership. As usual lay people are frustrated at being ignored. As usual clergy are frustrated at being ignored.

So we walk away, further enlightened, some of us will look at St. Paul in a new light (Galatians 3:28), some will visit (revisit) John McGahern’s books (and Leonard Cohen!); others may ask our Catholic schools what being a Catholic school actually means to them.. John McHale and Nano Nagle might be worth looking up..
“Extra-institutional religion” might become a more widely used expression. Culture Wars are not computer games and a walk along an Irish Pilgrim Path/Camino looks quite inviting. We may look at bible stories only as metaphors, an insight into mystery rather than absolute doctrine, and may chuckle at Mark Patrick’s Latin phrases as he asks what happened to the Priesthood of the Laity. We learned something new about 15% of the natural world and that “true tradition” is the past alive in the present. We understand why the internet cannot mask the underlying problems in the Institutional church. We can look to South Africa for examples of involving the Laity in adult faith formation whilst wondering what is to be done about administering the Eucharist “our daily bread” in the future.
It was very clear many years of people’s lives went into these papers, so Thank You all. I wish that talks such as these could somehow be structured so that they could be given in parish centres. I enjoy attending some prayer meetings but feel that they should not be stand-alone, we need both types of meetings to ensure that we are all well-informed in all aspects of our Catholic Faith.
Next time maybe the bishops will come along, listen and walk away re-energised.. it get’s lonely at the top..

Panel 1 – Scriptural, literary and journalistic representations of Irish Catholicism
Eugene O’Brien presented St. Paul to us as a radical and messianic thinker who prized justice above the law and how this thinking gradually became domesticated and enculturated into a very conservative Catholic Church.
Eamon Maher presented an interpretation of John McGahern’s representation of religion. We were given a short history of McGahern and with examples from his books brought back to a time that most of us can remember and identify with. Paul Butler provided these representations through the camera lens ad music.
Grace Neville asked the question “how Catholic is contemporary Ireland?”. Grace explored this question in the field of Education and provided some insights as to how certain Catholic schools represent themselves on their websites in order to pinpoint what the term “Catholic” now means in modern Ireland.
Finally Professor Dermot Keogh provided a fascinating study of The Catholic Church and the Irish State. This study reflected how the Irish State, in its infancy, was so dependant upon the Catholic Church to provide , Education and health services along with borstals, orphanages etc. and the influence the Catholic church maintained in the years thereafter.
Today was a day for mostly Irish speakers
4 panelists led us through this session. Eugene O’Neill ,Eamonn Maher together with Paul Butler ,Grace Neville and finally Professor Dermot Keogh.
We were presented with how the radical messages of St. Paul was changed to suit a more conservative Church. We were then introduced or reminded of the John McGahern’s works and how they are replete with Catholic imagery and rituals, together with photographs and music to complete this study. We moved on to our education system and Grace shares her insights into her research on how Catholic schools describe themselves in modern day communications.
Professor Dermot Keogh provided the first keynote speech giving us a comprehensive history of the influence and control that the Catholic Church enjoyed especially since the state began.
In the afternoon we have the pleasure of Panel 2 – Clerical Voices (3 voices!)
Patrick Claffey introduces John McHale as Ireland first liberation theologian (a political Faith) and contrasts this withthe Ultramontanism of Cardinal Paul Cullen. Tony Flannery suggests that too much Doctrine has destroyed mystery and people will no longer accept this kind of teaching from the Church. Mark Patrick Hederman provides us with an understanding of the clerical oligarchy.
We ended the day with another key-note, Dr. Gladys Ganielasking “Understanding Post-catholic Ireland:Does religion still matter? Based on a 3 year study Gladys showed us the various ways in which religion still matters on this Island.
Day 2 opened with Panel 3 -Mapping paths and strategies for Irish Catholicism
Michael Cronin started the day with a very interesting talk on Irish Catholicism and Culture Wars.
We have a right to practise our faith and be allowed to do so in our social and public life.
Deborah Vandewoude, our first French panellist showed us that even as Church numbers decline there is a growing interest in spiritual walks and traditional pilgrimages. The Camino is growing in popularity year on year and the same can be achieved in Ireland with proper management.
Angela Hanley found reasons as to why same-sex marriage need not be a problem for the Catholic Church. She explained Hetorosexism and how we can live in “true tradition” i.e. the past alive in the present.
Professor Catherine Maignant gave a thought-provoking keynote speech on The “digital continent”: an escape route for a Church in crisis. Catherine examined the ways in which the digital strategy, understood as a pastoral but also marketing strategy has been implemented in Ireland. We also examined how it could be viewed going forward and indeed the impact of Algorithms on marketing strategies.

Panel 4 – Stereotypes, formation and finding a way forward
Colum Kenny addressed the issue of nuns in our present daysociety. He looked at our history of how the male Episcopal authority felt superior to nuns, of brave women like Nano Nagle.

Our third French speaker Alexandra Slaby looked at Adult faith formation initiatives and assessed them in relation to the very particular Irish relationship between faith and reason. The approaches to AFF initiatives in France and South Africa with the involvement of the Laity were also discussed as part of Alexandra’s study.

Finally , Fainche Ryan asked the question : Without the Eucharist , who are We?

Fainche relayed her experiences of living in Africa where a priest could only visit a parish once a year to say Mass and asked what do the established Church see as the most important , having fewer celibate priests able to administer the Eucharist or looking beyond this model to enable the faithful to receive the Eucharist on a daily basis as in the prayer The “Our Father”.

We had some questions, comments and discussions at the end of each panel which brought up even more interesting insights into how the Catholic Church in Ireland sees itself today and how it might be in the future.

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  1. Mary Vallely says:

    ‘Next time maybe the bishops will come along, listen and walk away re-energised.. .it gets lonely at the top.’
    Astute and empathic observation!
    Thank you for that very comprehensive report, Phil, and unlike the absent bishops you seem to have been ‘re-energised ‘ by it. Your passion and commitment to listening certainly comes across very strongly.
    It takes time and money to organise these conferences/talks but they are so necessary in the ongoing journey of dialogue and openness to listening. I must revisit some of those names you mentioned and am just sorry I missed the conference. Thanks again. ( Of course you’re ‘good enough’ !!)

  2. Any chance the papers and discussion would be published in a volume. Report suggest this was a very relevant conference for all elements of Irish society, religious & secular.

  3. From Phil’s lively report, I agree this sounds like a very relevant conference about realities that concern the ACP. It would be excellent if the papers and discussion were to be online, for further reflection and discussion by our members.

    If (most of) the talks already exist in digital form, and are made available to us by the speakers; and if a copy-editor is needed to give them a unified “look-and-feel” before putting them up on our ACP site, I’d happily undertake that task, gratis.

  4. Phil Greene says:

    Thank you Mary 🙂

    Just to reply to Pol and Pat, there was no mention of it being published as a volume , so I am not sure what exactly is available.. No doubt others may have more information relating to your comments.You are both right in that these type of conferences can help us all.

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