Irish Times series ‘Catholicism Now’ attracts mixed reviews

The Irish Times has a series on Catholicism Now, starting Sat. June 2 and ending June 8:
Sat:        Healing a Broken Church
Mon:     Role of the modern priest
Tues:     How Catholic are you? Results of a survey.
Wed:     Wealth & power of the church.
Thur:     Movers and shakers in the church.
Fri:        What will the Irish church be like in 20 years?
Saturday 2 June:
Kathy Sheridan wrote: “German newspapers dissect the Easter and Christmas homilies of bishops and priests anxious to have something relevant and intellectually interesting to say.  …  In Ireland, the reporting of homilies is mainly limited to any content on clerical child abuse.” Quality of homilies is one thing; just as relevant are the decisions the media make about what to report, and how. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church in Ireland has a wide range of documents and statements which receive little attention from reporters. On media reporting, see http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2012/05/media-reporting-of-abuse-affects-outcomes/.
Diarmuid Ferriter, writing on the 1932 Dublin Eucharistic Congress, starts with the healing aspect of the Congress in the wake of the Civil War. He ends by writing of Northern Ireland, and says, “The Congress seemed to indicate that the Free State was a Catholic State for a Catholic people”. In that context, it is surprising that he omits any mention of the extent to which Northern Ireland was a Protestant State for a Protestant people. In the 1930s, 93.5% of the Free State were Catholic, and yet the first president was Douglas Hyde, a Protestant; also Erskine Childers 1973-1974. No Prime Minister of Northern Ireland has been Catholic. No UK head of state has been Catholic since Queen Mary in 1558.
Monday 4 June:
Features Fr Shane Crombie, who says: “I wouldn’t be part of ACP.” No problem. Catholic is by definition a broad church. But later there’s an implication that ACP wants to change the teachings and dogmas of the church. As Brendan Hoban says, that’s not what ACP is about.
Tuesday 5 June:
Opinion Poll. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2012/0605/1224317296492.html?via=mr, and other articles in that issue.
Some interpretations of the poll results are open to question. To mention a few:
On a five-point test of what it means to be Catholic, Joe Humphreys wrote: “The textbooks will tell you that you are Catholic if … Your belief in the ‘Virgin Birth’ is coupled with a deep adoration for Mary as the mother of God.” I don’t know what textbooks Mr Humphreys consulted, but to hold this would put a person outside the Catholic faith. Adoration is reserved strictly for God. We venerate Mary and the saints on a quite different level.
On the question of the resurrection, he wrote: “the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has spoken of the necessity, from the Christian viewpoint, for the resurrection to be a fact. If the resurrection never happened and is rather just a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration, or merely a nice way of saying the message of Jesus lives on then, he admits, Richard Dawkins is right and Christianity is a sham.” As if Rowan Williams were conceding a point, rather than stating what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19.
Kathy Sheridan wrote about transubstantiation: “– the belief that bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ during Mass – is a core tenet of the Catholic faith”. On this, Ms Sheridan wrote, “just a quarter of Irish Catholics believe what they recite in the Creed”. There is no mention of the Eucharist or transubstantiation in the Creed we recite.
The term “transubstantiation” itself is not obligatory. Trent just says “the catholic Church very fittingly calls it transubstantiation” (catholica Ecclesia aptissime transubstantionem appellat).
Noting that 50% don’t believe in hell, Ms Sheridan writes: “Penitential sites such as Croagh Patrick and Lough Derg remain almost unique to Ireland, yet some might ask, what is the point of them if everyone is going to heaven?” She seems to presume that it’s all about the hereafter, forgetting the importance of Christian living today.
Respondents were asked to choose between “Transforms into body and blood” and “Only represents body and blood”. This suggests there are only two possibilities. The “core tenet” is not that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are physically present as he was 2000 years ago – that would imply that receiving the Eucharist is cannibalism. On the other hand, to say that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is “merely symbolic” is minimal. Is a handshake or a hug “merely symbolic”?  The “Real Presence” of a person can have many modes, and would need more space than available here. In what sense am I present to a person who is asleep? In what sense are people really present, who are crowded into a train, but ignoring one another? Are they really present when looking at photograph, or when conversing via computer with voice and live pictures?
It is likely many Catholics are vague about the Eucharist. For Corpus Christi and the start of the Eucharistic Congress, a homily on the Eucharist and Real Presence might be useful; including the other modes of liturgical Real Presence in the assembly and in the Word.
Carl O’Brien wrote: “most Catholics (59 per cent) said they are aware of the Eucharistic Congress, due to take place this week, but a very small minority (4 per cent) planned to attend.” The 2011 census gives the Catholic population as 3,861,335. 4% of that is 154,453 – nearly twice Croke Park. If the poll is representative of the population, that 4% is still significant.
Patsy McGarry wrote that the opinion poll “found 47 per cent of Irish Catholics had an unfavourable view of the church, while 46 per cent agreed Catholic teachings were of benefit to Irish society. Just 9 per cent of respondents to the poll said they believed Ireland would be a better place without the Catholic Church. Some 38 per cent said Ireland would be a worse place to live without the Catholic Church.” The 47% unfavourable is not shown in any of the poll results published, and seems contradicted by the 9%. Rather, answers to Q18 of the poll show that 38% say Ireland would be worse without the Catholic church, and 46% say it would make no difference either way. This gives a total of 84% who can not be said to have an unfavourable view.

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  1. Thank you Padraig for the above. In recent years The Irish Times religious affairs reporting tends to stay at the level of reporting sociological data. Under its current reporter, it lacks depth or any critical faculty. There is what one can call ‘a mental or academic laziness’, coupled with poor journalistic standards. When one compares it with the standard of reporting from the economics reporters, it (religious affairs) is quite inferior and shoddy. Perhaps the current religious affairs reporter is just jaded or genuinely disinterested. One recalls the greats – Sean MacReamon, Louis McRedmond, Kevin O’Kelly and John Horgan. The current religious affairs reporter would do well to visit the Irish Times Library and,as the Leaving Certificate students today will be requested, to ‘compare and contrast’. There is room for a vast improvement.

  2. I would remind Bro Jude that while those great predecessors of mine exercised their “mental and academic” faculties to his satisfaction children were being sexually, physically and emotionally abused in orphanages, industrial schools, reformatories and parishes across this island. I would have thought the exposure and reporting of such “sociological data”, with the object of bringing such abuse of the innocent to an end, was a far more worthwhile and Christian exercise than engaging with indulgent and arcane argument over matters of high theology which impinge on so few lives and all while preventable suffering was taking place. Then there have always been those churchmen who have preferred the academy to the grubbiness of the street where most humanity abides. It is one reason why our Irish Catholic church is in the sad state it is today. Such churchmen might reflect that Jesus spent little, if any, time in libraries. He would also appear to have had little time for those who may have, those such as ocupied positions of religious leadership in his day. He preferred the company of such unworthy ones as the woman at the well. Personally speaking, I would prefer her – and his – company too.
    Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

  3. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Now that the Irish Times’ RAC has broken cover, I’m sure we’d all like to hear from his fourth great predecessor, the Press Ombudsman. What should we charge Horgan with? Not “challenging the culture” maybe. Why wasn’t he mentioned by Judge Murphy?

  4. Mary Burke says:

    Re Diarmuid Ferriter’s comment on 2 June (above)
    A small correction: the last Catholic Head of State in England/GB/UK was James II (1685-1688/1701).
    Yes, Patsy, but I’m afraid Jesus wasn’t drawing a salary as a religious affairs journalist. You may not like what Brother Jude is saying but you haven’t refuted it. His remarks are worth reflecting on.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Thanks, Mary, for the correction. How could I have forgotten the Battle of the Boyne?! There’s an old road in Co Wicklow still known by some as King James’ Road, along which James was said to have travelled on his way to the boat at Duncannon.

  6. Gene Carr says:

    In noting that Ireland with 93% Catholic has had two Protestant Presidents, it should also be noted that the ‘un-Crowned King’ of Ireland in the late 19th Century was also a Protestant. There is a more general point to be made here. Other predominantly Catholic countries have also fine records in this respect. For example France has had a long line of distinguished Protestant Presidents and Prime Ministers. So have countries such as Brazil and the Phillipines. In the case of France this stretches back into the 19th Century–for instance Guizot in the 1830s, but even further back to before the French Revolution, when Necker was First Minister under Louis XVI. Can anyone even conceive of Catholic Prime Minister of Britain in the 18th Century? The mind could not even entertain the idea. It would be controversial even now. And it was not just Britain. Right up to the 1950s the worst record for religious intolerance was Lutheran Sweden, where there were severe restriction on non-Lutherans in appointments to any poilitical, State offices or functions–principally affecting the small Catholic minority. There were similar restriction in some of the Calvinist cantons of Switzerland. The myth of superior Protestant tolerance dies hard.

  7. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Gene Carr is right: these Catholic states have always been far too tolerant when it comes to handing out the top jobs. A fact well known to the man in the Newry dole queue on 1st March 1939. The discourse got around to the papal conclave just starting that morning. With all the papabili discussed, they decided that Joseph MacRory at 78 wasn’t in with a chance. “You can take it from me,” says Mick McCreesh, “whoever gets the job, it won’t be a Catholic anyway.”
    I wonder if Marc Ouellet’s a Catholic.

  8. Mr McGarry has chosen to side step my particular point. Instead he appears to use the horrendous crimes committed by some religious, clerics and laity against children, as a stick. It is regrettable that a religious affairs reporter would resort to such un-professional behaviour. By contrast, many other excellent and brave journalists have given a voice to the voiceless victims. Unlike Mr McGarry, who objectively reports on such matters, I continue to accompany victims. So, whilst I await Mr McGarry’s reply to my original entry above, I wish him well in his coverage of the IEC. Let us hope that Mr. McGarry’s reports on the IEC are not also reduced to being a stick on the basis of argumentum ad hominem!

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Since 1948, 12 Dublin priests have been convicted of criminal sexual activity with minors — Patsy McGarry could try to put that in perspective instead of going Maureen Dowd’s way.

  10. Mary Burke says:

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Brother Jude’s main criticism, that Patsy McGarry has not addressed the issues he raises. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction of his to use the issue of child protection, which ought to be a priority for us all and which is put into sharp perspective by Joe O’Leary’s contribution. Patsy’s style is fluent and easy to read. His articles would greatly benefit from an introductory course in theology and/or religious studies. He has come some way from the early days of his job in the IT in this regard, but still has a long way to go if his analysis is to compare with that of Robert Mickens or Andrea Tornielli.


    The above dialogue would be the makings of a great stage performance.

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