Photo via Marino González (Flickr : Merlin1487) CC Licensed

Over the weekend, Carol Hunt wrote a thought provoking piece about the prospect of the Irish Catholic Church going its own way, free from Vatican influence. Plenty of food for thought. In an article covering 1500 years of Irish history, she explains how the “Romanisation” of Irish Catholicism, with its contorted theology, unquestioned paternalism and petty proscriptions, is a relatively recent phenomenon; emerging primarily from the aftermath of the 1847 potato famine. Irish Catholicism had ploughed its own furrow for centuries, she argues. Maybe, it’s time for it to return to its roots.

Fascinating though a wholly Irish Catholic Church might be, I can’t see it happening soon. Even if the Vatican insult the lot of us when they respond to Enda Kenny’s Dáil speech, I don’t see the bulk of practicing Catholics here doing anything about it. Ultimately, it comes down to inertia. Many of those most likely to have had the energy to change the church from within have long since left the church in disgust and frustration, with no intention of ever going back. The remainder are split unequally along two lines: a core of deeply committed Catholics who prefer to believe that the whole scandal is a secular assault on their religion and a larger, more moderate group who, while affronted by the behaviour of the clergy in the past two decades, are unwilling to do anything about it.

There are likely to be a multitude of drivers motivating the second group to do nothing. For many, obedience to the Church is the respectable thing to do. Public dissent and argument have always been strongly discouraged within the Church, so why raise your head above the parapet? Some are keenly mindful of their “Catholic” identity, as opposed to a “Protestant” identity, in an island where too much blood has been spilled over these minor theological differences. In the background is the lingering fear of damnation, both in the putative next life and this one too. In the end, no matter what anachronistic pronouncements are uttered from on high; no matter what will emerge from the scandals of the future, most moderate Catholics will put up with it all for the sake of an easy life.

It’s not as if home-grown Catholicism, as opposed to Roman Catholicism, isn’t attractive to many within this second group. Most Irish Catholics would do away with the failed ban on contraception in the morning. They would welcome married clergy and women priests. They certainly wouldn’t mourn the passing of Vatican countenanced clericalism and secrecy, particularly when we have all seen its devastating effects in Ireland and around the world. It’s just that, for Irish practicing Catholics, desiring something and doing something about it are two very different things.

Protests and dissenting voices have been limited and sporadic.  Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, has been highly critical of the Catholic hierarchy’s behaviour and is an uncompromising advocate of reform. He has been a lone voice, however, increasingly marginalised even if he is saying what many Catholics are privately thinking.

When a few trogloditic priests around the country revealed their true colours over the past few weeks – comparing Enda Kenny to Hitler and referring to the Cloyne aftermath as being part of a secular Jewish agenda – a few brave souls walked out of Mass and there were a small number of letters to the newspapers. The vast bulk of people remained silent. It seems that the spirit is willing, but the motivation to do anything about it is about as strong as a wet straw.

So, no. I don’t expect any real changes any time soon. Irish Catholicism will continue to ally itself with Rome, despite what outrages might emerge involving the Vatican in the coming years. The prognosis for this church is a slow and steady decline into irrelevance and backwardness while old age and disillusionment steadily swabs up the remaining bulk of congregants.

* Photo “Broken Cross” by Merlin1487 (Marino González) on Flickr (CC Licensed)