IRELAND: Tell bishops to ‘get the hell out of our cathedrals’, says writer

This is from The Irish Independent:

Tell bishops to ‘get the hell out of our cathedrals’, says writer
By Marese McDonagh
Friday August 20 2010

Irish Catholics should establish a home-grown church by demanding that the bishops "get the hell out of your cathedrals", a leading author said yesterday.

Former ‘Newsweek’ journalist Robert Blair Kaiser [a man of a certain age] also said that a grandmother who is urging women to boycott Mass in protest at the way women are treated in the church has started a revolution

He called on Irish Catholics to fix their "broken church" by making it "more Irish, less Roman" at the opening of the Humbert Summer School in Co Mayo.

Mr Blair Kaiser, who reported on the second Vatican Council for ‘Time’ magazine, said that the battle for the Irish Catholic church had already been started by 80-year-old Jennifer Sleeman, who has called on women to boycott Sunday mass on September 26 "to let the Vatican and the Irish church know women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens".

The US author said that the Cork grandmother had probably started the revolution.  [The Irish Catholic Rosa Parks, perhaps.]

"I have every reason to believe that you can take back your church — your church, not the Pope’s church, your church — not the bishops’ church", said Mr Blair Kaiser who recommended that Irish Catholics create a "autochthonous" or local and from-the-ground-up church.

In a keynote address ‘Church Reform: No More Thrones‘, the author said he was not attacking the Catholic faith but the "special and corrosive tyranny that popes have been exercising over Catholics everywhere". [What would examples of that "tyranny" be?  Apparently there should be no one in the Church to exercise the ministry of saying "No." to really bad ideas.]

He said that in the 1800s, Ireland’s first cardinal, Paul Cullen, had built a two-tiered clerical Irish church which marched in total loyalty to Rome and his own over-reaching authority. Later, Dublin Archbishop John Charles McQuaid had "put his own special twists" on Cardinal Cullen’s authoritarian model, imposing his iron will on Irish politics and Irish society.  [I am not well-versed in the particulars of the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland from the 1700’s onward, but I wonder what role Jansenism picked up in French seminaries might have played both in Ireland and then in the USA.]

"The cardinal and the archbishop established the clerical culture in Ireland that Judge Yvonne Murphy identified as the root cause of the Irish scandals that have sent your nation reeling," said Blair Kaiser.  [More and more I think we are going to be seeing the phrase "clerical culture".  "Clerical culture" is always going to be pejorative.]

Irish Catholics could establish a home-grown church by demanding bishops "get the hell out of your cathedrals" and elect their own bishops who would serve the people as listeners, not lords," he suggested[They should listen.  And then they should doooooo…. what exactly?]


In a response to the US expert, ‘Irish Catholic’ deputy editor Michael Kelly rejected the comparison between England’s occupation and the "colonising power" of the papacy.

He said that while he shared the keynote speaker’s sadness that the church in Ireland had been unwilling and unable to embrace the teachings of the second Vatican Council, he could not accept that the council intended a rupture of the Catholic tradition of the church.

"What I have experienced in Ireland is a Catholicism that has betrayed the best tradition of our church, he added. He said it was more consoling to blame Rome than to search Irish Catholicism for what had gone wrong and he called for an "honest investigation" into the culture of the church here.

The dreadful truth about the "cabal of egomaniacal clerics" who failed Irish Catholics so dreadfully, is that these bishops did not come from Rome or Constantinople — but from Caherciveen, Tullamore, Cavan, Roscommon and Castlebar.

The school continues today with an examination of the response by the Pope and the Irish hierarchy to the abuse scandals.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. torch621 says:


    This is too funny. They should write for Comedy Central =)

  2. And here I was thinking they wanted territorial abbeys, again.

  3. cgdouglas says:

    A revolution? lol…

  4. TJerome says:

    the groans and dying gasps of the doubleknit dinosaurs

  5. sawdustmick says:

    I have every reason to believe that you can take back your church—your church, not the Pope’s church, your church—not the bishops’ church

    Actually I thought it was Our Lord Jesus Christs Church !

  6. Oleksander says:

    Church of Ireland (Anglican Communion) exists, they’re eager I am sure, they “ordain” women and they have some very pretty churches but that is probably a turn off but they are ex-Catholic churches so maybe they wont mind
    oh according to wikipedia the 21st century is the first time in 100 years where they have had positive growth – I’ve read of people being shocked how anti-Catholic Ireland is, and this is before the scandals over there… very sad and to think of the pain their ancestors went through to preserve Catholicism – as I recall Pius XII was invited to go there should the communist take control of Italy

  7. shadowlands says:

    ‘the groans and dying gasps of the doubleknit dinosaurs’

    What exactly is, a doubleknit dinosaur? I keep hearing that expression.
    I like knitting, but why the ‘doubleknit’ emphasis? Are you hankering after a new scarf?

    We should pray for the Irish Catholics, they spread the faith throughout the world, we have much to thank their sons for, regarding the faith. I am Irish descent, on my mother’s side. Cork grandmothers in a mood, I would tend to steer clear of! ‘Tis not from the heart that her sentence came’ so let the devil take the baliff’s instead.
    You’d have to be Irish to understand the woman’s words, and what they are really saying. It’s funny watching people try though.

  8. rakesvines says:

    [They should listen. And then they should doooooo…. what exactly?]

    The sheep telling the shepherd what to do. What a concept.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    “your Church” ? Sorry didn’t he mean Christ’s Church? The Bride of Christ? The Body of Christ? there is no such thing as ‘your Church’

  10. Gabrielle says:

    Oh come on! Yawn yawn.
    Let’s do some very basic thinking here: who’s going to do the “electing”? Who’s going to be allowed to “stand for office”? What electoral system will be used? What about a majority of people who don’t want the “elected” candidate? What is the term for the period of office? To whom will the “elected” person be accountable (yawn)- the people?- How? Why? What?
    The only thing which IS predictable is the author’s agenda.

    BTW- how soon before demands are made for “equality” of gender/ positive discrimination…?

    St Patrick, pray for Ireland.

  11. shadowlands says:

    Is wanting someone to listen ‘telling’ them what to do though? God listens to us, He inhabits our praises, that is the ultimate in listening, I should say. The Irish are a wounded people at the moment. If their words are mixed up and unclear, it might be pain talking. When I bash my finger, I sometimes cuss, it’s getting better, now I’m praying the rosary, but I used to have a real problem with it, when angry. I’d also want to kick something, but I suppose I might just be an exception.

    Jesus didn’t say to Simon Peter, “This is who I am” He said, “Who do you say that I am?” Then He listened, to the point that he even knew the source of Simon Peter’s answer. To know, that God knows us that intimately, isn’t that what we all seek, and dread, at the same time?

    Listening is very important, from both sides. I listen better to authority when I know it loves and cares for me. If I sense it doesn’t, I don’t try to hear what it says anymore. I naturally resist it, it’s part of my fallen nature, but love softens that, when I let it. Knowing I am heard has a very good effect on my behaviour, it might work for the wounded Irish people too.

  12. MLivingston says:

    Shadowlands, doubleknit was a fabric in the 1970s. Impervious to wrinkles, air, anything. “Leisure suits” were made of it (and ordinary suits, too, I think.) A doubleknit dinosaur is someone trapped in the 1970s.

  13. shadowlands says:

    Oh, I thought the commenter was being ageist.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    I do not fully understand the reference to John Charles McQuaid, who although a strong leader against both Modernism and Communism, was a great friend of the poor. This Primate of Ireland worked under tremendous strain during the development of the Irish Constitution and was a champion of the rights and status of the Catholic Church at a time when secular powers wanted less religion in the public square. He was not one of the bishops who pushed for reform after Vatican II and he was a strong supporter of Humanae Vitae, a stand which did not make his popular.

    The writer of the article obviously is a dissenter, who is probably a Modernist and supporter of contraception and abortion, and a socialist, all things McQuaid strongly opposed. I do not think McQuaid was influenced by Jansenism, as his great love for Pope Pius X and his strong allegiance to Rome, which caused him to be criticized as an “ultramontane”, would contradict any attraction to heresy.

    I do not know about Paul Cullen, except that he upheld the doctrine of papal infallibility, but imagine that he too was between a rock and a hard place, as the Irish Catholics as well as the English Catholics, have not always liked a close relationship to Rome since the Reformation, which goes back to the Papal Bull excommunicating Elizabeth I, a document and event seen as causing more hardship for the Catholics in Ireland and England than a help. Those of us from other backgrounds may not have the same feelings or such long memories.

  15. jaykay says:

    Yawn! Double-knit yawn. People, the Irish Independent is a sensationalist waste-stirring (I could use a more potent phrase but…) rag. Ignore it. It’s what’s called the silly season over here. They basically hype-up stories with big headlines to sell the toilet roll. I’m sure your’e all familiar with the concept.

    Et iterum dico… yawn.

  16. Athelstan says:

    [I am not well-versed in the particulars of the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland from the 1700’s onward, but I wonder what role Jansenism picked up in French seminaries might have played both in Ireland and then in the USA.]

    A significant role, I suspect; though it was also a reaction and even a kind of emulation of the more puritan aspects of the Protestantism of Ireland’s English rules, according to Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, who teaches moral theology at Maynooth and studied (along with doctoral classmate Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.) under Fr. Joseph Ratzinger at Regensburg in the 1970’s.

    As he notes in his book, The End of Irish Catholicism?, Twomey notes his surprise at how different Bavarian Catholicism was from what he had known in Ireland:

    “While in Europe, I learned how the rest of the Catholic world celebrates Advent, for example, namely as a true preparation for, not an anticipation of, Christmas. There I experienced Christmas as a Christian feast that was not just a one-day affair, but a full Twelve Days that lasted to Epiphany … The point of all this is that, while in Regensburg, I began to suspect that Irish Catholic culture might not be quite so authentically Catholic after all. It looked more and more like a Protestant culture decked out with some second-hand Catholic garments made of various neo-something-or-other art and architecture, French or Italianate devotions, and plaster saints. To be more specific, ‘traditional Irish Catholicism’, to an alarming degree, seemed to be, if not Jansenistic, at least puritanical both in the original, historical sense of the word (as being iconoclastic, dualist, and militant) and in the narrow sense of disdain, not to say, hatred for the pleasures of the body in a mistaken notion of Christian piety.” [p. 47-8]

    Fr. Twomey traces this influence most directly to the impact of English Catholic devotional tracts of the 18th century, where French Jansenistic influences may have had influence at second-hand, it seems.

    I admit I am a little mystified by just what Kaiser is aiming at. Is what is aimed for an independent Irish Church that ordains women?

  17. Elle says:

    {The Irish Rosa Parks, perhaps.} LOL
    Nooooooooooooo Padre, Rosa was a good woman. May she rest in peace

  18. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Hmmmm… Good point about where the bishops came from. The sex offenders in Ireland didn’t come from Rome either. And the most famous clerical sex offender in Boston was named, cough, Geoghan, not a name particularly native to the Eternal City.

  19. jaykay says:

    Aethelstan: yes, you’re right. But a very important factor in the equation is catastrophic poverty, added to a predominantly rural, non-urban culture. So it’s not surprising that Irish catholicism would share little of the characteristics of Bavaria, which was after all a rich catholic monarchy. Throw in as well the effects of total lack of self-confidence after a few centuries of domination and… Well

  20. Supertradmum says:

    I have just done a quickie study of the Cardinal Paul Cullen and discovered that he drafted the doctrine of Papal Infallibility and was also, like McQuaid, accused of ultramontanism, a nasty word to this day among some Irish Catholics. It is clear that M. McDonagh sides with those who want a break-away National Church, which is ironic, as Cardinal Cullen was instrumental in the disestablishment of the Irish National Church in what became the Republic.

    It seems that the criticisms of the two great Churchmen mentioned are rooted in a hatred of Rome. The “iron will” reference merely means that Archbishop McQuaid was a loyal and strong supporter of Catholic doctrine and morals against the rising tide of secularism and relativism.

    When I lived in England and heard criticisms of Churchmen as being ultramontanists, I thought I was talking to a Modernist, and indeed, more than once, that proved to be true. It is interesting that in America’s own history, some of the bishops and priests who fell into the heresies of “Americanism” and Modernism, were Irish-Americans, such as William L. Sullivan, Bishop John Ireland, John Courtney Murray, Monsignor O’Connell, and possibly John Keane, although his name was cleared after much to-do. The legacy of these heresies are still widespread today, especially the idea of the local Church being “more in touch” with the people’s faith than Rome.

  21. Magpie says:

    If anyone wants to be irritated, the the Irish national broadcaster produced this programme recently: ‘Would you believe? Faith in Crisis’.

    Hopefully it will play for those outside Ireland:

    If gives a good idea of just what kind of people and thinking we must deal with. I watched it once to be annoyed, and watched it a second time for entertainment!

  22. jaykay says:

    Second that (second) emotion, Magpie, to paraphrase the old 80s song. And this is what what we’re largely dealing with here. Tired old, tired old 70s/80s superannuated dissenter droolings.

  23. Magpie says:

    It is sad that these folks seem totally incapable of reading the large writing on the wall. Your project failed. Now go to confession.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    By the way, Father Corapi once said a few years ago that if people were stating that they were leaving the Church because of the scandals, that was not true. He said that the scandals, although horrible and upsetting, do not cause good, strong, loyal Catholics to leave the Church, but only those who needed a rationalization for their own decisions based on other reasons, most likely moral.

    Same in Ireland, I presume, where abortion and contraception are increasingly accepted and where Mass going is down. Lying to one’s self is an easy thing to do and the scandals just provide fuel for the deceiving fodder.

    As to the woman priest movement there, was not the Celtic cult of druids one of the last cults to have women priestesses? Ancient Kildare had female guardians of some sacred fire and these ladies acted as priestesses. In fact, some modern wicca cults claim that St. Brigid was one of these, which of course, is nonsense and sacrilegious. Her father was a pagan priest who worship the goddess, Brigid. I would not be surprised if some of the ladies upset about the male hierarchy fall into the Neo-pagan category of female priestesses or wiccans.

  25. Fr. Basil says:

    I’ve often wondered what the Irish would do when they discovered that the pope had given Ireland as a fief to Henry II of England.

  26. Leonius says:

    There is already a church of Ireland why don’t they just go and join that if they want a nationalist church.

  27. jaykay says:

    Supertradmum: abortion is illegal in Ireland, both parts. Although many go to England.

    Fr. Basil: that fact hasn’t been exactly unknown over here for the last few hundred years or so.

  28. Athelstan says:

    Hello Supertradmum,

    I think Fr. Corapi is dead on about why most Catholics leave – and it ain’t because of the scandals, which are generally just an excuse.

    At the same time, there are a few exceptions – not just some of the abused and their family members but also fellows like Rod Dreher, who was driven round the bend by investigating this filth at first hand as journalist.

    But those are rare exceptions, I think. Most had other reasons for leaving.

    hello jaykay,

    Aethelstan: yes, you’re right. But a very important factor in the equation is catastrophic poverty, added to a predominantly rural, non-urban culture. So it’s not surprising that Irish catholicism would share little of the characteristics of Bavaria, which was after all a rich catholic monarchy. Throw in as well the effects of total lack of self-confidence after a few centuries of domination and… Well

    No, I think that is also right, and I think Fr. Twomey would agree with that, by and large. I was giving only a gloss of one part of his explanation, focusing on possible jansenist (and puritan) influences. In short, it’s impossible to understand Irish Catholicism without its political and social context, which consisted of centuries of often brutal, impoverished Protestant English domination.

    The result was a Catholicism which was, for all of its apparent vitality, in some ways as impoverished as the Irish peasantry…and rather brittle when finally confronted with modern secularism following the Council. And that goes for Irish prelates in America as well – many of which were the most easily led down the modernist path,

  29. jaykay says:

    Aethelstan: yes, I understand totally the point you made. Just clarificatory remarks on my part really. Sed sumus ad idem. You know your stuff!

  30. Supertradmum says:


    I know abortion is illegal in Ireland, but the numbers of Irish women going to England has risen. Also, there is an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights by several Irish women, which may trump Irish law. This is a test case for other countries in Europe as well.

    As to Irish Catholicism, I would throw out that the puritanical streak is pre-Jansenistic, and has its roots in the strong influence of Celtic monasticism and the founders of Irish Catholicism such as Colum Cille, Adamnan, Ewen, Kieran, Malachy, Fintan, Mel, etc.

    These men (and women not mentioned) were paragons of an asceticism considered part of the Celtic foundations of the Catholic Faith. If Jansenism was popular, and it probably seeped into the later 19th century seminaries as it did in America, it could have been because there was a penchance for austerity and the type of emphasis on sin and reparation as seen in the earlier saints.

  31. Magpie says:

    I’m just watching that RTE programme again. The massive gulf between all the good things I read about on this blog and the wretched reality on the ground is staggering. Do you think any of the lay-clampits on that programme have any clue about what true Catholicism is, or what true Catholic liturgy looks like? It is quite disheartening but then I can think of it as an invitation to share in the sufferings of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

  32. jaykay says:

    Supertradmum: I personally tend to doubt that residual Jansenistic influence would have been all that present by the mid-19th century when the church started to become THE CHURCH, if you see what I mean. The influence of those trained abroad in pre-revolutionary France would have pretty much faded by then, I think. That’s just a personal view, of course, based on reading and undergrad history and totally deferring to the scholarship of such as Rev. Prof. Twomey.

    A final point, and then I really will leave it, is that there was a total lack of a wealthy Catholic aristocratic leadership, of course, which might have given the confidence to inspire exuberant architecture and devotion. But I do take your points (and I think I took you up wrong on the abortion comment. Apologies.)

  33. Norah says:

    Kaiser also agitates for an American Catholic Church. In a generic email I received from him years ago he spoke of religious sisters who regularly had “masses” in which the celebrant was a woman.

  34. Dr. Eric says:

    I was scandalized by all the Anti-Catholicism I encountered in Fermoy, even among the Catholics. Knock and Tuam, however, were much more Catholic friendly.

  35. Actually, it seems that the eternal flame tended by the nuns of St. Brigid at Kildare was based on similar fires on the continent, which started well after pagan days. Geraldus Cambrensis told the story that St. Brigid’s fire was supposed to have been kept going since St. Brigid’s time, but it seems more likely to scholars now that it was just about as immemorial as Christmas trees in the UK — ie, just a few generations beyond living memory.

    But anyway… let’s not conflate St. Brigid’s nuns, who were real, with people’s Celtic twilight imaginings of pagan priestesses, about which we know pretty much nothing (including whether or not there were any priestesses or Druidesses at all, as such). All the stories we have about pagan priestesses in ancient Ireland are, at best, written down in the early Middle Ages by people who’d been Christian for quite a while. Irish nuns are more interesting, but unfortunately very few of their records survive (thanks to the prevalence of burning things up during raids and invasions and Henry’s suppression of the monasteries).

    (And if you read Sister Fidelma, you should remember that yes, it’s got a lot of authentic stuff because it’s by a historian; but he’s a historian with various academic axes to grind. And he grinds them in every scene to the point that I personally can’t stand to read them, and I’m not even an academic with skin in the game. It’s really really convenient to dramatize your own views and throw in dramatized refutations of ideas you disagree with, but that doesn’t make you any more likely to turn out to be right.)

  36. Pardon me for my simple notion here; but I believe Ireland is going through what we went through some thirty years ago.
    Although it’s absolutely horrid in certain places in this country (USA) in terms of Catholic identity; we’re looked upon, I’m told, from those in Europe who want to be Catholic through and through, with a bit of awe and jealousy; it’s working here, believe it or not.
    And they’re (in Ireland) just going through the late 60’s and 70’s now.
    I could be wrong.
    I’m just reflecting upon what I’ve heard and read. And Ireland has undergone a real revolution in terms of the economy and urbanization, with all of it’s ups and downs. And a part of it is secularization. And this “granny” is only spouting what probably a good bit think; just reflect upon the 70 and 80 year olds in this country who hate Pope Benedict, his “reforms” and “renewal”…(Fr. Breen come to mind?)…they’re mad as hell because they thought “a new world was a comin'” and low and behold, it didn’t.
    How really internalized has Irish Catholicism been and is? How really internalized is Catholicism in THIS country (USA) today?
    It will all sort out.
    We have a lot to thank for the Irish priests and women religious (and men religious) who came to our country to evangelize, catechize, take care of the sick, the elderly, the orphans, the ones no one else wanted. And so we have to pray hard for them in this time.
    They’re undergoing a real “reckoning”: with the sexual abuse crisis, the secularization of their society, the question of the role of the Church, the belief of the ordinary folks…
    but we’re all in this together. God will provide. And Our Lady will guide and help all of us.
    We’re linked to Ireland in this country whether we want to admit it or not; and we share in their trials, struggles and darkness.

  37. Amy MEV says:

    Perhaps St. Patrick should send the snakes back…

  38. shadowlands says:

    ‘We’re linked to Ireland in this country whether we want to admit it or not; and we share in their trials, struggles and darkness.’

    Amen Father.

  39. [quote]It is clear that M. McDonagh sides with those who want a break-away National Church, which is ironic, as Cardinal Cullen was instrumental in the disestablishment of the Irish National Church in what became the Republic.[/quote]

    The Anglican Church of Ireland was disestablished all over Ireland in 1869 (taking effect a couple of years later). It is, incidentally, still organised on an all-Ireland basis.

  40. Magpie says:

    Perhaps the bishops of Ireland could do a national tour, going to all the churches and giving homilies on the hermeneutic of continuity and the reform of the reform. They could explain what went wrong in the last century and then tell us that they are going to implement all that Benedict XVI is trying to do…

  41. GOR says:

    I second what Nazareth Priest said. Seeing what has been happening in Ireland in recent decades is like re-living the 60s and 70s over here. Drink problems we always had, but now it is drugs on top of that. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ bears a lot of responsibility for the current situation: secularization, loss of faith, the decline in religious practice, rebellion of the young, lack of vocations, relativism, etc.

    But like here in the US, all is not lost. But we are further along in coming out of the atmosphere of the rebellious 60s. Ireland has a ways to go yet.

  42. Magpie says:

    I might be tempted to move to a good parish in the USA…

  43. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Michael Kelly said it well in the article: “What I have experienced in Ireland is a Catholicism that has betrayed the best tradition of our church … it [is] more consoling to blame Rome than to search Irish Catholicism for what had gone wrong”

    The Irish Catholic Church has suffered from all sorts of unhealthy influences, from Jansenism and Victorian moralism being two of them. A third, however, was the wholesale embrace of the “hermeneutic of rupture” – which severed the Church from the best of its tradition.

    The best of what the Church offers is the single greatest thing humanity has or will discover – because it has been revealed to us by God in Jesus Christ. The Church can only reform if it rejects the fads of the day and returns to that which is eternally true.

  44. It is always interesting, enlightening and at times frustrating to read comments on events here in Ireland (that’s why I am loath to comment on the US as I’ve never been there). This Kaiser obviously is not an Irishman but he has plenty of fellow travellers here. Ireland has had all the liturgical and theological upheavals that the US has had since Vat II but perhaps with a more uneven effect despite being so geographically tiny in comparison. Economically of course the ‘Celtic Tiger’ accelerated a social revolution. Drink, and drugs, have been there for some time but now at times it seems as if we have become Sodom and Gomorrah. Still I don’t believe it is Jansenism that is part of the problem as the Irish clergy were anti-Jansenist it seems. Rather in Ireland we had the puritanism of a (once) poor agricultural population, the descendents of a colonised people long deprived of any aristocratic leadership and only just developing a middle class, who quite extraordinarily produced such an ecclesiastical and evangelistic rebirth that spread far beyond the limits of our island. That we also exported sin and sinners should not be a surprise to any Catholic. As elsewhere we have had 50 years of poor catechesis and bad liturgical praxis, we have had the wholsesale demolition of our Catholic tradition, which was still under reconstruction, and an all-out assault by the secularists and anti-Catholics. The present situation though grave should not be exaggerated. People are angry, they feel let down and betrayed and so they have less faith and trust in bishops, and in Rome, and there is danger that down the road there could be trouble but still there are signs of hope: e.g. the recent Youth 2000 meeting in Clonmacnoise. As for that silly old lady with her plan for a boycott (the term itslef derives from Ireland!) of the Mass – but for the Irish Times she would have gotten little attention and while some wrote in support of her she was also sharply corrected by others. I think most Irish women have far more pressing and important things on their minds than to pay attention to her. Bennachtai La Feile Pius.

  45. robtbrown says:

    Although the Church in Ireland might have been influenced by that in France and England, I don’t accept it as the primary cause of the MO of Irish Catholicism. Quidquid recipitur in modo recipientis recipitur.

    There are a lot of good in Irish Catholicism, but there is also a tendency toward authoritarianism and extreme asceticism (cf the Irish monks of centuries past).

  46. robtbrown says:

    Should be There is a lot of good in Irish . . .

  47. Supertradmum says:


    Thanks for agreeing with my point of asceticism as I made above. As the Catholic Church in England was not legal until the Catholic Emancipation Act, the Irish had little influence from that group, and as to the French, because seminaries in Ireland were closed for so many years, many of the Irish priests in the 18th and 19th century were trained in France-on purpose. An Irish priest explained to me the Jansenistic influence, but he did not push the point as to this affecting anyone today, or indeed, the two illustrious Prelates mentioned in the article. The priest, who was at Notre Dame when I was there, was somewhat liberal and would have been happy to blame the Jansenists for the state of the Church in Ireland, but did not do so, as he did not think the influence was any greater than the natural tendencies of the people, that is, a strong “puritanical” streak, which would pre-date any so-called Victorian influences or others, besides the strong ascetical past.

  48. marypatricia says:

    Thanks for that comment Brother Forde. I agree with all that you said.

  49. robtbrown says:


    Irish seminarians also studied in Spain. One of my Roman friends (we were in the same Convitto) was Fr Liam Swords, an Irish historian, who was writing a book on the Irish/Spanish connection.

    We agree on the asceticism, but not on the source. The extreme asceticism of the Irish monks did not come from outside influences. IMHO, it was built into the Irish temperament.

  50. shane says:

    “I am not well-versed in the particulars of the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland from the 1700’s onward, but I wonder what role Jansenism picked up in French seminaries might have played both in Ireland and then in the USA.”

    Absolutely none, or at least no more so than in any other local church. The allegation that mainstream Irish Catholicism was influenced or deformed by Jansenism has been refuted by a wide variety of Irish historians from all persuasions. These examples should suffice:

    “Jansenism”. The Oxford Companion to Irish History. 2007.

    “Jansenism was viewed with great suspicion by Rome, and 17th?century Irish synods toed the Roman line. Indeed, while its moral rigorism made it attractive to elements of the Counter?Reformation church, Jansenism’s theological and political radicalism alienated both local hierarchies and Catholic monarchs. This was especially the case in France and most Irish clerical students there associated with milieux hostile to the movement. Indeed their anti?Jansenist opinions were singled out for criticism by the pro?Jansenist journal Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, Irish clerics, in general, being more attracted to Jesuit?style humanism. The success of the anti?Jansenist bull Unigenitus (1713) marginalized the movement but it survived as a popular millenarian?cum?miracle cult. Neither as a theology nor as a political attitude did Jansenism recommend itself to the Irish Catholic community, either at home or abroad. The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist?influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”

    Dr Thomas O’Connor. Ph.D.
    Senior Lecturer – Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth faculty

    author of:

    _Irish Jansenists 1600-1670: politics and religion in Flanders, France, Ireland and Rome (Dublin, 2008)
    _Strangers to Citizens: the Irish in Europe 1600-1800 (Dublin, 2008)
    _An Irish Jansenist in seventeenth-century France: John Callaghan 1605-54 (Dublin, 2005)
    _An Irish Theologian in Enlightenment Europe: Luke Joseph Hooke 1714-96 (Dublin, 1995)

    Healy, John. Maynooth College : its centenary history (1895). Dublin : Browne & Nolan, 1895.

    “During the eighteenth century many of the most eminent Churchmen in France were, to some extent, tinctured with these Jansenistic views, even when repudiating the Jansenistic errors regarding the operation of grace and free will. But although so many of our Irish ecclesiastics were educated in France during the eighteenth century, none of those who came to Ireland ever showed the slightest trace of this Jansenistic influence, either in their writings or their sermons. Nor has any respectable authority asserted, so far as we know, that the French Professors of Maynooth were in any way tinged with the spirit of Jansenism.”

    Most Rev. John Healy, D.D., LL.D., M.R.I.A

  51. Supertradmum says:


    Could be, but the tendency was institutionalized by the great, holy founders of the Celtic Church.

  52. shane says:

    Given what we know about the sexual mores of Irish clergy before the Conquest, and indeed up until penal times, it’s hard to sustain a case that there was any general proto-puritanism. True, the rule of Columbanus is extremely strict but you’ll find contemporary stern ascetics in all Christian lands, and he influenced continental Europe more than he did his native land. There’s no continuity of some unique super-asceticism from the ancient era up until the modern era or penal times.

    People, especially those who have not studied Irish history, need to be very careful before assuming elaborate and complex (pseudo)historical explanations. There are far too many myths being promoted in this comment box. Read some of Diamuid Ferriter’s works (Professor of History at UCD). I particularly recommend the Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000.

  53. robtbrown says:


    Apologies–I was in too much of a hurry. As I was leaving, I realized that you didn’t disagree.

    As a wise man said, Quick but don’t hurry.

  54. shane says:

    I’m currently reading Kaiser’s book Inside the Council published in 1963. It’s every bit as bitterly liberal as this address.

    Michael Kelly is one of the worst and most bland columnists at the Irish Catholic newspaper (David Quinn is the best). It’s sad to see how that once great newspaper has been reduced under its current editor (Gerry O’Sullivan – very anti-traditionalist and a supporter of women’s ordination).

  55. Supertradmum says:

    Hello shane,

    Not only have I studied Irish history and monastic history, but have taught these as well. I have written a book, not in print, on Fountains Abbey. The type of asceticism which is particularly Celtic is and was very different in type and use than that of other early monasteries. The English Church, indeed, especially the monasteries, and the French, never adopted this type of asceticism across the board. Even as early as the 8th century, albeit after the Celtic phase, the English monasteries were being based on Italian Benedictinism, even Lindisfarne a bit later. The influence of Suger and the French Benedictines, for example, that was criticized by St.Bernard, whose own efforts at a strict rule was mitigated in his own lifetime by his own ill-health, are examples of the other, more worldly tendencies which was been the rule, rather than the exception. Those kings and leaders in England who were converted by Celtic missionaries, seem to be a lot more “ascetic” than those who were not.

    In fact, it was not until the renewal in the 19th century that the more lax lifestyles were changed in the Benedictine orders, at least in France. As to the English, the English character has never been one of Celtic asceticism, being that the Anglo-Saxons had a different view of monastic order or rule, and that the great monasteries included, almost from the beginning, the appreciation of art and architecture not seen in the Celtic monasteries. The greatest monasteries in England, even the Cistercian ones, such as Fountains, were very much more influenced by the French and Italian sensibilities, for historical and missionary reasons,being influenced by such as Paulinus, Augustine, Melitus, who were not contemplative, than the Celtic ones. The Celtic monasteries, despite the great music and illuminated manuscripts, made Grande Chartreuse look like a hotel.

    If one wants to compare ascetic lifestyles with the Celts, one would have to go back to the Desert Fathers, and the early Eastern monasteries, rather than those of the West. There are always exceptions to the rule. It would be hard to prove without a doubt, that the Celtic monastic experiences were a result of a sub-cultural phenomenon, rather than national disposition. The sub-cultural experience was a very strong reaction against the sex and murder of the local Irish gentry, which would beg the question as to whether the “puritanism” was a reaction, or part of the national characteristics of the people to begin with.

  56. robtbrown says:

    True, the rule of Columbanus is extremely strict but you’ll find contemporary stern ascetics in all Christian lands, and he influenced continental Europe more than he did his native land.

    The Rule of Columbanus is much more rigorous than that of St Benedict, both in the Psalter and in Penances. Benedict’s Rule is oriented more toward establishing the regular life rather than the penitential life.

    There’s no continuity of some unique super-asceticism from the ancient era up until the modern era or penal times.

    How about the 3 day retreat at St Patrick’s Purgatory?

  57. shane says:

    Supertradmum, very interesting, but while there’s no doubting the austerity of certain schools in “the Celtic phase”, particularly the stern asceticism of the Culdees, I fail to see how it would survived in continuity, if not the Viking invasions, the romanizing reforms in the 12 century and especially the Norman invasion. One of the main grievances of St Malachy was the incontinence among most of the clergy; that’s why you have still so many people in Ireland and Scotland with the surname McTaggart (Mac an tSagairt – Son of the Priest) and McAnespie (Mac an tEaspaig – Son of the bishop). The medieval Irish Church was basically two different churches – one Gaelic and one Anglo-Norman, with the latter dominant. The last holdout of what could be called ‘Celtic Catholicism’, relatively untouched by the Anglo-Norman Cisterians and sustained in the Reformation by Franciscan friars, was Ulster; according to Marianne Elliott in the Catholics of Ulster: A history it was common for ordinary lay men to be ordained without any training and knowing basically no Latin. This was wholly supplanted with the training of priests (sent abroad in their youth) from the Anglicized Pale on the continent and the relaxation of the penal laws after the 1720s. The modern Irish Church that survived up until the Second Vatican Council was a universally romanized ultramontane one – essentially a new church – created under Cardinal Cullen after the Synod of Thurles. What defects or unique characteristics exists in Irish Catholicism would make for an interesting study, but they certainly don’t stem in seamless continuity back to the Celtic era.

    “How about the 3 day retreat at St Patrick’s Purgatory?”

    St Patrick’s Purgatory was outlawed from the 16th century on and fell into dilapidation. There are accounts of people travelling from Europe in the 18th century and complaining that the locals treated it with the greatest irreverance (including young people having sex, merchants selling alcohol, local musicians playing tunes to couples dancing, etc). There is no continuity there; whatever austerity exists was restored after the 1790s and a historian is going to have a hard time proving that it had any general effect on, to quote a commentor above, the ‘Irish temperment’.

  58. shane says:

    Pope Benedict referred to the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, the Anglo-Norman St Oliver Plunkett, in his Letter a few months ago; but St Plunkett was actually betrayed by his clergy, most of whom hated him for his attempts to assert clerical discipline.

  59. Supertradmum says:

    As an undergraduate, I read Nora Chadwick’s classic books on the Celts and the Celtic poetry saved by the very same monks we are discussing. I also recommend Michael Maher, Kathleen Hughes, and Ludwig Bieler. When reading about Celtic spirituality, one must be careful of the New Age books, which proliferate, as these are frequently written by those who purposefully twist Celtic spirituality to mean something outside Catholicism.

    Any books by Owen Chadwick, Conrad Leyser, and Jean Leclercq, as well as the primary texts of the early monks, especially in the Cistercian Studies series and the Ancient Christian Writers series are great places to begin for all we have been discussing. I am sure I forgotten some others.

    There are some out-of-print biographies of Aidan, Columban, and Malachy, which to me, despite the overt hagiographic commentaries, are worth reading for the “flavor” of Celtic spirituality and insights into the simplicity and love of nature, as well as fierce asceticism of these wonderful saints. One I have is over a 100 years old and I treasure it.

  60. Shane – good point about the Irish Church being largely rebuilt after the Reformation. There was an awful lot of change in Ireland between the time of the ‘Celtic’ Catholic Church of the early middle ages and the modern Church that emerged under Cullen et al.

    I note that no one has made the distinction between a pentitential spirit or religious behaviour and puritanism. They are not the same by any means and would not think them having much common ground. The former comes from a profound faith and the former from a weak faith, an attempt at self-salvation. The early Franciscan movement was deeply penitential.

    To go back to the topic that inspired this post – modern Ireland’s struggle with growing secularism, anti-clericalism and anti-catholicism (all different if related pathologies) has deep roots but I think they go back more to the struggle for independence and the socio-political camps that created, influence of a dominant protestant (and in Ireland strongly Calvinist) regime, socio-economic change and simply human sin.

    We Irish clergy have our own account to give. Archbishop McQuaid may have been a great supporter of the Papacy but he is not remembered with warmth in Dublin – too severe and remote and too much involved with the Fianna Fail party. He is perceived as having been too much for the rich and not enough for the poor. From the perspective of the clergy he seems to have been someone who needed to be in control of everything. But then no one is perfect.

    Good post, good discussion!

  61. shane says:

    Br Forde, I absolutely don’t accept your point about modern Irish anti-clericalism having “deep roots”. Critics of Irish Catholicsm like to exaggerate its defects based on liberal myths about its supposed ‘repressive’ character. I don’t see any difference in popular Catholic mores from 1910 to 1922. Independence has nothing to do with it.

    Archbishop McQuaid wasn’t very close to the Fianna Fail party; he was a supporter of Cumann na nGaedhal, and saw in FF a potential for liberalism. As Supertradmum stated above he was an extremely compassionate man with a great concern for the poor. Many benefited from his charity, which was almost limitless. By 1945 three million meals a year were dispensed in 27 Archdiocesan food centres, 14 (with another 5 being prepared) Archdiocesan pre-natal clinics were attending to 700 women per day, a venereal disease clinic was established at Mc Quaid’s request and funding to help those with STDs. He was also praised by the anti-clerical Minister Boland for his work in help treating juvinial delinquency. The Catholic Social Welfare Buruea helped hundreds of thousands under his patronage, particularly Irish emigants (for whom McQuaid built a dedicated help centre), young families and elderly people.

    Revisionists like Conor Cruise O’Brien have poisioned his memory but I know a lot of elderly people who remember him fondly. The idea of a DeValera and McQuaid duo ‘ruling’ a docile Ireland is a 1980s myth and has been discredited by historians like Ferriter.

    There’s lots of examples of politicians ignoring the Church or using her for political advantage. For instance the Report of the Commission on Vocational Organisation in 1944 (chaired by Bishop Browne) planned to restructure society on Catholic Social Teaching but was totally ignored (except for the establishment of the Labour Court)…quite a pity.

    Dermot Keogh, Professor of History, University College Cork, wrote a good article in Studies a few years ago.He was forced to change his negative opinion of the great preate after his historical research:

    Towards a Biography of an Archbishop
    Dermot Keogh

    I can remember with great clarity the occasion on which I was confirmed by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in the ‘new’ church in Raheny, County Dublin. We were the boys’ primary school fourth class of 1955. There were 56 of us, and an equal number of girls, evidence that this once-country area had become part of greater Dublin and that the city was fast absorbing the fields of the north side – a process which was to be ruthlessly completed by the 1990s.

    Between 1940 and 1972, the year of his resignation as archbishop, Dr McQuaid had helped provide 47 new parishes in the archdiocese, together with the necessary primary and secondary educational infrastructure in each of those areas. My generation had been a beneficiary of that policy. In the early 1950s, I had moved from the small two-roomed school beside the old church in Raheny to new premises carved out of the nearby St Anne’s woods. There the classes grew exponentially – to 56 in my case. Here was a measure for social change and for the new pastoral challenge facing the Catholic Church in the 1950s – a decade of high emigration, high unemployment and the expansion of the working class into the Dublin suburbs. Many of my classmates being confirmed that day – irrespective of intellectual ability – left school automatically at 14 and, in most cases, took the boat to England.

    As Archbishop McQuaid moved along the assembled ranks in the church – boys on one side and girls on the other side of aisle – he asked catechism questions to which came rapid-fire answers much to the relief of the parish priest, Mgr Fitzpatrick.

    But the archbishop had generally passed on to the next person before an answer was fully completed. In my case, it was just as well because I am sure, in my nervousness, I had given the wrong answer. The archbishop, to my relief, moved on without pausing although I continued to think throughout the ceremony that I would receive a tap on the shoulder to leave in disgrace.

    I had no occasion to meet Dr McQuaid again. Yet, as a university student in the 1960s, a journalist in the 1970s and an historian from the 1980s, I was made very conscious of his formidable and formative presence in twentieth century Ireland. In post-conciliar Ireland, I was hostile towards his conservatism and impatient to see him retire.

    But as an historian, working in archives for over twenty five years, I now find it very difficult to return to the certitude of my negative judgment about the life and times of Archbishop McQuaid – a judgment I shared with many concerned Christians in University College Dublin who had been members of the left-of-centre Logos. Its activities had incurred the displeasure of the archbishop. I found it very difficult to understand why the freedom and religious liberty discussed at Vatican Two were seen as such a threat to church order and authority. I continue to do so.

    As a journalist with the Irish Press in the early 1970s I encountered Archbishop McQuaid’s strong presence indirectly. At Lent I recall that his pastoral was usually accompanied by a short, polite, hand-written note to the editor requesting that the text be given in full. I was to become very familiar with that hand when, as a professional historian, I began to survey from the mid-1970s diocesan and state archives relating to church-state issues. Irrespective of what one’s personal attitude might be towards the archbishop, it was beyond dispute that John Charles McQuaid was one of the clerics who most influenced Irish educational policy and church-state relations in the 1930s. After becoming Archbishop in 1940, he became the most influential and politically the most important prelate in the country since the foundation of the state. That influence was at its height in the 1940s and 1950s.

    At a time when it is academically unfashionable to emphasise the influence of the individual on the course of history, few would dispute the central significance of McQuaid in the shaping role of the Catholic Church in the new state.

    The courageous decision by the present Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Desmond Connell, to open the large McQuaid archive to scholars now makes it possible for the first time to undertake a work of serious biographical research on a prelate whose reputation has all-too-often been the victim of trite comment and not-too-rigorous historical reductionism.

    Twentieth Century Irish Historiography and John Charles McQuaid
    The delay by both church and state, however, in making primary source archives on twentieth century Ireland available to scholars has had serious negative consequences: the dominant contemporary historical interpretation of John Charles McQuaid’s public role is very negative. Noel Browne, the former Minister for Health in the Inter-Party government 1948-1951, has done much to shape that popular view in his moving autobiography Against the Tide. This memoir has enjoyed deserved widespread success. But how accurate is his historical depiction of McQuaid? Browne has a compelling style. It is easy to be lulled into agreement by the former minister’s obvious sincerity, high motives and crusade for the deprived in Irish society. According to Browne, the archbishop ruled his archdiocese “with an unbending conviction that his rigid, triumphalist, conservative approach to Catholicism was the only appropriate stance”[pp. 150-1] .

    Browne designates McQuaid his “most powerful and uncompromising opponent”[p.143] and one of “the two main personalities in the conspiracy to subvert my implementation of the free no-means-test mother and child scheme which the 1947 Act had authorised”.[p.150] He has left the following pen-picture of his most uncompromising Episcopal opponent; presiding at a High Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, Browne describes McQuaid as follows:

    His dark eyes, glittering in a masklike face, were transfixed on the shimmering white Sacred Host. He had a long, straight thin nose and a saturnine appearance, with an awesome fixity of expression, and the strong mouth of an obsessional. … Drowsily fantasising on the imposing and fearful procession in a mixture of dream and nightmare, I was nudged into wakefulness by [the British Ambassador, Sir Gilbert] Laithwaite. “What an impressive figure, Noel: would he not make a notable addition to the distinguished company of Spanish Inquisitors?”[p. 151]

    Masklike face!

    the strong mouth of an obsessional!

    and, Spanish Inquisitor!

    Browne employed very strong images and those have the effect on the reader of placing the archbishop in a pre-democratic and pre-modern world – a conspirator who wielded power without any respect for the authority of the state. For example, Browne wrote how, during the mother and child crisis in 1950/1, he was “peremptorily ordered to Archbishop McQuaid’s palace by a telephone call from his secretary” where “I was told to attend a meeting” in archbishop’s house, Drumcondra [p.157].

    Any perceptive student of history would have many questions about the above description of the archbishop and of his modus operandi. Why, for example, does the former Minister for Health lack discipline when describing John Charles McQuaid? Is that pen-picture of the archbishop an accurate account of what Browne felt at the time or was it heavily influenced by the vision of hindsight? Does Noel Browne prove, or does he merely assert, that there was “a conspiracy” to defeat the Mother and Child scheme? What evidence does he provide from contemporary sources to uphold the view that he had been “peremptorily ordered” to Drumcondra? Does such evidence exist? Or did it go up in smoke in the Department of Health files which Browne ordered destroyed shortly before leaving office? What evidence is there in the memoir to show that it was McQuaid’s style to “peremptorily order” a minister of an Irish government to attend on the archbishop in his palace?

    Despite the many historical problems with what has been asserted in the memoirs, the Browne critique of McQuaid has enjoyed widespread currency and acceptance. Without having to do any further research on the Mother and Child crisis, two outstanding monographs already provide evidence which obliges the reader to modify the Browne thesis: both the late Professor John Whyte and Dr Ruth Barrington have written important studies which treat substantially of John Charles McQuaid. Whyte used interviews and only limited state archives in the preparation of Church and State in Modern Ireland [first published in 1971]. Ruth Barrington’s Health, Medicine and Politics in Ireland 1900-1970 [1987], was the first major study to be based on a comprehensive survey of state archives. Both books have acted as an important corrective to the wilder interpretations of McQuaid’s role at certain critical points of crisis between church and state.

    Three of my books, The Vatican, the Bishops and Irish Politics 1919-1939 [1986], Twentieth Century Ireland – Nation and State [1995] and Ireland and the Vatican – The Politics and Diplomacy of Church State Relations, 1922-1960 [1996] are heavily based on archival research and seek to interpret the role of John Charles McQuaid in that context.

    The opening of the amon de Valera archives and of the McQuaid papers relevant to the drafting of the 1937 constitution enabled specialist research to be carried out on that topic. Cathal Condon has written an outstanding MA thesis at UCC on McQuaid and the drafting of the 1937 Constitution. My essay in Administration [1988, pp 1-93] on the same topic was based on the de Valera papers and on the archives of the Departments of the Taoiseach and of Foreign Affairs. A more recent study which I undertook for the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in 1996 attempted to set the role of McQuaid in a wider historical context.

    Therefore the state of scholarship on Archbishop McQuaid – no matter how underdeveloped it might be – no longer supports the Browne thesis. The challenge confronting the historian of twentieth century Ireland is how to help redefine the parameters of contemporary debate on church-state relations during the time of amon de Valera and John Charles McQuaid. The temptation of succumbing to the irrational forces of political correctness is ever-present.

    Interpreting John Charles McQuaid
    Biography has been the most chosen method to write on the life and times of John Charles McQuaid. The late John Feeney, a friend and a contemporary at UCD, published in 1974 John Charles McQuaid – The Man and the Mask. This critical essay on the archbishop was defective from a scholarly point of view. The author worked without archives and based most of his research on published accounts and interviews. But for all its faults, it is not a book without its insights and merits. He presents McQuaid as living outside his time but as a “first class bishop of the old school” who, had he lived fifty years earlier “would have no critics worth speaking of and would hardly be remembered today except by those who benefited from his quiet, personal charity” [pp.78/9].

    Feeney also evaluates his role in a negative light under the headings ‘schoolteacher’ and ‘medievalist’. Yet, he was also for Feeney a Christian and ‘a diligent, sincere and absolutely honest man who did his duty as he saw it”.[p.79] Feeney hinted in his highly critical essay on McQuaid that there was much left to understand and discover about the archbishop.

    Feeney would have been the first to admit that his essay was more the work of a journalist than that of a trained historian which, of course, he was. He began his book at the time of the archbishop’s retirement. He had been a stern critic of McQuaid as a student and that was evident in his manuscript. But his criticism emanated from a deep respect for the historical role played by the archbishop. Feeney sought to realise rapid change in the post-McQuaid church in Dublin. His biography was written very much in the mould of the commentator/activist.

    This work stands in marked contrast to two other important pieces of scholarship written in the genre of the “appreciation”. There is an excellent unsigned article on the life of McQuaid in the Blackrock Annual for 1973 [pp.261-273]. Roland Burke Savage’s “The Church in Dublin: 1940-1965 – A study of the episcopate of Most Reverend John Charles McQuaid D.D.”[Studies, Vol. LIV 206, Winter 1965, pp.295-346] is an important analysis of the archbishop’s career. If Feeney was very critical of a subject the author did not know well, Fr Burke Savage’s work was timed to coincide with the silver jubilee of McQuaid’s episcopate. The article was in no sense hagiography as the author explained:

    In these pages I have tried to set down a simple chronicle of Dr McQuaid’s achievements and of the criticism that he has met with. The Archbishop has no need of me to defend his actions or to vindicate his decisions.

    The contemporary biographer of McQuaid might wish to review both the Burke Savage and the unsigned Blackrock Annual pieces carefully before embarking on further research. McQuaid’s multiple roles are sketched out very well by both authors:

    as educationalist and President of Blackrock;

    as archbishop;

    as church administrator and reformer;

    as pioneer of Catholic social services;

    as theologian and pastor;

    as builder of schools and hospitals;

    and as leader of the archdiocese at a time of unprecedented social change

    The Ireland of the mid-1960s in which Fr Burke Savage wrote his appreciation of McQuaid differs radically from the climate of the 1990s. Here was to be found a religious culture influenced greatly by the ideas and the policies of Archbishop McQuaid. He was very much a central actor in that world and remained so until his retirement in the early 1970s. But over 25 years later, the Arcadian Ireland of McQuaid and de Valera is more commonly treated in caricature than as a serious subject for social and historical analysis. While de Valera is perceived as having retarded the political, social and economic development of the country, Archbishop McQuaid is viewed as having a major share of the blame for the creation of such an Ireland – closed, secretive, censorious, repressed and authoritarian. It is relatively easy to ‘go with the flow’ and make a scapegoat out of both men. It is possible to inflate and distort the personal influence of de Valera and McQuaid on the development of Irish society. Bad biography will tend to follow that particular line.

    Indeed, there is an inherent danger in attempting to write a biography of Archbishop McQuaid at this juncture in Irish historical scholarship. The opening of state and church archives – particularly the Archbishop McQuaid papers – provides scholars with the professional opportunity to investigate for the first time the dynamics of church-state relations in all their complexity. It is now possible to investigate systematically the interaction between the archbishop and the various government departments during the drafting of legislation relevant to church interests. That will help situate the Mother and Child legislation in a wider historical context. Such an investigation will also help establish whether it was Archbishop McQuaid’s style to “peremptorily order” government ministers to the palace in Drumcondra. The evidence will likely show that McQuaid was ever conscious of protocol and that any request to meet the Taoiseach or a minister during his time as archbishop was always couched in the most respectful language.

    Moreover, the contemporary biographer of Archbishop McQuaid is working without the assistance of a wide corpus of work on church-state relations and on Irish administrative history. That makes the job of biography all the more difficult. There are further challenges for the contemporary biographer of McQuaid. He received his intellectual formation in one of the great religious orders of the Catholic Church. He studied classics at University College Dublin where he was awarded both a first class honours BA and MA in Ancient Classics. He was awarded an honours Higher Diploma in Education in 1919. He was immersed in the theology of the French church through his studies in the order’s house of studies at Kimmage, Dublin. He retained close intellectual links with academic developments in France throughout his life. Besides his Francophile upbringing, McQuaid was also trained in Rome where he completed a doctorate in theology. His recall to Blackrock in 1925 prevented him from completing his course in Biblical studies.

    These details are of central relevance to the argument being advanced here. The good biographer is obliged to analyse the intellectual formation of the archbishop in all its complexity. What has been written to date about seminary formation in Ireland in the early twentieth century? What is available on intellectual formation in UCD in the same period? What were the main ideas on education which shaped the teaching career of McQuaid and influenced his policies as an administrator and policy adviser on education to amon de Valera?

    The exploration of the theological and philosophical formation of McQuaid has a central relevance when, for example, the biographer comes to evaluate the role of the future archbishop of Dublin in the drafting of the 1937 constitution.

    The contemporary biographer must also examine the origins of the personal relationship between McQuaid, amon de Valera and the de Valera family. Fr Sean Farragher has written very helpfully on that topic. But there has been a tendency to view the relationship between the two men as being static and not subject to change or development. Quite the reverse. The men were friends and the relationship was less complicated in the 1930s when McQuaid was not archbishop. But after his ordination, McQuaid represented in a formal fashion the interests of the Church and he defended those interests even when it brought him into conflict with the leader of the state who also happened to be his friend. That friendship never clouded both men’s concepts of their duties on behalf of church and state. It is all too facile to hold, a priori, that de Valera and McQuaid sang consistently from the same hymnal. The contemporary biographer of McQuaid will have to uncover through painstaking research the dynamism of that relationship.

    Such a study will also have to address the archbishop’s attitude to the state per se and to the development of the welfare state in particular. In that context, it will be necessary to examine the relationship between the archbishop and the professions – and the medical profession in particular. To what extent is Professor Lee accurate when he argues that McQuaid – a doctor’s son – had “an exalted sense of the dignity of the professions” [Ireland 1912-1985 – Politics and Society, Cambridge, 1989].

    A large section of a work of biography must focus upon McQuaid’s role as church leader at a time of radical social change in Ireland. I have stressed this earlier in the article. The pre-conciliar church in the Dublin archdiocese was in a state of flux. In 1951, as Professor Terence Brown notes, almost one third of the people living in the city were born outside the county bounds [Ireland-A Social and Cultural History 1922-79, London: 1981]. The population of the city rose in 25 years from 709,342 to 791,379. The archbishop’s pastoral policies were designed to meet the demands of that rapidly changing world – a world which was often brilliantly portrayed by Fr Joe Dunn and his Radharc team of documentary film makers.

    The above are merely a selection of the problems facing the contemporary biographer of John Charles McQuaid. However difficult, the task is worthy of being tackled. Even if the outcome is not definitive, it will bring to light many areas for discussion and further investigation. One understands that there are already a number of labourers in the vineyard. In setting out a principle to guide that scholarly work, it might be appropriate to recall the archbishop’s own motto, Testimonium perhibere veritati – to bear witness to the truth.

  62. shane says:

    The previous edition of Church and State -the magazine of the old Campaign to Seperate Church and State was able to spot the elephant in the room. Here’s an extract from its editorial:

    “[..] So the Pope came [in September 1979] and he was received with mindless adulation, lay and clerical, with only two noticeable expressions of dissent—this magazine and the Bishop of Cork, who is now taken to be a by-word for obscurantist reaction, Con Lucey.

    The Taoiseach was Cork City politician Jack Lynch, who had won an overall majority in 1977 in an election campaign which was unusually Catholic clericalist for Fianna Fail. But, two years later, the Pope did not visit the second city in the state because the Bishop did not invite him. And, some time later, Lucey retired and went off to be a missionary in Africa. He did not ever explain his failure to invite the Pope to Cork, but it is not hard to see a reason for it.

    Vatican 2 Catholicism undermined and trivialised the earnest Catholicism of Pius IX on which the Irish Church had formed itself, in association with the developing national movement, since the mid-19th century. That phase of development was not exhausted in Ireland when it was halted by Vatican 2. It was still filling itself out when it was ordered to stop. If the original impulse given by the triumph of Anti-Vetoism in the Veto Controversy was running out of momentum, there would have been evidence of this in the appearance of a sceptical intelligentsia to dispute certain areas of ground with the Hierarchy, and by so doing to provide for an evolutionary transition to a new relationship of Church and State.

    What happened instead was that the new Church formed in Ireland in the mid-19th century—by O’Connell’s Roman colleague, Cardinal Cullen—was stopped in its tracks by the Vatican, while there was still no social development against it to take its place. The Vatican 2 changes had to be imposed on Ireland. And their imposition devalued the values to which the generations then in their prime had dedicated themselves.

    Religious development in Ireland, with which social development was connected, was suddenly written off as an aberration. My Lord Bishop suddenly became Bishop Jack or Bishop Jim. Communion and Confirmation became occasions for display of fashion. Hell was abolished—and Heaven along with it, for all that was said to the contrary. And convents and monasteries were deprived of meaning.

    The ersatz intelligentsia, which is now kicking the Church because it is down, did nothing to bring it down. It was the Vatican that undermined it. But that is an inadmissible thought in the fashion of the moment because the futile scepticism which is the outcome of Vatican 2 must have it that Vatican 2 was good thing. (The creature must love its creator.)

    A Concordat?

    McCarthy (John-Paul) says that, in the interests of democracy, the Church should have been prevented from gaining the position it held in the Irish State—or that it should have been excluded from the democracy—or that there should have been a force over the democracy which would overrule it on certain matters: one of those things.

    There is only one thing that could have curbed the Church, and that is a Concordat with it. It was the usual arrangement in Europe for the position of the Church in a state to be limited by a Concordat—by a Treaty between the Government and Rome. When we suggested a Concordat movement back in the early seventies, the proposal was met with horror by the Left and private Voltaireans. In Ireland there was “a free Church in a free State”, and the hegemonic influence of the free Church was such that it conveyed to its potential liberal opponents the idea that Concordats were Fascist. Didn’t Franco Spain have one? And wasn’t Franco Spain a form of Clerical Fascism? (The intelligentsia of the Church was the only real intelligentsia of the State, and it was easily able to nip liberalism in the bud.)

    In fact, Franco Spain was far from being a Clerical dictatorship. It was a dictatorship in which the Church was allocated a limited and subordinate sphere in the state, in combination with other elements with which it might otherwise have fallen into antagonism, and the whole was organised into a functional State which made an easy transition to democracy.

    O’Toole might well be right when he says that the Church disabled the capacity for thought—at least for thought against itself. But, if so, it was not the Church as a Roman imposition—the agent of a foreign State—that did it, but the Church as an organic part of national-democratic development.

    We feel we can speak with some authority, as we have been in public opposition to the Church on these grounds since 1973.”

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