Benedict XVI muses about Ireland

My friend Fr. Ray Blake, P.P. of St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton, continues to post good observations on his personal blog.  I stress “personal” blog, because he was forced to change the blog’s name to reflect his own name rather than the name of the parish of which he is pastor and to which he is so dedicated.

The Pope attributes the present state of Catholic Liturgy to a disregard for the Liturgy as “a given” and the same could be said for the state of confusion in catechesis.

The Pope has been urging bishops and priests to return to “doing the red and saying the black[Very wise.  Perhaps people in Ireland should give their priests and bishops some Say The Black stuff.] – basically following the rules. It is interesting that in Peter Seewald’s book the Pope when speaking of the sexual abuse in Ireland he cites the change in ecclesiology being at the root of the problem.

Pope Benedict says: “The Archbishop of Dublin told me something very interesting about that. He said that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect – there is much to criticise about it – but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied any more.

Peter Seewald


The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather a Church of love: she must not punish . . . This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.
Asked by Seewald about the overall impact of the Irish sex abuse crisis, Pope Benedict says: “In Ireland the problem is altogether specific – there is a self-enclosed Catholic society, so to speak, which remained true to its faith despite centuries of oppression, but in which, then, evidently certain attitudes were also able to develop. I cannot analyze that in detail now.

“To see a country that gave the world so many missionaries, so many saints, which in the history of the missions also stands at the origin of our faith in Germany, now in a situation like this is tremendously upsetting and depressing. Above all, of course, for the Catholics in Ireland itself, where now as always there are many good priests.”

Be sure to review the Holy Father’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland.  Take special note of his recommendations.

Also, keep in mind that the Holy Father has planned to travel to Ireland.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Tom Ryan says:

    His picture is everywhere in Ireland

  2. Scott W. says:

    I added Fr. Blake to my links on my blog as: Fr Ray Blake’s “personal” Blog :)

  3. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    You can spend all the time psychoanalyzing the Irish or any other race (remembering, I hope, Freud’s caveat that the Irish are the one race in the world for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever), but in the end, it really is that simple. In changing the lex orandi with the disaster-Mass of Paul VI, they changed the lex credendi even for a nation continually fortified by the blood of her martyrs and the oppression of her faith by an alien race, and you changed it completely in one generation. People blame the Homosexual Ephebophilia Crisis for the loss of faith there, but it is an effect of the same cause (i.e. the change in what her people believe and how they believe it), and not the cause of the loss of faith there. As Neuhaus said, that crisis was a crisis of fidelity, and that fidelity was lost after Vatican II. If you want to see the faith revived there so that they may again be a creative minority in Europe, return to the Mass of Paul V and all that went with it.

  4. Magpie says:

    If Pope Benedict is coming to Ireland, can you ask him to bring a battalion of Swiss Guards? He’ll need them to beat some sense into the Irish. (I’m Irish by the way!)

  5. DHippolito says:

    The problem isn’t the dichotomy between a “church of laws” and a “church of love.” The problem is that true love involves protecting the innocent from the corruption of those in authority. It involves maintaining God’s revealed standards for behavior, especially for those who claim to hold authority in His name. The confusion is the logical result of what happens when people respond to an extreme (in this case, excessive ecclesiastical legalism). People don’t react with moderation but with the equal and opposite extreme. I think that explains a lot of the novelties justified as reflecting the “spirit of Vatican II.” A repressed people, when given freedom, do not always know how to handle it. Just look at the Israelites wandering in the desert after being freed from Egyptian slavery.

  6. Igne says:

    Ireland suffers from a crisis of faith. It suffers from a crisis in clerical culture. Much of this stems from its experience of a process of secularisation that other European countries went through much earlier, sometimes over a hundred years ago. With an increase in personal wealth comes a capacity to make certain choices: the Irish, even with the current downturn, are so much more wealthy than they were in the 1950s. The priests have been natural leaders for centuries and the combination of (1) the corruption that comes from wielding such power and (2) the new super-clericalism that the ‘implementation of V II’ brought with it (where all doctrines except the need for Fr X or Y to be adored in the same way his Mammy adored him were discouraged) have led to dreadful sexual scandal and horrible liturgical scandal. Masses turned into horrid ego-massages for priests and their particular pals. Furthermore the Irish are not the most aesthetically inclined people in the world. The influence of American liturgical norms on Irish Catholicism is also to be seen. Finally the Bishops of Ireland have not catechised people in any acceptable way, and have had a tendency to appeal to the John and Mary Catholic school of simplification. I wouldn’t be surprised if Irish clergy exported sexual abuse around the world either. I fear that developing countries contain horrible tales of exploitation that might dwarf those at home. But, in spite of all this, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

  7. catholicmidwest says:

    Are you in Ireland? Your post has an immediacy of experience to it.

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    I’m in the US. We have much the same thing here, in our own way. Of course, we have a population the most of which has never ever been Catholic, so we are fighting some other things in addition to what you state there, but also the effect is probably somewhat diluted from what you have in some ways.

    We also have the pampered priest syndrome in the US. Catholics dote on priests over and above their office as “alter Christus,” and this can continue even after they are credibly accused of sexual or financial abuse. People here don’t admit it, but their tolerance actually seems to be less for financial abuse, but maybe that has something to do with the personal characters of the different kinds of miscreants. Which is to say, sexual abusers are usually ultra-charming guys except for they have this bad….uh….habit and people too often just treat them like crazy uncles when they’re like that. This has really hurt the Catholic population in recent years. They should have turned them in for what they were but that’s very difficult to negotiate inside the church where there’s a lot of tolerance and like I said before, people dote on priests and sometimes not in a healthy way.

    We are always told that the local community is the most important thing. In fact, one often gets the idea we’re being told it *is* God or is a substitute for God. Our participation and whatnot seem to be what we’re celebrating much of the time. It can be quite unnerving and obvious at times. It can be a feel-good society, complete with amateur (bad) music and grade-school-grade skits in some places, and verges on that in most places from time to time.

    One peculiar thing: As much as we are told the local community is everything, peculiarly the doors and locked and no one is around about 80% of the time. Most evenings there is nothing public going on in most parishes. So most people don’t really believe all that “the parish is everything” stuff, unless they believe it in a context of “only on Sunday,” which many of them appear to do. Incidentally, the most progressive churches (read wacko) are the ones most likely to have daily activities in the parishes probably because they take their importance to heart; the other ones not so much which sort of leaves them in desolation during the week.

    Our bishops also don’t really teach as much as they simply enjoy being bishops. They see themselves as very, very important, making a very, very big deal over the fact that they are successors of apostles; in the Church they appear to be somewhat important but outside the Church they’re not really, not like they used to be in some big cities. The influence they used to have is gone really. Part of that is because religious influence has been replaced by other things; part of that is because the old ethnic blocs have broken apart; part of that is because many, many people have left the faith (which is grossly underestimated by the Church); part of that is because the Church has squandered some of its influence.

    We don’t have decent catechesis either-ours also tends toward the “John & Mary” variety as long as John & Mary are politically correct, gender-neutral or gay, and have no determinable skin color whatsoever (which is not to say they’re white although most Catholics in the USA are, in truth).

    It is altogether distressing sometimes and can be quite tiresome, which is too bad. That’s not what being Catholic is supposed to be like. And I suspect that some of this is why we’re losing people to the evangelical congregations or to the general culture as agnostic former Catholics. In the USA, the second largest denomination is currently ex-Catholic. [And that doesn’t count the number of people who entered RCIA and didn’t complete it. I know far too many people like this myself for it to be an isolated phenomenon.]

  9. jaykay says:

    Igne: your analysis is very incisive (yes, I do live in Ireland). You’re certainly spot-on in this: “the Irish are not the most aesthetically inclined people in the world.” Apart from the “Mammy” syndrome there’s also the fact that many Irish priests are genuinely of the people and don’t have to put on a false front of back-slapping bonhomie to be accepted as “one of the lads” (that kind of falseness can be spotted a mile away, and is painful to witness). The downside of course was that they – perhaps unconsciously – imported many of the tastes of the average person into the liturgy, hence the current wasteland of flat banality we experience, with the constant ad-libbing and mini-sermonising. All this because even the current “product” (in the words of HH) is deemed perhaps too complex for John & Mary to understand.

    Can’t wait for this time next year. The liturgy will still be celebrated in an uninspiring manner but at least the words won’t continue to match this!

  10. marypatricia says:

    While I agree with Igne on some of the things he said I cannot let pass his criticism of Irish priests.
    I am sorry if that has been his experience but it has not been mine.
    In my lifetime most of the priests I have met have been fine, generous, and in many cases, holy men. . Yes, with their own personalities and quirks but doing a good job to the best of their ability.
    This morning, Mass in my parish was said by a man in his eighties who is curate to the P.P. who is in his seventies. They both give unstintingly of their time and talents and the curate’s main concern is the lost sheep and how to rescue them.
    Those two men are most definitely not spoilt mammy’s boys.
    They have given their lives and continue to give them in the service of God and the Church.
    There are many priests like them in Ireland who have lived truly heroic lives especially remaining faithful through all these terrible times.
    Criticism of priests can almost be a hobby in this country rather than the mindless adulation mentioned in Igne’s comment.

  11. Aengus Oshaughnessy says:

    Huzzah for Pope Benedict! He’s absolutely right–the trouble began when the lovely Extraordinary Form was tossed to the side for the Novus Ordo. I dearly hope that when the Holy Father comes to Ireland, he will knock some sense into the high-ranking clergy who have let this happen. I would gladly loan him my shillelagh for the purpose.
    My own experience with priests has been very good–I served as an altar boy for years, and the priest at my kirk was wonderful. He was rather old-fashioned, and refused to accept the Novus Ordo, his only concession to more modern beliefs being that he encouraged altar girls (he felt quite strongly about this).
    Also, I disagree with Igne’s comment that we of Ireland aren’t aesthetically inclined. Aren’t we known across the globe for our music and art? Wasn’t it ourselves that wrote the Book of Kells? And as for the manner in which we celebrate Mass. . . my own kirk is rather small, but I am always amazed at how much beauty can be crammed into such a tiny space. For one thing, there are the material beauties: statues of the saints and the Blessed Virgin, which are simply breath taking, as well as stained glass windows. But far more beautiful is the Mass itself. We use the Extraordinary Form, which definitely helps with the atmosphere, and instead of an organ, we have a harp and a fiddle for music (the fiddle is my contribution to Mass). The entire thing is magnificent, prayerful, and (perhaps most of all) beautiful.

  12. shane says:

    Igne’s comment seems to be based on Fr Vincent Twomey’s truly awful book The End of Irish Catholicism. It begs belief that anybody could publish a book with that title in 2003 without making a single reference to the sex scandals.

  13. shane says:

    The Murphy Report also made note of the slackening standards in the 60s:

    “There is a two thousand year history of Biblical, Papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse. Over the centuries, strong denunciation of clerical child sexual abuse came from Popes, Church councils and other Church sources. A list covering the period 153 AD to 2001 is included in an article by the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These denunciations are particularly strong on „offences against nature? and offences committed with or against juveniles. The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences. In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities (see Chapter 4) but little observed in Dublin.

    […]The Commission is satisfied that Church law demanded serious penalties for clerics who abused children. In Dublin from the 1970s onwards this was ignored; the highest priority was the protection of the reputation of the institution and the reputation of priests. The moving around of offending clerics with little or no disclosure of their past is illustrative of this.”


    “As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provisions of that law. The collapse of respect for the canon law in Archdiocesan circles is covered in some detail in Chapter 4.”

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