Irish church has suffered dramatic fall from grace

A seemingly unending wave of sex scandals, many of them involving children, has decimated the once-proud standing of the Catholic church in Ireland and rendered its power a pale shadow of what it was.

The church was almost bound to lose influence over the last half-century, in common with a western world where the secular is generally prevailing against the religious. But in Ireland its fall from grace has been dramatic and drastic.



Church attendance is on the wane, with only a handful of people now come forward each year to train as priests or nuns - this in a country which for decades sent thousands of religious abroad.



In the archdiocese of Dublin there will soon be barely enough to have one priest for each of its 199 parishes. Clerical presence is not only contracting but ageing: in Dublin there are now ten times more priests over 70 than under 40.



The heart of the trouble lies in the mind of the flock, for even the most faithful have been shocked to the core by the relentless revelations. That shock has been all the greater because of the reverence which the church once commanded.



When what is now the Irish Republic came into being in the early 1920s, after Britain withdrew from the 26 southern counties, the new state was more than 90 per cent Catholic. From the start it depended heavily on the Catholic church to provide much of its basic infrastructure.



In many ways the church provided a service which tended to the faithful from the cradle to the grave but also at many points in-between, since it ran most of the schools and many of the hospitals and other services.



It set the tone for the entire state, since Catholic doctrine was built into many laws, including the Constitution. Abortion, divorce and contraception were banned and censorship was famously strict.



Ireland was famous for its writers but many of those frowned upon by the church, from James Joyce to Edna O'Brien, regarded the artistic atmosphere as stifling and left its shores.



For example, Elvis Presley's "most suggestive abdominal dancing" was cut out of movies while even a Cliff Richard film was thought too racy for the Irish. A scene in "On the Waterfront," in which a priest bought Marlon Brando a beer was cut since it was thought inappropriate for a priest to drink in public.



Today the irony is that some priests were in private engaging in activities which no film-maker or artist would dare depict.



In high politics few politicians ever took on the church head-on over important issues, many of them proclaiming that their first duty was to their church. Politicians, it was regularly said, feared "the belt of the crozier."



When rare clashes did occur the bishops almost invariably won the exchanges.



As late as 1969 Ireland was described as "the most Christian country in the world," but the sixties, as elsewhere, brought huge changes as education, television and travel eroded much of the old deference.



However the sex scandals, beginning in the early 1990s with the revelation that the Bishop of Galway had secretly fathered a child, have done more than anything to sap the authority of a once authoritarian church.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea