Letter: The Irish church in an educated society

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The Independent Online
From Mr Paul O'Neill

Sir: Mary Kenny (Another View: "Calvary of Catholic Ireland," 4 October) is correct in her observation that, prior to the liberalism of Vatican- II, the Irish church enjoyed the unquestioned loyalty of her flock. That the average priest "generally observed punctiliously the chastity he so sternly preached" is probably as valid today as it was then, and impossible to qualify in any case.

Adherence to an unnatural vow of chastity can be explained as wilful sacrifice in the service of God, or just "part of the job" in a society where the priest held real political power. Most indiscretions would go unreported precisely because the peasant laity lived in mortal fear of sin which could only be absolved by the priest in confession.

The Irish Catholic church, with constitutional backing from the state, perpetuated an insidious climate of fear and retribution created in the Dark Ages. The people were brainwashed to deny their feelings and impulses and live instead in a perpetual cycle of grace and guilt.

Since the Fifties, successive generations of young Irish people, enjoying access to opportunities previously available only to the wealthy or the clergy, have been educated to question authority and form their own value judgements. Faced with a well-informed public, the church has had to temper its message. It is not, nor ever has been, a "democracy", and by showing the sinner understanding and forgiveness is merely being true to its raison d'etre.

As a young Irish person, I believe the church is being forced finally to grow up with the rest of society. Ms Kenny, in advocating that it adopt an authoritarian solution to current woes, is merely demonstrating how far removed she is from the teachings of Christ.

Mise le meas,

Paul O'Neill

Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

5 October

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