I was born in 1978 in Holy Catholic Ireland as it is mockingly called to indicate just how much control The Catholic Church has\had on the country. I grew up in a suburb of Dublin. A modern corner of the country. There were a couple of separated couples (divorce was illegal), the odd single mother, and the fella down the road who dyed a streak of his head red – jaysus. None of them were burnt at the stake so that was great. Growing up I knew two people who weren’t Catholic. An atheist friend – gasp. And a Protestant one (semi-gasp). We didn’t differentiate between Lutheran, Church of England etc. They were all just Prods – our prejudice name or them because England = Prods and Ireland = Catholics. Too long a history to cover here. If you’re interested google “Ireland. Independence. Civil War. Catholic. Protestant. Union. Partition. Civil War. English. IRA. UVF.” It’s a fierce long list and I’m barely scraping the surface. Copy and paste might me your best bet. In 1979 Pope John Paul II visited Ireland. The country went apeshit. You’d swear it was God himself. Well I suppose good ole J.P. 2 was his representative on Earth. For several months after every poor little baby boy in Ireland was named John Paul. I shit you not. There were about six million in every class. Mad shit.
So Ireland. The Catholic wonderland. How many pedos can you fit in a country? Just take a census of the number of priests in Ireland at a given time. I am making light of the subject. I don’t think this is in any way a humorous issue. It is gravely serious. I suppose I don’t know how to tackle it in any other way. The fact that I am talking about Ireland and Irish people automatically brings out the Paddy in me. The slang, the jokes, the images of my homeland. So I’ll continue with the severity of the subject in mind, and with the hope that you will hold my viewpoint in mind. As a young kid I wanted to make my communion (aged 8). I hated girls’ stuff including clothes. I had to wear a proxy white dress for the occasion. I know communion money was a big deal. Basically all the grannies and neighbors and everyone else threw money at kids when they made their communion. It was all us eight year olds gave a shite about. In school they’d be fierce competition about who got the most. I got £30. I remember it to this day. It was one of the lowest in the class. My mam wouldn’t let us call on the neighbors, which most kids did to get money. I remember being pissed off and trying to scheme ways I could get out of the house in my communion gear with mam finding out. Then I could get what was deserved from the neighbors. The person who got the most was [girl who’s name I won’t say]. She got £180. Bonanaza. So the money and going out for a lovely meal was all I remember. Going out for dinners were few and far between in 1986. When it came to my confirmation at age 12 it was the same story. Shitty girl’s clothes. A little money. A nice dinner. I never wore the clothes again. They were hideous. Both the communion and confirmation are sacraments in the Catholic Church that I have no understanding of. By twelve I’d already kissed a couple of boys, been drunk a few times, and was smoking relatively frequently. I’m not sure if this is in anyway relevant to my belief in God, but I’m pretty sure I had already stopped believing by then. Around this time, in 1985, the sale of condoms finally became legal. The were only for sale in specific places. Finally The Virgin Megastore pushed the boat out and defied the rules and began selling them in Dublin city centre (downtown). The irony of the name of the store was not lost on most. People used to have relatives in England ship them over to them. Farcical. All because of The Catholic iron fist rule of the country.
In my early teens I remember going to ‘The Garages” to smoke with friends rather than go to mass. We’d walk by the church at the start and poke our heads in to see which priest was saying mass. The Garages were car garages that were grouped for apartment complexes in out neighborhood. Forget about parking. Their main use was for teenagers to drink, smoke, and make out. I’ve many a fond memory of chatting to a few specific friends and smoking fags. It’s funny. They were only my ‘mass friends’. I mean I’d see them around now and again and we all got on well, but we only hung out on Sunday mornings. There were three of us. We were in different High Schools and one was a year behind the other two of us. Unlikely smoking heathen friends. I wonder do they remember that? I suppose the point of this is that by this stage, 14 years old I knew I did not believe in God. A year of two prior I used to hedge my bets. I’d say out loud that I didn’t believe in God. Inside I’d be talking internally saying “Sorry if you’re real. Like I know you’re not, but like on the off chance you are. You know. And if you’re real you love me anyway and we’ll be cool – right?” So yeah. That had stopped by fourteen. I knew my older brother had stopped believing. My sisters believed from what I could tell. I knew my parents did. It turns out that my dad doesn’t. It was about 15 years later than I realized this. I should say he told me openly.
My dad said he went to mass every week because mam went, and it created a sense of community. What I have to ask myself now is what kind of community. As I intimated earlier, my community (neighborhood) was modern by Irish standards. There have been no sexual abuse scandals, no physical abuse scandals. Most of our priests were well liked, indeed a few were phenomenal. Fr. Hurley and Fr. Sheridan were brilliant with the kids. There were not creepy. They both genuinely loved kids, and had patience with them. Screaming babies, tantrumming toddlers, and talkative kids were all welcomed and indeed seen as the future in mass. All public schools in Ireland were Catholic in my day. This has probably changed a little. My parents, sister and family, and brother and his wife and live in the neighborhood where I grew up. My sister’s son goes to the same primary (elementary) school I went to. It is a public school. It is a Catholic school. If I decided to move home it would likely be to the same neighborhood. My three children would go to the same school, unless I wanted to drive them a few miles to the non-denominational school. I’m not even sure if they’d get in. I presume there is high demand these days. As someone who is raising her children in Chicago, and utilizing its public school system. It is completely secular. No mention of God. Our school has a high Muslim population as well as several Christian religious. None are relevant for school. The main three languages are on all important announcements from school: English, Spanish, and Arabic. So it is not an ignoring of culture, just a removal of religion from school. It seems so alien to me that The Catholic Church still controls the schools in Ireland. I saw my nephew’s religion book (for school) and I had a visceral reaction. It is still normal back home. My sister felt I was overreacting. I understand. She hasn’t raised her children away from it. I was always more outspoken about my opposition to organized religion in general, and The Catholic Church in Ireland in general. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with the dilemma with school.
I emigrated from Ireland in 2003. I was twenty-five years old. By that stage it had been years since I’d gone to mass. I wasn’t even a Christer Catholic – one who goes to mass only on Christmas and Easter. Funerals and Christenings were the only time I attended mass. I have no idea when the last one was in Ireland. It was probably my nephew’s Christening in 2010. I have no good feelings about the church. No terribly awful ones either. I feel a kind of mild distaste for it. That some people I love or care about are still brainwashed by what has by and large been a terrible stain on Ireland’s history. I’m not sure when the first accusations of sexual abuse by clergy came into the public’s knowledge. I think it was the late 90s. I would have been in High School. Of course I was in a Catholic School, but I was lucky enough to have been in a school ran-by and taught by lay people. My sisters and brother were in schools run by nuns and priests. All were public schools. My second sister felt very confined in her nun-run school and transferred to the school I would attend, a year before I started. When we graduated the graduation ceremony was led with a graduation mass. We didn’t have decent sex education until maybe fourth year (tenth grade). In sixth class (grade) we had a very basic but decent overview. In fourth year abstinence was taught as the only form of birth control. We were told sex out of marriage was a sin. Those of us with nieces and nephews born out of wedlock (illegitimate to the church I’m sure) kicked up a huge fuss. Demanding from the vice (assistant) principal what she meant, and were our family members sinners. She was definitely shouted down. It seems so ridiculous now. My schools, primary (elementary) and secondary (high school) are still Catholic. I have no idea what sex education is like there now. I presume and hope it has improved.
Back to the sexual abuse. It started as a trickle of allegations and built bit by bit into a deluge. It showed itself to be rampant. Disgust was felt by almost everyone. Of course it wasn’t the fault of every single priest in Ireland. Indeed could the institution itself be blame? It was shown that there was cover-up after cover-up by higher ups in the church. At what point does it go from being many, many, many cases of abuse and cover-up, to become institutionalized abuse? I have spoken to people my father’s age and many have said they knew which priests to stay away from.
Many boys schools in Ireland were and still are run by The Christian Brothers. They are a catholic organization and are mostly involved in education of boys in Ireland. Their first school opened in Ireland in 1802. Christian Brothers Schools were know to be tough but great in education. Around the same time as the sex abuse scandal happened, allegations of institutionalized physical abuse by The Brothers towards students. As with the sexual abuse, the physical abuse was rampant. A generation and more of boys suffered greatly at their hands. Catholic clergy were revered beyond their station. Not a bad word could be spoken of them. Even if people spoke up, they would have been silenced. Even now there are still those who revere the church. I don’t think that they believe that no wrong was done. They seem to believe that the church is the almighty power and everyone should move on. Don’t look behind the curtain folks.
Something many foreigners (not Irish) people do not know about are The Magdalene Laundries. These were institutions all over Ireland and in some other countries where women deemed to have loose morals were sent. Prostitutes and women pregnant out of wedlock for the most part, predominantly the later. The women’s babies were taken form them at birth and shipped out for adoption, mostly to England. The women generally never saw them again. Some mothers and children have been reunited often forty of fifty years later. Many women remained in the laundries for the rest of their lives. A huge price to pay for what others deemed to be immoral behavior. The laundries have the name because that was the bulk of the work done there. The original idea of them was to educate women as to the error of their ways. While that disgusts most in this day and age, it can be argued it was at least a charitable goal. What actually took place in them was no education whatsoever, brutal working conditions, essentially slave labor. Conditions are said to have been worse than prison. Terrible things happened at some of these laundries. The worst of which was in Tuam, Co. Galway. The death rate among infants was at worst 34% in 1945, and at best around that period was 27%. The scandal is huge. Hundreds upon hundreds of dead children, huge numbers of mothers seperated from their children forever. Doomed to spend their lives in those prisons.
Pope Francis visited Ireland last weekend. It was hard judging form this side of the Atlantic just how anti-Pope sentiment there was back home. It was felt that the money spent to accommodate his visit could have been much better spent on underfunded services in Ireland. Lots of comparisons were done laying out the cost of the visit again various much needed things in Ireland. Homeless reduction, improved healthcare, assistance for the unemployed, housing issues, and on and on. The was nowhere near the level of excitement as there was in 1979 when the Pope John Paul visited. Back then almost every person in The Republic of Ireland was a practicing Catholic. I have no idea as to the actual number of believers, practicers, and where the overlap may of may not be. I do know that the churches are empty these days. In my day people stood at the back of the church for want of a seat at every one of the four Sunday masses. They have cut down the number of services, and the aisles are sparsley populated. Part of this has been modernization. Young people unafraid to speak out against The Church and/or God. Part is the disenchantment of the untouchable establishment because of horror after horror of abuses both actual and of power carried out by members of the clergy.
I love my country. I had a decent upbringing in a hugely catholic country. I was never abused. I liked our priests. I believe ours were good people. Many, many people were strangled by it. Either directly through the church, or from fucked up family members. Ireland needs to never forget its past in relation to The Church, the stanglehold it had, and on how far we’ve come. I look to the future and assume The Church will eventual crumble to nothing. In Ireland. In the world. The structure may have helped communities around the country, but at what cost? It is time to move forward. Let the sufferers feel heard and embraced. Let the evil be pushed out. Let freedom and comfort pour in. Not evey person, and not every part of The Church was or is evil. Just enough to screw up several generations of my countrymen. Enough. Enough. Enough.