He smiled greetings at people passing on the street and politely hid out of the way so others could pass undisturbed. There was something about this priest, about middle-aged, that impressed me.
s if he apologized for even being there and specifically for wearing a conspicuous collar.
I had no reason to believe so other than vague instinct, but it nonetheless prompted me to compare it to previous generations (I’ve been at this for a few years) when a minister’s or vicar’s foray was answered with their caps pulled down and a certain knee-jerk deference.
Most of it was unhealthy. Very public rituals that signaled an unctuous relationship with a church that had more social, cultural, and political say than was reasonable or wise.
Here was a man you felt society would only tolerate. A symbol of an institution not worth the time of day in secular Ireland.
No shortage of people to remind the church it was coming and only a fool would argue with the bones of it. Not only did the bishops have too much soft and hard power, they also systematically abused it.
But there comes a point when an adult society, which one might even call mature post-Catholic, must attempt to balance the books. Recognize that this institution, which functioned almost as a parallel state, also rendered the state a certain service.
With all the stories we hear of vicious brothers, heartless nuns, and tyrannical parish priests, many of them are true; some more a mixture of tainted memory and resentment – there were many others doing good, or at least doing their level best.
These were different times with different customs, and similar narratives can be found across Europe in nations of different faiths and political systems.
At the turn of independence, this state — out of a combination of ideological deference and financial constraints — effectively handed the keys to health and education to the bishops. But who would have trained and nurtured those early generations if not the Church? Who would have taken his unwanted daughters, stray sons and impoverished?
This doesn’t absolve the church of its scandalous mistakes, but it does place the role of the religious in a historical context.
Nor is it fair to argue that the Irish had no agency and were simply intimidated.
This is a simplistic and condescending view of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
In the first three quarters of the 20th century, this was not only wanted by the Irish, but also demanded. It was who they were.
Perhaps this hesitant priest was aware that he stuck out like a sore thumb in a testy nation embroiled in corrosive and foul culture wars. Perhaps the politically battered National Maternity Hospital controversy, the most recent cause for beatings on the church, was why he was so cautious. Who could blame him?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/there-comes-a-time-when-a-grown-up-society-must-attempt-to-balance-the-books-on-churchs-role-in-irelands-past-41656579.html There comes a time when an adult society must try to balance the books on the Church’s role in Ireland’s past