C.J. O HEHIR
During a Mass in Dublin in 1992, an Englishman turned to a friend seated beside him and whispered: “Do you ever feel English Catholics know why they are Catholics in a way that Irish Catholics dont.” As so often happens, a foreign visitor had identified a glaringly obvious facet of Irish life that eludes most of the natives; in this case, the extraordinary lack of Catholic consciousness among the mass of the population.
Ireland is both the most anti-Catholic Catholic country in the world and the most monolithically Liberal of the worlds democracies. To an extent unparalleled outside Communist dictatorships and other officially non-Christian societies, the Irish cultural climate is unremittingly hostile to Catholicism. There are no non-Liberal political parties represented in parliament, no non-Liberal newspapers or magazines with a wide circulation, no non-Liberal intellectuals and very few non-Liberal journalists. For many generations Irish literature has been defined primarily, if not exclusively, by anti-Catholic themes. Likewise, few if any Irish artists who work in music, painting, theatre, or cinema profess Catholic belief.
Although, in comparison with Ireland, the U.K. has a small Catholic minority, Catholicism pervades its culture, both past and present, to an extent unimaginable in its western neighbour. A short and by no means comprehensive list of British Catholic luminaries will suffice to highlight the disparity: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Edward Elgar, Eric Gill, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Anscombe, Elizabeth Jennings, Michael MacMillan – the Irish equivalents of such figures simply dont exist.
For Irish Catholics it would be tempting to believe that such a paucity of Catholic culture only demonstrates the gulf that exists between the ruling elite and “the plain people of Ireland.” But this would be to succumb to the democratic fallacy. Again and again history has shown that where elites lead, sooner or later the masses follow. Moreover, all the evidence suggests that the dominant Liberal coterie in Ireland reflects the philosophical outlook of a large and growing sector of the population. Several Europe-wide surveys have shown Irish attitudes towards social and moral issues to be among the most Liberal in Europe. Voting trends too, reveal that as much as a third of the Irish population is now tribally Liberal in the sense that residents of the Shankill Road are tribal Loyalists or the people of north-eastern England are tribal Labour voters, i.e., thev simply cant conceive of voting in any other way. Tribal Liberals would not so much as contemplate supporting a candidate for office who was not “pro-choice,” pro-divorce, etc., even if they agreed with him or her on other issues.
No equivalent tribal Catholic vote exists. Irish Catholics who oppose abortion rarely allow such opposition to influence their voting behaviour or their choice of newspapers and magazines. The great Scottish convert, Hamish Fraser, once described American Catholics as “Protestants who go to Mass.” In Ireland the situation is much worse: Catholics here are secular Liberals who go to Mass. Nor is this a new phenomenon. Commentators often cite Mary Robinson�s election as the dawn of the New Ireland. Yet they usually fail to record the truly significant facet of the 1990 Presidential contest: the remarkable similarity between Mrs Robinsons own social and political views and those of her two rivals for the Presidency.
In the same way, Liberal schadenfreude over the countless scandals that afflict the Irish hierarchy is somewhat disingenuous, since, on key issues, ranging from mass immigration to sex education, the Bishops invariably reflect the received Liberal wisdom [cf. “Sensual Catechesis: Irish Bishops in Bed with the State,” by Michael McGrade, CO, February 1999]. In fact, apart from the single issue of abortion the Irish episcopate rarely if ever challenges the political and social consensus that emanates from the newspaper offices of central Dublin. Episcopal Liberalism in Ireland may not be of the “in your face” grandstanding variety so beloved of some American prelates but its very unobtrusiveness makes it all the more pernicious. For example, several years ago the Irish bishops Conference urged the Vatican to scrap Gospel readings that offended radical feminist sensibilities. Nobody in Ireland condemned this internationally unprecedented intervention; an indifference which underscores how, almost unnoticed, radical modernism has entered the mainstream of the Irish Church.
Predictably enough the drive towards a European state has also received the enthusiastic backing of the Irish bishops. Ironically, in this one area the medias relentless campaign of denigration against the Church has, to some extent, backfired. Before the 2001 referendum on the Nice Treaty for European integration, the bishops strongly urged Catholics to vote yes to ratification. Unsurprisingly, the voters, nourished on a daily media diet of clerical scandals, felt no obligation to heed their shepherds advice and rejected the treaty. (Sixteen months later, in October 2002, it took a massively funded propaganda exercise involving all major political parties, the media, big business and the trade unions as well as the bishops – which campaign spent 10 for every 1 spent by the No camp! – to intimidate voters into reversing that decision.)
Cultural Cringe and Decomposition
The reasons for Irelands uniquely anti-Catholic cultural and political environment are not nearly so opaque as might appear at first glance.
For a start, it is too often forgotten that less than 40 years elapsed between the end of British rule in Ireland and the beginning of Vatican II. In other words Ireland has already been a post-Conciliar Liberal state for almost as long as it was a pre-Conciliar Liberal state. From the Elizabethan era to 1922 the most powerful Protestant nation on earth governed the country with varying degrees of brutality. For much of this period the invaders had a set policy of seeking to extirpate all vestiges of Irishness. It would have been truly remarkable, therefore, if Ireland had emerged from this lengthy occupation with its Catholic faith and culture fully intact. Instead, the new state reflected, in large measure, the Protestant materialist ethos of its former colonial master.
In his landmark work, The Framework of a Christian State, Fr Edward Cahill contrasted the vulgar mass culture he saw in 1930s Ireland with the still authentically Catholic ambience of Italy and Spain during the same era. These differences persist to this day. Irish Catholics who have spent time in Latin Europe must surely perceive a vast gulf between the vibrant publicly proclaimed Catholicism still often encountered there and the virtual invisibility of the Faith in modern Ireland.
Even Protestants determined to be scandalised by public expressions of papist “superstition” will find nothing to disturb them in modern Ireland. During the 1999 Orange Order stand-off at Drumcree, an interviewer challenged the Ulster Loyalist politician David Ervine to provide examples of Catholic sectarianism in Irish society. Ervine hesitated for several seconds before citing religious festivals he had witnessed while on holidays … in Spain!
Of course, no Catholic country has escaped the ravages of the Conciliar revolution. But continental Catholics differ from their Irish counterparts in one vital respect: they are not ashamed to be Catholic.
Indeed, cultural cringe may be the most decisive factor of all in the decomposition of Irish Catholicism. The Irish people suffer deeply from post-colonial guilt; only in our case it is the guilt of the colonised, not the coloniser. We overcompensate for a supposedly “repressive” Catholic past by feeling duty-bound to joyfully accept all manifestations of modern secularism no matter how sordid or vulgar. Hence we must be the only country in the world to indulge a Prime Minister who publicly flaunts his mistress at state functions. Mr Ahern, incidentally, is not the first of our leaders to have a publicly acknowledged extra-marital “partner.” In the early 1990s, the gossip columnist for Irelands largest selling Sunday newspaper regularly made smutty, innuendo-laden references to her relationship with the then Prime Minister C.J. Haughey. To object to any of this would be to risk being labeled a “relic of old repressive Ireland;” an accusation that strikes the same kind of terror in Irish hearts that charges of “bourgeois deviationism” aroused in 1930s Russia.
Irelands political heritage, too, differs markedly from that of continental Europe in never having had an integrally Catholic component. The two great political traditions on this island, Unionism and Republicanism, both have deep anti-Catholic roots. Irish Liberals often decry the influence of “conservative, Catholic nationalism” on the body politic but for the most part such influence has been negligible. There were Catholic elements in the Irish nationalist movement but they jostled for space with powerful anti-Catholic currents. English Puritanism, French Jacobinism, Ulster Presbyterianism, Masonic Liberalism and European Socialism all contributed their share to the singular brew that became Irish Republicanism. The contradictions that ensued manifest themselves in the colour scheme of the national flag, which honours the Orange Order – the most notoriously and violently anti-Catholic organization in the world.
In its equality of treatment for all religions de Valeras 1937 Constitution exhibits the same Pluralist sophistry. Nothing could be more calculated to undermine Catholic belief than a Pluralist political system since it exalts spurious notions of equality and fraternity at the expense of religious conviction. The former editor of The Irish Catholic, David Quinn, used sometimes complain that Irish Liberals distort the true meaning of the word Pluralism. But such criticism misses the point. There is no true meaning of Pluralism. By definition, Pluralism must always contradict itself since truth and falsehood cannot co-exist. To put it at its most basic level: it is not possible to envisage a state that protects both the right to property and the right to steal. In reality, Pluralist rhetoric is nothing more than a convenient device for imposing Liberal precepts in the name of tolerance and good will.
Failure of Fianna Fail
Until quite recently, it is true, the Republican grassroots of de Valeras party, Fianna Fail, had a certain inchoate loyalty to solid Catholic values. But it was precisely its inchoate nature that rendered such loyalty irrelevant in the struggle for the soul of modern Ireland. By contrast there was nothing inchoate about the Liberalism of the national broadcaster RTE or The Irish Times and the other main parties. These forces understood exactly what they stood for and exactly how they intended to go about achieving it. If, for no other reason, then, anti-nationalist Liberals (a.k.a., Revisionists) have been much more influential than Fianna Fail-style nationalists in shaping Irish society over the last 40 years. Dire consequences have ensued for the Church, since, from the Progressive Democrats on the right, to the Workers Party on the left, Revisionists have generally displayed unrelenting hostility to Catholic belief.
In any event, over the last decade and a half, Fianna Fail has been catching up fast on its rivals, in its commitment to anti-Christian policies. Fianna Fail-led governments legislated for much of the Liberal agenda throughout the 1990s and the party thus became all but indistinguishable from the anti-Catholic mainstream. By the early 1990s so stifling had the cross-party and cross-media consensus become that Garret Fitzgerald, one of the elder statesmen of Irish Liberalism, felt compelled to lament, in a newspaper article, the sheer mindlessness of Irish political and moral discourse.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, this new anti-Catholic tendency in Fianna Fail has coincided with a retreat from nationalist aspirations. The Good Friday Agreement, which, by conferring automatic citizenship on any child born in the State, is facilitating unrestricted mass immigration into Ireland, is surely the reductio ad absurdem of Liberal anti-nationalism. It will, if allowed to remain in place unamended, inexorably destroy the Irish nation. It is also worth noting, incidentally, that nothing has undermined the logic of Republicanism more than its embrace of Liberalism; an embrace which tacitly accepts the wisdom of Revisionist and Unionist positions on Church-State relations.
What should be obvious from all of the above is that the absence of a coherent Catholic nationalist political position has led in no small measure to the rapid demise of the Catholic faith in Ireland. The development of an authentic Catholic politics has therefore never been a greater necessity.
Published in Christian Order December 2003