Ireland’s Catholic identity Is debated following sex abuse scandal

Andrew Madden is one of a relatively new breed of Irish celebrities who would just as soon be less well known. He was among the first people in Ireland to go public about being sexually abused by Catholic clergy — one of those who set off the intense bout of soul-searching that has racked the country lately. When I met Madden last fall in Dublin, the early rumbles of the collapse of Ireland’s economy were shaking the country, and throughout much of a pub lunch he talked about the failures of the government and the banks. It was only later, once we were driving around his old neighborhood, past the pebbledash house where he grew up and where his parents still live, that he began to talk about his childhood. As we sat in his car in front of Christ the King Church, where he spent much of his youth as an altar boy and a choir member, he outlined the four years of torment he suffered in the late 1970s at the hands of the Rev. Ivan Payne, one of the infamous serial sex offenders among the Irish Catholic clergy whose stories have transfixed the country over the past year and a half…

My afternoon with Andrew Madden might serve as a snapshot of what Ireland has been through lately. The country is preoccupied with the fallout — personal, social and political — from the crash and burn of the Celtic Tiger. But beneath that, and in a way connected to it, is a more primal pain: one deeper, lodged in the bones, maybe. The phenomenal economic boom over the past two decades, and the secularization that came along with it, allowed Ireland to think it was no longer what it once was: a backward land dominated and shaped by the Roman Catholic Church. But as the economy has crashed, the Irish have come face to face with their earlier selves, and with a church-state relationship that was and in many ways still is, as quite a few people in the country see it, perversely antimodern.

Of the various crises the Catholic Church is facing around the world, the central one — wave after wave of accounts of systemic sexual abuse of children by priests and other church figures — has affected Ireland more strikingly than anywhere else. And no place has reacted so aggressively. The Irish responded to the publication in 2009 of two lengthy, damning reports — detailing thousands of cases of rape, sexual molestation and lurid beatings, spanning Ireland’s entire history as an independent country, and the efforts of church officials to protect the abusers rather than the victims — with anger, disgust, vocal assaults on priests in public and demands that the government and society disentangle themselves from the church…

Among those who were most outraged by the abuse reports were people in their 20s and 30s, who came of age during the economic upswing and who grew up in a newly secular culture without a sense of obedience to the church. “When I saw the reports, I thought, I can’t even pretend to be part of this club anymore,” says Grainne O’Sullivan, a 32-year-old graphic designer. Late in 2009, together with a Web developer named Cormac Flynn and a civil servant in Cork named Paul Dunbar, she began a Web site,, which walked Catholics through a three-step process for formally defecting from the church. It was to be, she said, “a way of protesting, using their own process against them.” Over the next several months, CountMeOut became a focal point of anger at the church; 12,000 people downloaded the official form for defection — “Defectio ab Ecclesia Catholica Actu Formali” — from the site.

Then last August, the Vatican introduced a change in canon law that will apparently make it impossible for Catholics to defect. Flynn, O’Sullivan and Dunbar have thus suspended their service. But the Web site continues to be a clearinghouse for information on the church in Ireland and its abuses, and it has helped start a debate on Irish identity — on the possibility of separating the two parts of the term “Irish Catholic.”

RTFA. This is a long, tortured [for True Believers] tale of the process of thought and action affecting all of the Irish nation, nowadays. They have set forth on the long march of the whole Age of Reason – and are trying to go the distance in a lot fewer years than did the rest of the Western World.

That term, Western World, excepts the United States, of course. We merely added on several layers of bible-thumping fundamentalism to the Catholicism that afflict reason and politics to this day – in our portion of North America.

This is a bright and detailed article. I hope you read it and reflect upon the role of ancient and dying ideology on our lives to this day.

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