Police outside Holy Cross Abbey:The relic of the True Cross, which was brought to Ireland in the thirteenth century has been stolen from Holy Cross Abbey in Thurles. There is constant stories coming out of Ireland of acts of vandalism and theft against Churches, of violence against clergy, even of sacrilege and desecration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is just yet another sad story, that seems to illustrate the shrugging off of Catholicism in "Holy" Ireland. The " Holy" which sustained faith for centuries is now just seen in financial terms, as an antique to be sold on or even melted down.
For the last thirty years of the last century there were stories of visionaries, wobbling and bleeding statues, visionaries, stigmatics and apocalyptic prophets, in retrospect we can see this as a disconnection between the Church and the folk piety of the faithful.
No one can deny the Church in Ireland is in a pitiful state. Report after report unveils yet more unsavoury details of the failure of the Church's hierarchy. In England, and elsewhere, we are fortunate that our equivalents of the Magdalen Laundries, Industrial Schools and Reformatories were in the hands of the State and not of the Church.
A friend of mine who was at the European Bishop's Conference, said he felt sorry for the Archbishop of Dublin who just looked grey, exhausted and isolated; no wonder. He seems to be the only Irish bishops who has any credibility, in many ways he is a lone voice. Irish clergy who write to me seem to be depressed and in great pain. They want leadership and yet their bishops seem incapable of giving it. In Ireland the Association for Catholic Priests seems to be the only group that has a voice, it claims to speak for a quarter of the clergy.
The Association adopts the same line as dissident groups in Austria and elsewhere, it wants an end to mandatory celibacy, admission of the divorced to the sacraments, readmission to ministry of laicised priests, empowerment of certain lay people and the election of Bishops. Some within the Association seem to want a break with Rome and the establishment of a national Church.
I suspect many Irish clergy, the other three quarters, that aren't signed up to the Association are simply saying "something must be done", they are not sure what and some, not all, might well agree with some of the tub thumping of the rhetoricians of the Association, many of whom seem to have close contacts with the Irish political establishment, which Ireland is not necessarily a recommendation for anyone. The economic situation seems to have brought about a general mistrust of elites and at least a temporary favouring of those who topple them.
The Pope's initiatives for the healing of the Church in Ireland, in his letter, especially the prayer and penance, in many places seem to be ignored or forgotten in the slew of anti-clericalism; there has been little news of the Mission to the bishops, clergy and religious, perhaps as this sounds like "retraining" or boot camp, it doesn't seem to be met with enthusiasm.
What practically everyone is waiting for is the publication of the report of the Visitation: which bishops are going to be sacked, is pretty basic question, especially as the rumours and speculations about cutting down the number of Irish dioceses has been going the rounds for some time. Whilst Rome ponders and is silent morale continues to decrease and depression with all its dangers to the priestly life seems to increase.
If there is "an Irish question" as far as the Church is concerned, it is also a European question, the chiaroscuro of Ireland's deep and profound faith a generation ago and its apparent rejection of it today, epitomises the problems facing the rest of Europe, though perhaps some might suggest Celtic Catholicism, hence Celtic Secularism is different from European Catholicism and Secularism. What is to be done?
The urgency of the situation will be a test for Archbishop Fisichella and the Council for the New Evangelisation, a recurring theme is Ireland has been catechised but not evanglised. It will also be a test for the Congregation of Bishops; can it find men who will be effective leaders and teachers of the faith? As someone suggested recently favouring men with diplomatic skills as opposed to being teachers and evangelists has, possibly, been the result of replacing the CDF with the Secretariat of State in the choice of bishops. The change has meant having those who want peace with society, rather than those who have fire and fervour in their bellies as bishops.