Have we reached peak anti-Catholicism in Ireland? Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but I have a feeling the answer might be yes. In the last few weeks we have had story after story that has ignited and then reignited the tremendous reservoir of anger that exists in this country towards the Catholic Church. This might make it strange to suggest we have hit peak anti-Catholicism, but bear with me.
The latest stories ave been as follows. First, we had the Public Accounts Committee issue a report saying that some religious orders have not yet paid everything to the redress schemes for victims of institutional abuse they said they would pay.
Then the Tuam mother and baby story resurfaced on the same weekend the Catholic bishops appeared before the Citizens’ Assembly. There was little if anything new in the story, apart from the fact that the septic tank on the grounds of the old home contains no bodies, but another structure of an as-yet-to-be determined nature does.
After that we had the big row over the fact that the Sisters of Charity will own the new national maternity hospital to be built on land they own. This was reported in the papers last November but for some reason only caused a row in the last few weeks.
Following that, we had a more minor row over the retention of the Dail prayer, with the controversy over the would-be blasphemy charge against actor, Stephen Fry coming hard on the heels of that (even though the alleged ‘blasphemy’ happened two years ago).
So, stories casting the Church, and ‘Catholic Ireland’ generally, in a bad light have been coming thick and fast and all of a sudden.
Is the angry reaction to these stories necessarily a manifestation of anti-Catholicism? Not at all. However, what makes something cross the line from fair criticism to anti-Catholicism is when the attacks become relentless, when the Church is singled out again and again, when the worst possible interpretation is put on everything the Church has done, and does, and when all the good it has ever done is ignored.
Most people would agree that this country was once very anti-British. Most people would agree that the hard left is very anti-Labour and that Marine Le Pen is very anti-EU. We recognise this because of the relentless nature of their attacks etc. The same attitude obviously exists towards the Catholic Church here. So yes, there is anti-Catholicism in Ireland. It is a real thing.
What do I mean by peak anti-Catholicism? I mean the same thing economists mean by ‘peak oil’. We reach ‘peak oil’ when maximum extraction of oil is reached and from that point the only way is down. That’s not to say the oil will run out quickly, but once peak oil is reached, the decline has begun.
Similarly, with anti-Catholicism. We may well have reached its peak over the last few weeks. Several columnists like Victoria White and Gerard Howlin at The Irish Examiner, not known for being Catholic ‘apologists’, have been pushing back against the massive anger on display towards the Church. That might be a straw in the wind, an indication that enough is enough.
This isn’t to say the anger and the anti-Catholicism are going to go away soon because the current peak is very high indeed. But the attacks have been so strong, so insistent, it is very hard to believe they can get worse. Or perhaps I’m being naïve. We’ll know soon enough anyhow because I expect plenty more attacks on the Church between now and the likely abortion referendum next year, so there will be plenty of chances coming up that will test my theory to destruction.