Under-fire church to break from tradition
An Anglican archbishop will take part in 50th Eucharistic Congress
IT will be a lot smaller than 1932, but when the Eucharistic Congress returns to Dublin next month, it will mark a new era for Catholicism in Ireland. In a break from tradition, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Reverend Dr Michael Jackson, has been invited to take part.
"It is wonderful to have people from all over the world coming to Ireland. There is a very strong ecumenical feel to the conference and people from a wide range of Christian traditions are involved," Dr Jackson said yesterday.
"The conference tackles a broad-ranging meaning of the word communion, which presents an opportunity for us to learn from each other. Ireland is a very different place [than in 1932] and people have a much more critical understanding of their faith. The way in which people from different Christian traditions and expressions are involved shows that it is a very different type of congress. A Church of Ireland church has been included in the pilgrim walk, along with six other churches. Throughout the programme people from outside the Roman Catholic tradition are involved. A massive effort is being made to make it a celebration of Christianity."
The 31st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin in 1932, is often seen as a milestone in Ireland's relationship with Catholicism, a key moment where the infant Irish State asserted its identity as a leading Catholic nation.
It was seen by the Protestant minority at the time as a spectacular marriage of the Catholic Church and the Irish State. Eighty years later, however, the honeymoon is over.
Since the announcement of 50th Eucharistic Congress, there have been unprecedented scandals and turmoil. The Ferns Report had already been published but then came the Ryan Report, the Murphy Report and the Cloyne Report, revealing the horrific and damning reality of systematic abuse of children and power within the church's very walls.
The 2012 Congress, beginning in the RDS on June 10 and finishing up with mass at Croke Park on June 17, is expected to attract more than 7,000 people from 95 countries and will feature workshops, discussion groups, cultural events, exhibitions and a Eucharistic procession.
This week in Leixlip, Co Kildare, the Parish Council hopes to erect a plague in memory of two lorry passengers killed in a collision while travelling home from the Phoenix Park celebrations in 1932.
Local historian John Colgan was called upon to provide information about the tragic event and help them select an appropriate location for the plaque.
Mr Colgan, a humanist, dutifully obliged. However, earlier this year relations between Mr Colgan and the Catholic Church were not as rosy. He made a complaint to gardai, under the Incitement to Hatred Act, regarding a sermon given by Bishop Philip Boyce in which the cleric spoke of the church being under attack from "a secular and godless culture".
"I wasn't around in 1932, but an awful lot of Catholic Church activity, even in my youth, was very triumphalist," he explains. "I did say to the people running the Eucharistic Congress this year that I hope this won't be another kind of triumphalist event.
"They've assured me that it won't be and I think that would be in their own interest. It's a free country, if they want to run a Eucharistic Congress then by all means let them do it. I'm not a believer at all. I just believe in freedom of expression and as long as they conduct themselves well, which I expect they will do, there should be no problem with it.
"I think the hurt that has been done in the Catholic Church is being compounded day by day by further cock-ups of one kind or another.
"Look at the speed and ability of the Vatican to silence a few decent men in Ireland. They still appear to be running an organisation intent on control and telling everyone what to do, ignoring realities in the world."
Rabbi Zalman S Lent, of Dublin's Hebrew Congregation, has experienced a positive transformation in relations between Roman Catholicism and Judaism here over the last few decades.
He said: "The initiation of diplomatic relations between the state of Israel and the Holy See has allowed a genuine exchange of ideas in the areas of faith, human dignity and respect for those whose religious identity differs from our own. Hopefully one of the outcomes of the upcoming congress will be a strengthening of those relationships and that mutual respect between all the faiths on this island and in the wider world."
Reverend Roy Cooper, the former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, said: "It helps to perhaps remind Catholics that they're part of a universal church."
However, Rev Cooper believes that the Congress is coming to a very different country this time around.
"In 1932 everyone appeared to be in favour of it," Rev Cooper added. "There were altars out on all the streets and there was a great celebration that the Pope's representative was coming. Now I think it'll be a much smaller number of people who will attend it.
"I think just having the Congress here isn't really going to change people's attitudes and people's minds.
"I think it's going to take more than the Congress, but it may be the spark to start something."
Mike Garde, a Mennonite and member of Grosvenor Baptist Church, was the first non-Catholic to study for the Bachelor of Divinity at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, back in 1975.
He said: "I believe some Catholics view it as a strategy to renew the Catholic Church in Ireland. My evaluation is that it will be an abject failure in that regard. The position of the Catholic Church in 1932 was that of a church which represented the people. However, they had become a dominant political force, having taken over when the British left. It was Brits out, Rome in.
"We must remember that the Catholic Church does not only rely on spiritual authority, but as a vestige of its history has linked its identity to the Vatican state. Catholics as a cultural Irish identity are a majority, but the Catholic faith is a threatened species."
Mr Garde is not impressed with the level of non-Catholic inclusion in the 2012 Congress.
"Catholicism sees itself as Christianity, and other Christian churches are recognised but in the second division," he said. "Members of other churches have been invited to both speak at the Theological Conference, which precedes the Congress, and at the Congress itself. I see no problem with the Catholic Church controlling the agenda of its own event. However, if you wished to address the sectarian context of Irish history then choosing the Eucharist as its theme is the most divisive doctrine you could choose. It is the central sacrament of the Catholic faith and that which divides it from all other Christians on this island."