THE African delegates to the Eucharistic Congress now have a perfect opportunity to contemplate what happens to an institution in which there is authority without accountability, power without intellect, deference without doubt, emotions without reason, piety without principle, pride without dignity and display without substance. I speak of course of the Irish Catholic Church, which has been almost unique, in northern Europe anyway, in its political and cultural influence over its host country.
Yet the African delegates may scour our libraries in vain for the great theological works of Irish scholars, or fruitlessly wander round our churches, looking for signs of Irish Catholicism's visual aesthetic. Then might they presume that the church's energies had gone into creating sublime religious music; wrong again.
And of course, as its decline accelerates, with the utter abjection of a beaten dog, the Catholic Church has chosen its most recent and gratuitous torturer, RTE, effectively to be co-sponsor of the Eucharistic Congress, while of course, ignoring its stoutest defenders. In other words, the integrity and self-respect of the Eucharistic Congress are pretty much on a par with the theological riches, the architectural treasures and the musical glories that the Irish Catholic Church has created in the past.
So, if our African visitors seek an object lesson in how NOT to do things as Catholics, they're in the right country. I single out the African delegates because they are perhaps the most important people in the world: for they could well be the only hope for their continent. Ideological secularism on, say, the Scandinavian model would have as much appeal in Africa as vegan feminism has for a Zulu impi. Even a Richard Dawkins must accept the advantages of a coherent religion for Africa, with a very explicit and morally binding acceptance of deferred rewards and of sexual continence. Alas, instead of encouraging such discipline, the Irish are currently perpetuating the evils of dependency, in the final missionary position in Africa: that of a red-faced, potbellied, unskilled, middle-aged Irishman bending down to lay breeze-blocks, watched by dumbfounded jobless natives.
But this is apparently okay, because it's "charity": and Catholicism's most lasting contribution to Irish public discourse has been to indulge emotions at the expense of reason. Hence, the droves of Irish house-building volunteers now going abroad, and on their return, reporting to a largely uncritical media how grateful the Africans (or Haitians) are for their efforts. Good. But what about all the young, able-bodied local men? How are they made better by being told that if they stay idle for long enough, perhaps looking suitably woebegone, the Paddys will give them a house too? And will this farce continue until the four million Paddys have built houses for all of South Africa's 40 -- sorry, by that time 80, oops no, 160 -- million people?
The gratification of personal emotions is too often mistaken for virtue in Ireland. That's why Irish election monitors to the first free elections in South Africa felt they could perform the ANC dance on arrival at Johannesburg Airport in 1994, and were nearly sent home as a consequence by the UN. Self-indulgence so frequently masquerades as selflessness here that it can be impossible to tell the two apart.
What has Bono actually personally achieved for Africa, as opposed to what he has done for his own self-image?
Just who would have given anything to Live Aid if they'd thought God was blind to such generosity, with no reward in the hereafter? Who would ever perform charitable works anonymously, before an unseeing Lord, if such deeds, far from being the cause of a warm glow of spiritual self-satisfaction, were accompanied by an acute sense of material loss? This, I imagine, is how the Chinese view authentic, thoroughly selfless charity.
My fear, often expressed in these columns, is that Africa is close to destroying itself through a brainless combination of western aid, western medicine and African libido, causing the continent's population to double every 20 years.
If unstopped, an infrastructurally collapsing Africa will, within a generation or so, probably disgorge many millions of people into Europe, as London becomes a northern suburb of Lagos, and Dublin of Djibouti. But if by some miracle -- a resurgent Catholicism, say -- this catastrophe is avoided, then the day might well come when African missionaries will arrive on these heathen shores, to bring us the gospel once again.
Good. So Africa, will you do us a favour? May the Ibo missionaries here teach us to think for ourselves, as Irish Catholicism never did. Grant us Ashanti clerics that have an eye for visual beauty, which the Irish church has not possessed for over a thousand years. Send us Yoruba pastors, that we may finally create the religious music that we have hitherto had to borrow from others. And oh yes, give us a few house-building volunteers from the Ivory Coast (which we are, for some absurd reason, now expected to call Cott Divwoir) that they might leave as much DNA as possible here.
Our rugby and soccer teams could certainly do with some African genes: a new Mbrian Odriscoll, say, or perhaps another Njorjie Mbest.