Thursday 27 June 2019

Any whiff of faith and the illiberal liberals start Catholic-bashing

The Catholic Church has made mistakes, but its great work is being ignored in a modern wave of cynicism

FAMILY FAITH: Wendy Grace and her husband Karl Melady meet Pope Francis in June 2014 at a Papal Audience in Rome. The Pope is due to arrive in Ireland on Saturday, August 25
FAMILY FAITH: Wendy Grace and her husband Karl Melady meet Pope Francis in June 2014 at a Papal Audience in Rome. The Pope is due to arrive in Ireland on Saturday, August 25

Wendy Grace

Fascist, backwards, bigot, homophobe - just some of the words many Catholics have been called for daring to have a voice in the public sphere. And with Pope Francis's visit less than two weeks away, it's going to be oh so tempting for politicians and pundits to participate in long diatribes of venom directed at the Catholic Church. And who could blame them? Think of the likes, the shares, the retweets, the backslapping and adulation you can get.

It doesn't matter that there are a million people on hospital waiting lists, just have a pop at a bishop and that will be a handy distraction for the health minister from actually doing his job. All you have to do is moan about many of the half-truths and, often, misinformation out there about the Catholic Church and then let the headlines roll. No-one will apply any intellectual rigour to what you are saying and the mob has managed to silence into oblivion many of the voices who might challenge you.

Bashing the Church is all part of our new "progressive and modern Ireland" image. We're much more focused on the common good now that we can be our very own moral compass. The homelessness figures hitting a record high isn't that big a deal, women are less safe in Ireland than ever before, no biggie, and vulture capitalism will eventually come around and set rent at a rate we can all afford, right?

If we just stick to the mantra that the boom is back, maybe people will forget about the 16pc of people living in poverty. Let's ignore the €20m a day of national debt we have to pay, sure our grandchildren can worry about that.

If we just blame the Papal visit for putting pressure on homeless families in hotel rooms, maybe people will forget that it's actually the Government's failure to keep their promise to end family homelessness by July last year that explains why families are sleeping in hotels (and Garda stations) in the first place.

If there happens to be a positive news story like the World Meeting of Families, you better be tight-lipped, or at least conveniently remember stories that paint the Church in a negative light or else…

We now live in a culture of conformity so strong that an odious type of censorship is rife when it comes to all things Catholic: self-censorship. That's why when I write an article such as this, people sometimes whisper quietly that they agree with me and quieter still tell me sometimes they light the odd candle or even enjoy heading to Mass.

I am glad we have moved on from an Ireland where questioning the Church would have been seen as political suicide, but now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. The Church of old, that so many seem to delight in criticising, is something that most young Catholics today, thankfully, cannot identify with.

In the past, Irish society, the State, the Church, and our grandparents failed vulnerable children, and sadly, this continues to happen today, because our society and our institutions are made up of people. It is a truth we are uncomfortable addressing, but people are sometimes broken or depraved, do evil things, and often fail those for whom they should care miserably.

Of course, I find it hard to reconcile some of the history of the Irish Church with the faith I know and love today. But I make it my business to go beyond the headlines and ask the tough questions as to how so much of Irish society were far from innocent bystanders in the darker chapters of Ireland's past.

You would be forgiven for thinking some of the headlines over this past year in relation to the abuse of children were from Ireland's past. Sadly not. A recent report into Tusla showed a failure to protect children at risk of abuse, so much so that 164 suspected child sex abuse cases were closed, even though it was unknown if they were resolved. Last March, a child sex ring was uncovered and has been described as grooming children on a scale never seen before in Ireland. No one has been charged and last week it was reported that we are still waiting on a report from the Government aiming to get to the truth on what is thought to be the largest paedophile ring in the country. Yet this story didn't make any front pages.

We have a very small group of media elites deciding what does and doesn't make headlines. Positive stories that have any whiff of faith are sure to be sidelined, and there are so many, like Sister Annie Demerjian who tirelessly provides care to families in bombed-out Aleppo. She is one of the thousands of religious missionaries giving support in the war-torn parts of the world, ordinary people of faith who risk their lives daily. Yet these examples of humble everyday heroism carried out by those who are card-carrying Catholics are ones you will rarely hear spoken of.

I came back to my faith through conversations, experiences, and searching for answers to life's big questions. I have no bruises from bibles being bashed over my head and my throat has remained clear from religious opinion being shoved down it. I began to discover a whole new world of Catholic young people who just wanted to share the fact that, for them, faith had a positive influence on their lives.

I suspect this will be the tone of much of the events of the World Meeting of Families. People who genuinely enjoy their faith, because it strengthens their families and makes their lives better, and they simply want to share it.

Yet it has been hard to come by an article or discussion that hasn't focused mainly on the negative. Bookings for events have broken records from previous WMOF that have taken place in other countries. But don't mind that, let's pull it apart, dismiss genuine attempts at dialogue on important issues like women in the Church as ''stunts'', slam what it's going to cost for the security of the Pope, while ignoring how much value the thousands of people visiting Ireland from 118 countries will add to the economy. Apparently we're all at risk of infectious diseases if we head to the Papal Mass - curious how the same risks don't apply to other large events like the Horse Show. There is a better welcome for our four-legged friends visiting from other countries than there is for Catholics.

Many will take the World Meeting Of Families as an opportunity to give Catholic bashing a new lease of life, but hopefully for some, they might see it for what it is, an earnest effort to support and celebrate family all over the world.

Would it be so unthinkable to drop the cynicism, fall out of line with the illiberal liberals and maybe even find some new nicer words to describe Catholics?

Wendy Grace is a journalist and broadcaster with Spirit Radio.

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