By the night of Friday, 25 May, one already knew the outcome from the exit polls. The margin of victory for abortion was too huge for there to be any doubt. The result, while disheartening, was not surprising – any truly faithful Catholic living in modern Ireland could see that the storm clouds have been gathering for many years. Now their full fury has swept over us.
For those looking in from the outside to comprehend the extent of this disaster, perhaps a few pertinent facts are needed. The Catholic bishops own 97% of the schools in the Republic of Ireland. The Constitution of the country is rooted in Christian values and begins with an invocation to the Blessed Trinity. Seventy-eight point three percent of the population in the 2016 census identified as Catholic. In other words, over three quarters of Irish people espoused some notion of connectedness with the Church.
In reflecting on these figures, the enormousness of the scandal is revealed. One realizes that no liberal political elite, no ideological judiciary forced this into existence; the populace of Ireland by a majority of two thirds voted to murder present and future generations of their country for their own selfish, immoral needs. The only section of the Irish population, overwhelmingly educated in Catholic schools, to vote against abortion were the over 65s. Almost 90% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to legislate for abortion. Imagine: the cohort of Irish voters closest to childhood voted almost to a man to destroy future children. The figures for the older age groups, formed in “Catholic” schools, are just as depressing, with small incremental decreases but still large majorities in favor of death.
In the space of three years, two thirds of these Catholic school graduates have voted for “marriage equality” and now for abortion. How can so many baptized Catholics vote for an intrinsic evil? What went wrong?
Reflecting on this fills me with sadness and brings to mind a passage from the Gospel of John.
The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth, and scattereth the sheep: And the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling: and he hath no care for the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
Given the result of the vote, it goes without saying that the flock is well and truly scattered. It is not an unjust criticism or arrogance to state that a major portion of the blame lies with the institutional Church – with the bishops, the shepherds.
Catechetical instruction before the Second Vatican Council was perhaps not as robust as it should have been, but the people still knew right from wrong. Then the tsunami of the ’60s happened. In Ireland, this revolution was felt both in the Church and in the public square. Change for change’s sake seemed to be the zeitgeist, and as the leaders of the flock sought to be relevant, they succeeded rather in becoming relative.
“Sharing the faith experience” replaced solid doctrine in the classrooms, a vague, ill defined program of dialogue and questioning, resulting in generations of Catholics who believe that their gravely deficient knowledge of God’s immutable laws trumps two thousand years of divine revelation as taught by the Church. The bishops informed us that these new religious programs would lead to the new springtime, that this dialogue with modernism would lead to an enrichment of the Church, that the Gospel message would spread throughout all lands with this new presentation, that the young generation would respond to this new paradigm.
Almost 90% of 18- to 24-year-olds in Ireland voted for abortion. Some springtime. Some response.
In the name of progress and reform, the shepherds presided over the “wreck-ovation” of churches so that minds were wrenched away from the contemplation of the divine. Catholics now perceive these sacred spaces as theirs – the community meeting hall, not God’s house, where they offer gifts to God through their own actions. The true sense of the sacrificial nature of the Mass has been lost; sacramental words are now alien and, when employed, are greeted with incomprehension by nearly all Irish Catholics. This is what the shepherds have led their flocks to – not rich and verdant pastures, but desert.
In one simultaneous blow, two of the pillars of the formation of Catholic souls were wiped out: the school and the parish. This left the family as the only bastion for the salvation of the young. Many devoted parents recognized the dangers and valiantly fought a rearguard action against this rot. They pointed out the inherent dangers, the contradictions to the Faith. They were ignored or fobbed off with platitudes and promises that never materialized.
To the great harm of many, the relationship between the Irish Church and the people, forged in the heat of persecution and famine, now came back to haunt them. They trusted the clergy even while their children were being led astray. The domino effect ensued, where one generation was denied the fullness of Truth, with the ill effects magnified in the following generations. This is reflected in weekly Mass attendance figures: in the period 1972-2011, down from 91% to 30%. Urban areas report recent figures of just 13% of weekly attendees. Even among those who do attend, attitudes towards the referendum were split. Figures are not out, but possibly a third or two fifths voted for abortion.
It is ironic that on the island of Ireland, it is the northern Protestants who are the staunchest defenders of family and life values. The Catholic clergy long ago stopped preaching on contraception, cohabiting, sodomy. In the campaign before the vote, the clergy were noticeable by their absence. A handful spoke out from the pulpit urging a no vote; in one parish, dozens of the congregation got up and left. As a friend of mine remarked, they were so used to not hearing anything substantive that when they were told the Truth, they couldn’t stand the shock!
The bishops presided over this disaster. Despite the falling numbers and the evident lack of proper Catholic knowledge, they continued down the same reckless path. They mistook cultural Catholicism as some sign of healthy faith expression, but the fact is that by the 1980s, the societal landscape was changing, and they lacked the fortitude to present a strong defense of the Truth. Their moral voice was wiped out by their shameful handling of the clerical homosexual abuse crisis and meant that many no longer listened when they occasionally did teach properly.
The future for the Church in Ireland is bleak: falling numbers, persecuted by powerful forces that seek to eradicate it from the land, weak leadership. Yet this is nothing new. Twice in its history, the Irish Church has been wreathed in shadows. The early Church brought light to pagan Europe after the fall of Rome. Then she rose again after the penal laws and persecution: this land of saints and scholars sent missionaries to bring light to all corners of the globe.
The Faith will remain in Ireland – small, isolated, but waiting.
JGP Connolly lives in Ireland with his wife and five children. He holds a masters degree in history, with degrees in philosophy, theology, and psychology. When he has time and is not shaking his head at the state of the Church, he is a freelance writer with an interest in history, current affairs, and anything Catholic.