The Deacon's Bench

It wasn’t too long ago that being Irish and Catholic was a source of pride on these shores (particularly for some proud boosters of Notre Dame…but that’s another story…)

But times have changed. And over at his blog, Ross Douthat looks at the “tragedy of Irish Catholics” and draws some sobering connections:

I’ve been reading “American Catholic,” Charles Morris’s history of Catholicism in the United States. His account emphasizes the extent to which the modern Irish Church — which, because of the extraordinary influence of Irish clergy in this country, is in many respects the American Church as well — was the invention of a small group of strong-willed Victorian clerics, led by Dublin’s Cardinal Paul Cullen. Pre-Cullen, Irish Catholicism was “one of the most ragtag national churches in Europe,” Morris writes; post-Cullen, it was one of the most unified, rigorous, enthusiastic and militant branches of Catholicism in the world.

At the same time, it was one of the most hierarchical and clericalist, with priests and bishops who were invested with nearly-unchallengeable authority, and who became accustomed to extraordinary deference from civil authorities. And on sexual matters, it was a far more puritanical Catholicism than, say, the Mediterranean or Latin American varieties, or for that matter than the Gaelic Catholicism it had superseded.**

This combination was the source of enormous strength for a very long time, especially in the New World. A Cullen-esque Catholicism was ideally suited to the task of building a thriving immigrant church in a hostile Protestant society. The remarkable prestige, power and cultural cachet of mid-20th century American Catholicism almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the extraordinary exertions and self-sacrifice that the Irish Church inspired from priests and laity alike — and without its hierarchy’s ability to be power brokers and politicians as well as shepherds, and to bend the civil authorities, when necessary, to their will.

But you can see how it could all go bad — how a culture so intense clerical, so politically high-handed, and so embarrassed (beyond the requirements of Christian doctrine) by human sexuality could magnify the horror of priestly pedophilia, and expand the pool of victims, by producing bishops inclined to strong-arm the problem out of public sight instead of dealing with it as Christian leaders should.

Check out the rest. Read it and weep.

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