I'm just off The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, where I was debating the needs of the Catholic Church. My sparring partner was a young (I think) Englishman who appears to embrace the Church as it is. Maybe it's different in England. In Ireland, the Catholic Church is on the ropes.
Let's, with an effort, leave aside the clerical sexual abuse scandal - not because it doesn't matter but because it has been highlighted already as a ghastly stain on the Church. (Mind you, you're more liable to be abused by a relative than by a Catholic priest.) A number of things about the Catholic Church in Ireland appall me.
1. Its attitude to young people. Or rather non-attitude. Young people of Catholic background very largely find the Church at best boring and irrelevant, at worst cold and repellent. The Church's response? Nothing. Zilch. Rien. I know there are honourable exceptions to this but for the most part, young people leave the Church to the oldies.
2. Democracy. Or rather, non-democracy. From the Pope at the top to the parish priest at grassroots level, there's an obsession with keeping control, making sure those seen as further down the faith ladder don't come tramping where they don't belong. The windows of the Church which John XXIII tried to fling open have been nailed shut. Priests like Tony Flannery, Owen O'Sullivan, Brian D'Arcy have been silenced. Even to discuss topics such as celibacy, women priests, homosexuality is, to use Thatcher's word, out.
I could go on but life is short. Anyone who thinks that by clinging to the orthodox, following the rules 'faithfully', putting your brain in neutral, is deluding themselves. There are good and even heroic priests and Catholic people in Ireland. But as an institution, the Catholic Church in Ireland is a mess.