Ebbing faith backdrop to Church gathering in Ireland
An international conference celebrating Roman Catholicism opened yesterday in Ireland against a backdrop of anger over child abuse cover-ups and evidence of declining faith in core church beliefs.
More than 20,000 Catholics, many from overseas, gathered for an open-air Mass in a Dublin stadium at the start of the Eucharistic Congress, an event organised by the Vatican every four years in a different part of the world. The global gathering highlights the Church’s belief in transubstantiation, the idea that bread and wine transforms during Mass into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
An opinion poll of Irish Catholics found that two-thirds of Irish Catholics don’t believe this, nor do they attend Mass weekly. The survey, published last week in The Irish Times with an error margin of three points, also found that just 38 per cent believe Ireland today would be in worse shape without its dominant church. And just three-fifths even knew the Eucharistic Congress was coming to Ireland.
Such views reflect rapid secularisation in Ireland, where church and state once were tightly intertwined. The last time Ireland hosted the Eucharistic Congress in 1932, more than one million – a quarter of Ireland’s population – packed Dublin’s Phoenix Park for Mass.
This time, Ireland’s opening football match yesterday in the European Championship dominated public attention and excitement. So much so that the congress blog had to point out to visitors that all the Irish flags on display on buildings, shops and taxis represented excitement about the football, not the faith.
And as Catholic pilgrims entered the opening Mass, they passed protesters from Survivors of Child Abuse, an Irish pressure group that has spent more than a decade demanding that Church leaders in Ireland and Rome admit their full culpability in the protection of paedophile priests.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, president of the Eucharistic Congress and the Irish church’s leading voice calling for greater openness on past abuse, said he respected the right of the protesters to gather. He said he and other church leaders would address the church’s sins during sermons this week and expressed hope that the Eucharistic Congress would offer “a moment of renewal and healing within the Catholic Church.”
As part of that process, yesterday’s ceremonies featured the unveiling of a symbolic “healing stone” with a poem written by a victim of a paedophile priest.
Archbishop Martin said the Church in Ireland was facing its gravest fight for survival since the early 19th century, when British laws that barred Irish Catholics from political power had yet to be repealed.
“The Church is in crisis in Ireland, and that crisis is very, very deep,” he said. “But ... we’re turning the corner to be a very different Church to the one we were. The difference will be reflected perhaps in the Eucharistic Congress.”
Historians credit the 1932 Eucharistic Congress as the ultimate expression of how Catholicism served as the central pillar of Irish nationalism.
But since the early 1990s the Church’s standing in society has been battered by a series of scandals involving the church’s concealment of child-abuse crimes from police and other Irish authorities. Four state-ordered investigations over the past decade have documented how tens of thousands of children from the 1940s to 1990s suffered sexual, physical and mental abuse.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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