Why are peo­ple sur­prised that the Church is con­ser­va­tive?

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - COLUMNIST - Ian O’Do­herty @ian_odoherty

‘All it takes for evil to flour­ish is for good men to do noth­ing.” There has long been a de­bate over who first coined that im­mor­tal phrase. Was it John F Kennedy, who cer­tainly pop­u­larised the quote? Or was it Ed­mund Burke, who is widely be­lieved to have been the first man to say it?

Well, it doesn’t mat­ter any­more. Be­cause from now on, when­ever we hear “all it takes for evil to flour­ish is for good men...” we’ll surely al­ways think of Josepha Madi­gan, the Fine Gaeler who in­voked those words when de­fend­ing her­self against al­le­ga­tions of op­por­tunism about her com­ments about women priests.

Madi­gan is one of the new breed of Fine Gael TDs who rather fly in the face of the party’s old im­age of con­ser­va­tive, blue rinse bid­dies.

A di­vorce lawyer in her pre­vi­ous ca­reer, she has climbed the greasy pole of party pol­i­tics to be­come Culture Min­is­ter and, by and large, she’s a rea­son­ably agree­able sort.

But she has also ap­par­ently de­cided that it is her mis­sion to re­form the Church.

In the past, when­ever some­one wanted to re­form the Church, the re­sults usu­ally ended badly — quite of­ten at the stake. But we live in times both more en­light­ened and more en­ti­tled, and Ms Madi­gan is a per­fect en­cap­su­la­tion of both traits.

The row this week over her lead­ing prayers at her lo­cal church in the cosily mid­dle-class en­clave of Mount Mer­rion was just the in­evitable end re­sult of a spat that has been sim­mer­ing be­tween Madi­gan and the hi­er­ar­chy for the last few months and, I have to ad­mit, it is in­trigu­ing, amus­ing and rather bizarre.

Madi­gan played a lead­ing role in the abor­tion ref­er­en­dum and she is widely cred­ited with hav­ing put in a good shift for her side. But she has also been at pains to point out that she re­mains a com­mit­ted Catholic.

Af­ter a ros­ter mix-up left Mass-go­ers without a priest for the ser­vice on Sat­ur­day evening, Madi­gan stepped into the breach. While she didn’t ac­tu­ally say the Mass, she took cen­tre stage. Fol­low­ing her sur­prise appearance from the subs bench, she has since said that it’s time for the Church to stop mess­ing about and start hav­ing women priests.

This led to a fu­ri­ous re­sponse from the Arch­bishop of Dublin, Diar­muid Martin: “Com­ments made by Min­is­ter Josepha Madi­gan... have caused parish­ioners in Mount Mer­rion and fur­ther afield con­sid­er­able dis­tress.”

Well, there’s no ac­count­ing for dis­tress, I suppose — it’s all down to per­sonal taste, af­ter all.

But not for the first time in re­cent months, I find my­self in the highly unusual and deeply un­com­fort­able po­si­tion of ac­tu­ally feel­ing a bit sorry for the Church.

The younger me would, of course, be hor­ri­fied by such an as­ser­tion. Af­ter all, I went through school in the late 1980s, which were prob­a­bly closer to the 1950s than the world we live in to­day.

The Church was a gen­uinely bale­ful pres­ence back then — fre­quently cruel, al­ways intolerant and con­fi­dent of its place as the most im­por­tant power in the land. A bishop could get you sacked from your job for an­noy­ing him, and the vast ma­jor­ity of Ir­ish politi­cians knew that they had to cosy up to the clergy or else face de­nun­ci­a­tions from the pul­pit.

It was a pretty rot­ten time to be a non-be­liever and there was al­ways the sug­ges­tion that there was some­thing men­tally wrong with athe­ists — some­thing which would prob­a­bly have caused me con­sid­er­able teenage dis­tress if I ac­tu­ally cared what they thought.

Thank­fully, that in­sti­tu­tion is just a late and un­la­mented mem­ory of a by­gone era.

In fact, you could ar­gue that the Church is now as much a relic as the bones of the saints they ven­er­ate.

But the rules, as they say, is the rules, and the Church has some fairly hard and fast rules — no abor­tions and no women priests be­ing two of the most prom­i­nent.

As it hap­pens, I agree with nei­ther of those rules. Nor do I agree with any of their other rules — their re­pres­sive at­ti­tudes to­wards sex, for ex­am­ple, cre­ated suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of Catholic guilt which many peo­ple still strug­gle to shake off. So how do you re­spond to an or­gan­i­sa­tion whose rules you don’t like? Well, you stop be­long­ing to the or­gan­i­sa­tion; par­tic­u­larly when that or­gan­i­sa­tion is not a democ­racy to be changed from the in­side, but an in­sti­tu­tion which gen­uinely be­lieves it is car­ry­ing the word of God.

If you choose to be­lieve such a thing, as Ms Madi­gan ob­vi­ously does, it strikes me as a bit cheeky to sug­gest that maybe, y’know, God needs bit of an ide­o­log­i­cal makeover be­cause he’s be­hind the times. He needs some­thing to make him a bit more funky, a bit more down with the kids.

But here’s the thing — no­body signs up for the Church and then dis­cov­ers, to their hor­ror, that it’s not as lib­eral as they would like. No­body can rea­son­ably sug­gest sur­prise at the Church’s rules. They didn’t sucker any­one with a list of trendy causes and then be­tray them at the last mo­ment. The Church is what it has al­ways been, and that’s why I’m per­fectly happy to have noth­ing to do with them.

If Catholics re­ally want a Church where women be­come priests and all the fash­ion­able causes are box-ticked?

Well, there’s al­ways the Church of Ire­land. How about this — the Church stays out of our busi­ness, and we stay out of theirs.

Ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to their be­liefs, even if we don’t share, agree or even un­der­stand, them

Live and let live, af­ter all...

No­body signs up for the Church and then dis­cov­ers that it’s not as lib­eral as they would like

In the pul­pit: Madi­gan has caused parish­ioners dis­tress, ac­cord­ing to Arch­bishop Diar­muid Martin

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