Con Houlihan on the Catholic Church in Ireland

Wise old Con Houlihan sums up the Catholic Church context in Ireland in the Evening Herald on St Patrick’s day.  Con is amongst our greatest writers for decades in the late lamented Evening Press every monday, wednesday and friday and latterly in the Evening Herald and Sunday World.  For years Con could be seen behind the goal at Richmond Park, Milltown, Dalymount, Tolka, Lansdowne and on then on terrace at the Canal end in the old Croke Park.

Con is an Irish icon who is a Labour man also.  He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish life and of the Irish countryside.  He is a teacher from Castleisland and is a rugby man – a pal of Mick Galwey, Moss Keane, the late Mick Doyle and many other barmy Kerrymen.

Con writes –

It is a good city to visit at any time: of course I am talking about Rome.

It has a wealth of fine buildings but I love it for the Tiber, an untamed river where I would like to join the fishermen with their long rods.

You may be sure that our Princes of the Church had a good time there lately: no doubt they rambled along the Via Veneto and called to Elizabeth Taylor’s favourite hotel, The Excelsior, and of course they paid the statutory visit to Harry’s Bar, a much nicer tavern than its namesake in Paris that Ernest Hemingway made famous.

Perhaps they did a little bit of business too, but we heard nothing about it.  Back at home the victims of clerical abuse are no wiser than ever.  Why did our bishops go to Rome? Seemingly they went to inform His Holiness the Pope that things weren’t as they should be back in Ireland.

There is some mystery here.  Cardinal Daly was aware long ago of the extent of that abuse and surely if he knew, so did the Vatican.  We are told by people with vivid imaginations that letters were sent to the Pope, but because they were in classical Latin, nobody in the Vatican understood them — all they know is Church Latin.  It’s a lovely story.


The truth is — as calls for Cardinal Brady to resign grow ever louder — that our Church leaders were well aware of the extent to which clerical abuse had gone.  You might think that they did nothing about it, but you would be wrong.  They moved the perpetrators from one parish to another or maybe from one diocese to another.  There was a vast cover-up.  People may argue that the bishops who did this were guilty of aiding and abetting in crime.  Will they ever be in court . . . ?  They are above the law.

The Catholic Church has a great deal to answer for.  Over the centuries it has hardly been a Christian Church.  In Spain during the Civil War there was no doubt about where the bishops’ sympathy lay.  The men on the ground, the ordinary priests, paid a terrible price for the sins of their superiors.

There was a time in Ireland during the Penal Laws when the priests were hunted and lived in caves or in safe houses and said Mass secretly on outcrops of rock.  There were priests involved in the 1798 Rising in Wexford and in Cork.  They were brave men and they paid with their lives.

When Daniel O’Connell got Catholic emancipation he was merely putting an official stamp on what was already achieved.  The Penal Laws existed only on paper.  However, the power of the Church began to grow, and in general it did the country no good.

The foundation of Maynooth College seemed to be a good thing.  Our priests could now be educated at home, but at a cost.  They became more remote from the people and there was another factor: the new college did not help the Irish language — indeed it was among the causes of its decay.

I need hardly stress the part played by our bishops in persecuting Charles Stewart Parnell because he had married a divorced woman.  That is rather ironic now, when so many of our politicians have gone offside in the marital game without loss of prestige.

The Church has always been profoundly undemocratic.  It regards women not as a distinct gender but a separate species.  This seemingly doesn’t bother the women of Ireland very much.  When Pope John Paul II came here, the multitudes that flocked to greet him in the Phoenix Park and on Galway Racecourse weren’t all male.  If there is to be another Papal visit, I wonder will we see the same unanimous adulation, or will we see protests?

The Church in Ireland is in a crisis that nobody could have foreseen.  It will be kept alive by the faith of many people, both lay and clerical, who believe in the doctrine preached by Jesus Christ and do their best to ignore the apathy of our bishops.  The priests now are not hiding in caves or saying Mass on outcrops of rock but their work is like that of their kinsmen who were hunted during the Penal Laws.

How long more will the Church treat women as a distinct species?  The lack of vocations will force their hand.  We will see women priests being taken for granted within the next generation and we will all be saying, “Why didn’t it happen before?”


The Catholic Church must take some of the responsibility for the Troubles in the North.  From childhood we were taught that the Protestants are an inferior people and many of us believed it.  Thus after the outrage at Enniskillen we heard pious platitudes but no real sympathy.  The dead and the injured were “only Protestants”.  There was shock and horror and surprise after Omagh because the dead and the injured included Catholics.  The Germans were indoctrinated in much the same way to believe that Jews were not only inferior, but inimical.

The irony inherent in all this is that the Northern Protestants were the first to raise the flag of freedom.  They were the first true Republicans.  And two of our greatest patriots were Thomas Davis and Parnell.  I need hardly add that the Jewish people have made a huge contribution to Germany in every field.  You couldn’t imagine Germany without its Jewish element.  All prejudice is based on ignorance.  The Protestants are woven inextricably into the life of this country just as the Jews are into the life of Germany.

In this country now we are without fathers.  There is no roof over our heads.  Our bishops seem removed from reality.  Our politicians have led the country into a morass.  Most of our bankers are lucky to be at large.  “The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.”  Where are we going?  Radical reform is needed.

Part of our trauma is due to emigration: so many bright spirits have gone abroad that the mediocre and the corrupt prosper.

Fogra Heartiest congratulations to Eoin Morgan, one of our own, whose brilliant century-plus helped England to beat Bangladesh

– Con Houlihan