The power of the Catholic Church in Ireland today

Religion exists in all known societies, although religious beliefs and practices vary from culture to culture. All religions involve a set of symbols, involving feelings of reverence, linked to rituals practiced by a community of believers. Sociological approaches to religion have been mostly influenced by the ideas of three ‘classical’ thinkers: Marx, Durkheim and Weber. None of the three were religious, and all thought that the significance of religion would decrease in modern times. All held that religion is in a fundamental sense an illusion.

They believed that the ‘other’ world which religion creates is our world, distorted through the lens of religious symbolism. For Marx, religion contains a strong ideological element: religion provides justification for the inequalities of wealth and power found in society. For Durham, religion is important because of the cohesive functions it serves, especially in ensuring that people meet regularly to affirm common beliefs and values. For Weber, religion is important because of the role it plays in social change, particularly the development of western capitalism.

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Ireland’s religious profile is unusual in a number of respects. It is the only country in the English-speaking world which has a catholic majority. All of the controversy over divorce and abortion and issues dealing with sex abuse in the Catholic Church and women’s role in the Catholic Church interested me, and this is why I chose this title for this essay. The Irish Catholic Church has a dreadful history of child sex abuse perpetrated by priests; it is outrageous for the Catholic Church to persist in stone-walling efforts to probe the sordid history of abuse by the clergy.

The harrowing experiences of generations of children preyed upon by priests and brothers are a damning indictment of how the Irish Church has dealt with abuse, merely by moving the offenders from parish to parish. In many instances, little or nothing was done by the authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. Shamefully, in some cases, instead of helping Garda, information was actually withheld from them by church figures. It now falls to the civil authorities to pick up the pieces of ruined lives.

It is preposterous for the church to persist that the media is out to cause trouble, when the media did not invent the shocking cases of abuse plaguing the country’s major religious body. I believe the Catholic Church should accept the responsibilities of paedophile priests, and waste less energy on legal advice aimed at protecting the institution of a body which has tended to rely on power and fear rather than compassion and charity. Despite the Pope’s denunciation of paedophilia by priests as the work of the devil, his church in Ireland is yet to face reality.

Concerns should be directed towards the victims of abuse rather than maintaining a wall of secrecy around discredited clerics whose behaviour tars all priests. The church cannot continue to hide from a horrendous catalogue of abuse, nor should it seek to hide behind the constitutional clause guaranteeing religious denominations the right to manage their own affairs. We are dealing with a litany of crime here instead of the internal workings of a religious organisation.

After all the television programmes, the newspaper articles, books and radio debates, the church can no longer such ignorance about such a horrific chapter of child sexual abuse. Irish society has come a long way in facing up to the issue of child sexual abuse but as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, it seems there is still a long, long way to go. I believe the Catholic Church needs to have a strong, clear child protection practice and re-established public trust in its commitment to child protection, I would strongly agree with the ISPCC’s methods regarding the Catholic Church.

The ISPCC also called on the Catholic Church to make an unequivocal public statement reassuring the public that: No person who is a known risk or suspect of being a risk to children has access to children within the church. Any person against whom a substantial allegation of child abuse is made is removed from having access to children while this allegation is being investigated. All suspicions, allegations or disclosures of child abuse be passed on to the statutory authorities for investigation.

The ISPCC believes the Catholic Church needs to protect its personnel who provide a vital service to children within communities every day and who were betrayed by those who used their position of trust to abuse children. According to the ISPCC, Gardai should vet all Catholic Church personnel before they are allowed to work with children, this would ensure that those who have been proven to be a risk to children, but have not criminal convictions, will be monitored. (Irish Examiner-Archives) Female paedophiles are rare compared to men.

I think having women priests would result in churches being a safer place for children to go without being molested. Unfortunately in the Irish Catholic Church women are excluded from power. The Catholic religion is a resolutely male affair in its symbolism as well as its hierarchy. While Mary, the mother of Jesus, may sometimes be treated as if she had divine qualities, God is the Father, a male figure, and Jesus took the human shape of a man. There are many female characters in the biblical texts, and some are portrayed as acting charitable or bravely, but the prime parts are reserved for males.

There is no female equivalent to Moses, for example, and in the New Testament all of the apostles are men. (A. Giddens p. 449) Catholic Church teaching was associated with a contraction in the opportunities fro women in the newly independent state. Although feminism had played a role in the national movements which preceded the struggle for independence and several women achieved national prominence during this period, they were marginalised in the new state. The Marian cult pointed to a domestic, silent role for Irish Catholic women.

‘Not only did the Churches strongly project a predominantly private and familial role for women, they provided exemplary models of patriarchy in their own organisational arrangements’ (O’Dowd, 1987, p. 12). Feminists point to the Catholic Church as one of the last bastions of exclusively male privilege. Indeed, feminism has offered one of the major coherent challenges in Ireland to traditional church teaching on women’s economic and domestic roles and control over their bodies.

(Irish Society: Sociological Perspectives p. 598). We have seen that the power of the Catholic Church has begun to wane in certain respects. Vocations have declined sharply for religious sisters and brothers but there has been a sufficient flow of students for the diocesan priesthood (Weafer, 1988). The vocations deficit has forced the withdrawal of religious from many of the institutions they established and a retreat to token presence in others.

Parochial clergy and religious, however, still retain control of the major part of educational resources and are a significant minority in health and welfare services. (1164 words) Bibliography: 1) Sociology by Anthony Giddens, 3rd edition, 1997 by Polity Press in association with Blackwell publishers Ltd. 2) Irish Society: Sociological Perspectives, 3) Websites: http://archives. tcm. ie/irishexaminer/2002/10/25/story567568584. asp http://archives. tcm. ie/irishexaminer/2002/04/04/story25965. asp.

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