FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head -- they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

These changes are not unique to these wet and windy islands. But it’s more remarkable because for many centuries Britain and its offshoots punched above their weight, making history and creating (or inventing) traditions. The French are famed for having a beautiful and mostly efficient country and for grumbling furiously about it. The British change everything all the time, and worship the old customs whose essence they have long since destroyed, or are destroying.

Ireland, the smaller and much younger of the two sovereign states on the Isles, found its independence in the 1920s. That independence was fought for so hard in part because its majority religion, Catholicism, had been treated as an inferior, even a treacherous, affiliation for centuries. The Republic came into independent statehood with its religion militantly at the forefront of national, social and cultural life.

But the Church’s role in Irish life has been diminishing for some time; it has been dealt another blow. Last week, Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s government passed a law allowing abortion when a woman’s life was in danger. The measure provoked princes of the church to threaten Kenny (who’s a devout Catholic) with excommunication and saw him lose his Europe Minister in a resignation of principle. The law dilutes, but does not reverse, a ban that has seen some dozen women leave for the UK every day for abortions. Some reformers have protested it did not go far enough, but it’s a breach in a so far adamantine wall. Kenny has twice faced down the Catholic Church. Ireland is no longer what it was in its post-revolutionary years, and remained for decades after -- a quasi-theocracy. It’s fully secular.

from John Lloyd:

The moment for Irish unity is nearly over

The latest “troubles” in Northern Ireland began 45 years ago, and though much reduced, sometimes to invisibility, they are not over yet and will not be for some time. Protests over the Republican-dominated Belfast Council’s decision to fly the Union Jack just on certain days happened again over the weekend, if smaller and less violent than in the past few weeks.

This is what can happen after more than a century of demand for Irish independence: violence, on both sides, takes time to lose its attraction, and its adherents. Yet the bid for Irish unity, which from the late sixties to the late nineties was written almost daily in blood, has failed. Now, as we’re witnessing what may be its long withdrawal from politics, republicanism may not have another chance.

Sinn Fein, for nearly all of its life a front organisation of the IRA, has made an accommodation with unionism. Its two leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness – respectively once heads of IRA brigades in the seventies and eighties – have not just implicitly accepted the partition of the island, but have called for the nationalist community to work with the police (whom they previously sought to slaughter). They have also denounced those republicans who carry on terrorism under the name of the Real IRA as ‘traitors to Ireland.’ In a much quoted observation, the historian Paul Bew quipped that “the IRA is too intelligent to admit that they have lost and the Unionists too stupid to realise they have won.” This is what the 1998 Belfast Agreement brought.

from India Insight:

Woman’s death poses tough abortion questions for India and Ireland

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

The death of a 31-year-old Indian woman in Ireland after doctors refused to give her an abortion has sparked protests in her home country of India as well as in Ireland.

Activists in Ireland said that ending Savita Halappanavar's pregnancy could have saved her life. She died of septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Her family believes that the delay in removing the foetus contributed to the blood poisoning.

Ireland attacks confessional secrecy after Catholic sex abuse scandal

(A Roman Catholic Croat confesses to a priest during a pilgrimage in Krasno, some 150km (93 miles) south of Zagreb August 15, 2009/Nikola Solic )

Ireland’s prime minister has said Catholic clerics would be prosecuted if they failed to tell the authorities about crimes disclosed during confession, the latest blow to the prestige of the once-dominant Church. A report this week found that the Church concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, and that clerics appeared to follow Church law rather than Irish guidelines to protect minors.

“The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny told journalists on Thursday, referring to the hooked staff held by Catholic bishops during religious services. Kenny said his government would submit legislation to parliament that could jail clerics for up to five years if they failed to report to authorities information about the abuse of children.

Irish Catholic Church concealed child abuse even after new prevention rules in 1990s

(Cloyne Cathedral, 7 May 2009/John Armagh)

A government-sponsored report said on Wednesday the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland continued to conceal the sexual abuse of children by priests even after it introduced rules in the mid-1990s to protect minors.

Revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland. But the latest report into the handling of sex abuse claims in the diocese of Cloyne, in County Cork, shows that senior-ranking clergy were still trying to cover up abuse allegations almost until the present day.

“This is not a catalogue of failure from a different era. This is not about an Ireland of 50 years ago. This is about Ireland now,” Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald told a news conference.

FInancial crisis boosts European suicide rates, especially in Greece, Ireland

(Suicide hotline sign at telephone booth near Beachy Head, the chalk cliffs near Eastbourne, a leading UK suicide spot, 29 January 2009/Les Chatfield)

Suicides rates rose sharply in Europe in 2007 to 2009 as the financial crisis drove unemployment up and squeezed incomes, with the worst hit countries like Greece and Ireland seeing the most dramatic increases, researchers said on Friday. Rates of road deaths in the region fell during the same period, possibly because higher numbers of jobless people led to lower car use, according to an initial analysis of data from 10 European Union (EU) countries.

“Even though we’re starting to see signs of a financial recovery, what we’re now also seeing is a human crisis. There’s likely to be a long tail of human suffering following the downturn,” said David Stuckler, a sociologist at Britain’s Cambridge University, who worked on the analysis.

Ireland eyes Catholic religious orders’ properties to meet abuse damages costs

(Irish clerical sexual abuse victims with a copy of a government report into child abuse, in Dublin May 20, 2009/Cathal McNaughton)

The Irish government asked religious orders on Tuesday to consider transferring buildings and land to the state to cover a 200 million euros shortfall in their contribution to a compensation fund for victims of abuse. The congregations agreed in 2009 to provide more compensation to victims of rape, beatings and slave labour in now defunct industrial schools they ran after the publication of a report into the abuse shocked the once devout Catholic country.

The government wants the congregations, including the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, to contribute half of an estimated final compensation bill of 1.36 billion euros ($1.9 billion). The government has paid out around 1.3 billion euros in compensation so far.

Pope apologizes for “unspeakable crimes” of sexual abuse

papal flag (Photo: Girl waves papal flag before a Mass with Pope Benedict in London September 18, 2010/Kevin Coombs)

Pope Benedict apologized to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying pedophile priests had brought “shame and humiliation” on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. It was the 83-year-old pontiff’s latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.

“I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes …,” he said in his sermon in  Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics here in the late 19th century to assert their rights after the Reformation.

“I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation that all of us have suffered because of these sins,” he said, adding that he hoped “this chastisement” would contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the Church.

Catholic Church and UK colluded in Northern Ireland bomb cover-up: report

northern ireland (Photo: Nationalist youths set a car alight in Belfast on July 13, 2010/Cathal McNaughton)

The British government and the Roman Catholic Church colluded to protect a priest suspected of involvement in a 1972 bombing in Northern Ireland that killed 9 people, an official report said on Tuesday.

The Police Ombudsman’s report revealed that an Irish cardinal was involved in transferring Father James Chesney out of British-ruled Northern Ireland, highlighting again the role of the Church hierarchy in protecting priests against allegations of criminal activity.

The inquiry showed that Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw had a private “tete-a-tete” with Cardinal William Conway, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in 1972 in which they discussed the possibility of moving Chesney out of Northern Ireland.

SPECIAL REPORT – In Irish schools, Catholic Church remains master

irish church school (Photo: A Virgin Mary statue in an Irish school, 3 June 2010/Cathal McNaughton)

Roisin Hyde was five when she was hastily baptised a few days before she started primary school. Hyde’s parents were agnostic but because non-Catholics in Ireland had few other places to learn how to read and write, the family latched onto the only option they knew.

Thirty-five years on and Hyde, an architect in Dublin, is struggling over where to educate her own two-year-old son.  It’s a dilemma faced by parents the world over. But in Ireland, where the Catholic Church runs more than nine in ten primary schools and half of all high schools, it’s a question that too often has just one answer.

“I would say that a lot of my friends, the only time they have been inside a church is to get their kids christened so they could go to the local school,” Hyde, 40, says. “I just feel so hypocritical doing it, going along for one day and then not attending.”