What has inspired this thread is the rather gruelling experience of hosting a gang of relatives last weekend, several of whom are quite elderly. And pretty devout Catholics. I had to find a Catholic church here in Cape Town and find out the times etc. Getting mass last Sunday was a big must. I dropped the older crew off, went for a coffee and a read of the papers and collected them afterwards and the chat was all about how lovely the priest had been and all the usual.
They ranged in age from about sixty five to seventy five, so the years they would have grown up would have been between from about 1938 onwards. Right through the supposedly grim years of Catholic oppression we hear so much about. Not too long after independence.
So the conversation drifted into past times over a Sunday 'braai' and what was patently clear was that none of them had any negative memories of Catholicism. They believe in it. They have a pretty resolute affection for the church, the pope, the Vatican, the rituals, the teachings (insofar as they were aware of them), the symbolism, you name it.
It made me wonder if the narrative about a nation under some despotic religious regime (a view I have tended to hold) is a bit of load of baloney. The fact is that the Irish fully embraced the church. And the vast majority were enthusiastic believers and participants. The Church only has as much power as the people entrusted to it. They could have walked away at any time. They could have told any random parish priest where to get off at any time they wished. But they didn't because they were the church. The church was them. And none of them have become less Catholic or less loyal following seventy years of human, social and scientific development.
DeValera stooping to kiss the ring of an Archbishop was what most of the country would have happily done. To the vast majority, it was the right thing to do. He was just a politician. The Archbishop was Gods representative. Of course he should stoop and show reverence to God on behalf of the nation.
Of course they all detest the revelations of child sexual abuse or thuggery, orphanages etc, (but not your regular corporal punishment which was a fact of life whether the teachers were priests, nuns or lay teachers - I received a few lashes of the leather myself).
When we discussed the issues of social morality, the attitudes towards per marital sex, unwanted pregnancies outside marriage etc, the sense I got from my small focus group was that these were the prevailing morals of the time. And to an extent still are. IT was a collective morality based ideology of its time. Not driven forcibly by a remote fascist regime but a belief system embraced and endorsed by the people themselves, and merely enforced by their willingly acknowledge church representatives.
In short, the church was Catholic, the people were Catholic and everyone was pretty much one and the same, poachers and gamekeepers, and it was just the era that it was. And probably not much different to any other parts of Europe, especially tight rural community based regions.
The impression given sometimes is that the Catholic Church somehow took over the country, ran the government and ruled an oppressed people with a rod of iron. If that had been the case, surely there would have been a mass exodus from the church, widespread rejection and animosity and Pope JP2's visit to the Phoenix Park would have been an event notable for the absence of attendees if not mass protests and derision. But it wasn't. Explain that?
For the record I'm an atheist albeit Catholic born and reared.