Recognising the legacy of the Catholic church

Ingratitude,  is  an integral part of life.  Ingratitude is a “forgetfulness or poor return for favours received,  or  not valuing what you have, or have been given”.  Unexpressed gratitude is also ingratitude.  For example have you ever given a gift and received no thanks? Have you ever felt unappreciated by family, friends   or neighbours, when  always  there  when  needed?  Have you gone out of your  way  for  friends  and  neighbours  and  got  no  acknowledgement  for your efforts ?  How did that feel?  When as a society we put how we feel into action,  we  feel  indignant, resentful and find our spirit challenged.  An ungrateful spirit feeds unrealistic expectations from key people in our lives. We all, everyone of us,  experienced   the  above  feelings.  They   are  very  negative  feelings, and when one does not receive the recognition for good deeds, life can become very difficult and dispirited.

So how do we think our priests feel?   Am I my brother’s keeper?   Do all priests have to be painted with the same brush for the misdeeds of the few?  Have we, as a   professed   Catholic   nation , abandoned  logic?   In the 2011 census 84% of the population still call themselves “Catholic”.  Another interesting   statistic is that 68%   born into Catholic families remain in the church, maybe not with the same commitment,  dedication   and  enthusiasm  as before, but still remain.

Let  us   look at our abandonment of logic:  logic  is the science and art of being able to  cut through the chaff to attain the truth.   The Irish media is one of the most hostile in the developed world towards the Catholic  church  and on a daily  basis  promote  much negativity about our priests, nuns, and brothers.  I commend them on the exposures of the mindboggling abuse that our children endured until these scandals were exposed, but I do not see the same relentless haranguing of other  abusers ,  for example the swimming coaches, incest perpetrators,  (which are the most proliferate), rapists, convicted moneyed men etc.,  in the same way.  People like William Binchy and   Vincent Twomey  and  others in the church argue about the issues of ethics and morality and have also said that all the many thousands of good and faithful priests cannot be constantly  blamed for the sins of the minority.  The leaders in the church  itself  continuously fail to defend their stance, which is a pity.

It is not possible for a country so steeped in Catholicism to be cut free of our religious inheritance, so a mechanism for renewal will have to be found to restore our faith and give people hope in these times of crisis. We need strong and fair leadership, acceptance of a changing society,  and  also  a  compassionate  society  that   understands  the plight the church has found itself in.  All priests and religious  are  human, needing  our support in their daily survival for to remain faithful,   some   may not  have  the best qualities we all appear to demand, but they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their flock.


The Catholic church and the legacy it has left over generations in the fields of education, health  and providing for those abandoned by society, is a legacy that cannot and should not be forgotten by the citizens of this country.  The constant highlighting of sex scandals in a bid to taint all priests is failing  to take account of the intrinsic need  to be part of the Catholic Church embedded in the Irish psyche, is damaging and  undermining.  When “religious capital” declines   and the country  becomes  more secularized, our need  for spiritual nourishment is unmet.   This can be seen by the need of the thousands that attend Lough Derg, Knock, Croagh  Patrick, and indeed our own  Holycross  Novena  and Padre Pio day, highlighting the need for spiritual subsistence and renewal and a prayerful gathering of all the faithful, led  by the priest in charge.  I am sure they do not go to see the scenery, even though it may be an added bonus.  Many people may not agree with all the teachings of the Catholic church, and have different opinions on  many  aspects  of  its  teachings, like contraception, divorce, homosexuality and abortion, but still feel the need to be a part of the celebrations that constantly  require the services of our diligent clergy.

We may appear to have more material wealth, but when the reality of life hits with its challenges, we turn to our priests,  when  somebody close dies, has a terminal illness, a marriage breakdown, has  a loved one in the throes of addiction,  or a death by suicide or any one of the myriad of other daily problems  people  find  themselves in, in  the hustle and bustle of today’s world  their only place of refuge is often what is provided by  priests, nuns and other prayerful people.  When fortitude and courage are needed, we all want a place of refuge and we all want the attention of our priests and church services.

Since the 1960’s we have had rapid social change, and  authority was challenged at a frightening rate across all of society the Catholic church and it’s teachings came under fire.  The miss-handling of abuse scandals angered and pained the elderly, the younger generation felt  disgust ,  but even more so,  the innocent and good clergy who have borne the brunt in so many ways  for their erring peers, will have to be supported  in a meaningful, inclusive way.  The lack  of  moral  courage  and  silence, has been a very heavy price to pay for all members of our church.  Many of the allegations  made  were  very badly handled and were not faced up to by those in charge.  When report after report was published showing these cover ups, victims  were still not treated  with  respect,  dignity  and genuine concern ,  indeed the actions of those in charge left a lot to be desired,  adding  to further suffering of  victims and their families.  But   facing  the  public is a humiliating  exercise and done under duress and possibly anger and frustration,  when you have to admit you are wrong  and when it is outside of one’s control, is indeed a real challenge.

Let us  go  back in time to the Middle ages, when the Catholic church was recognised as the unifying force in Europe.  It was first recognised for its commitment to Literacy and Numeracy and for scientific development.  Monastic settlements were the only bastion of literacy, priests and  monks  became the founders of the first Universities  that  were  preceded  by the  schools   attached to monasteries and  cathedrals, and staffed by clergymen.  Convents also educated women.   The Catholic legacy can also be seen in the naming of plants and animals worldwide (in Latin).  Jesuit missionaries were at the coal face of scientific and cultural exchanges and their influence extended to America, Africa, Asia, and  China.  During the Dark Ages,  Church  Scholars and missionaries played a vital part in preserving  the knowledge  of classical learning,  in outposts  like our own Skellig  Michael,  where the Monks were the last  preservers of poetry  and scientific  works of Western Civilization.  After the fall of Rome, almost all men of intellect joined the Catholic Church and practically nobody in Western Europe outside of monastic settlements   was able to read or write.  Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian Friar,  developed  and studied theories  involving bees and their pollination of flowers and plants, which are now called “genetics”. He went unrecognised until around 1900, when various scientists rediscovered   his theories and worked on them.  The Jesuits contributed to  the  development  of  pendulum clocks, barometers, telescopes, microscopes, and electricity among others.  A  Jesuit priest called   Macelwaine   wrote the first text book on Seismology in 1936.  Irish missionaries were world renowned for their contributions to education and health  at  their delegated mission posts, and still are.

So pondering on just a few of  these  amazing  legacies  by the clergy of  the  Catholic Church, surely we as a society owe them  a debt of gratitude, loyalty and support to continue in their lonely and often demanding lives. The  Catholic  church  has   bequeathed  more than any other institution across the world, legacies that continue through the centuries for the betterment of all of humankind.  They may not have all been born to academia,  their oratory skills not up to scratch, but their contribution through the ages should mean that the present upheaval  is just a blip on the horizon of the future. What has befallen our church in the recent past will have to be taken in context of the unquantifiable legacy left by the Catholic Church down through the centuries. The church has man y faults and failings, seeing that it is managed by human beings and cannot be perfect, but it must be more accountable, honest and accept that things need to change, and fast.  Maybe the current crisis will make our church humbler, more understanding of people’s faults and failings, more compassionate for those who have different values,  more aware of peoples’ needs, and  becoming   part of every community,  where every priest, nun and brother continue to minister.  We owe our religious a huge debt of gratitude in trying to preserve the heritage we all need in our lives and give them unstinting support, care   and  concern  in  these difficult times when they are becoming older and  their numbers diminishing.

We,  the  beneficiaries of the ideals and values constantly promoted by the church, should now put our own shoulder to the wheel and ensure that the requirements for a happy and contented life continues for the next generation.   We should not throw away all that is good and pertinent to our lives because some priests, brothers and nuns were weak, violent and sadistic in their lives. They were after all a very, very small minority.  The  committed  religious,   should  hold their heads high and continue their ministry in the life that they have chosen, in the service of the Lord.   I take the liberty to say,  we do not give the recognition that is deserved by the clergy of our church, that are always there in our hour of need with their unconditional support to all of their flock.  They  need  our  sincere thanks, support and appreciation to renew their own spirits and lives,  to continue in these times of unfair trials and tribulations.

Peg Hanafin,  MSc.


26/10/2012 sent to Michael at the Irish Catholic, weekly paper.