Do not conform to the pattern of this world - Romans 12:2

What Happened?

As a practising Catholic in Ireland, someone who attends Mass diligently and tries to keep all the precepts of the Church, it can sometimes be difficult to step back and take a good look at the big picture.

And yet sometimes it is necessary to do so, because the big picture informs our day to day lives in ways which might not be immediately obvious. It would do no harm to try to understand why Ireland, which was once such a devout Catholic country in fact as well as in name, should have so recently taken popular votes directly against the teachings of the Church and had these votes pass by a substantial majority.

Why has Ireland, which struggled for centuries to preserve and protect its Irish Catholic heritage against the most horrific forms of ethnic cleansing and persecution, suddenly stopped being Catholic? Why has almost two thousand years of Catholicism erudite and passionate enough to convert Europe and the world suddenly withered on the vine?

Where is the fearless spirit of our ancestors who spoke the truth without concern for their own safety or social status?

"All is not well with Ireland yet. You gave us the money, you gave us the guns. But let me tell you every house in Ireland is a house of prayer and when I bring these fanatical Irish before the muzzles of my guns they hold up in their hands a string of beads and they never surrender."

~ Oliver Cromwell, Addressing the House of Commons in 1654

To answer these questions and understand how deeply our cultural identity and even our existence as a nation are intertwined with Catholicism, we need to go back to the foundation of the state.

The Beginning

The Church set itself up in the newly-minted Irish state as guardian and repository of the essential cultural spirit of Ireland, and few doubted it was fit for the task. This was after all the Church which had weathered two thousand years of painful civilisational growth more or less intact, and the same Church which had preserved so much of early Irish mythology and folklore during the middle ages.

An inspection of Irish school annuals from the 1930s confirms this belief. Not only are these booklets filled with references to Irish mythology and history, but their illustrations evoke a sense of a unique Gaelic character and identity. The clergy who were involved in Irish schools, their students and staff were firmly instructed to learn and propagate key elements of Irish national identity and culture. One annual from 1930 reads:

“Filial duty, that is the love and regard we have for home and fatherland, gives us a tendency to do good to those about us, to promote the highest interests of the family and the State. The spirit of Nationality may, therefore, succinctly be defined as the virtue of benevolence as applied to our native land. It implies a love for and pride in one’s country and it inspires a desire to promote its full and highest good. The Patriot is the man who promotes the common good, who strives to bring about the highest moral, intellectual and material culture of his native land.”

Irish nationalism, it continues “entails a desire to combat or ward off those forces which are inimical to the best interests of the country” and “the cultivation of the National spirit and the National language should be our greatest safeguard against depravity from abroad”.

So what happened between then and now?

It must be emphasised that the majority of Irish priests today are good and faithful men who are trying to do their best for their parishioners, offering wise advice and spiritual counsel, support and solace to people who badly need it.

Let there be no disputing the respect and consideration these men are due for giving everything they have in humility and piety under the most difficult conditions, and in furthering the truism that the Church is a hospital, not a courtroom. Of such men it can truly be said that their crown awaits.

However that doesn’t mean all is well, by any stretch of the imagination. I recently had a conversation with several American and Indian Catholic priests, none of whom had particularly conservative leanings, and the subject of FBIs came up. Not the apparatus of American state security, but rather an expression of their frustration in dealing with Foreign Born Irish priests.

Wherever these FBIs made an appearance, beautiful statues were pulled down, pious decorations were iconoclastically remodelled regardless of how useful they were in teaching the young, and thought divergent from what most would identify as ideological leftism was ruthlessly suppressed.

Mission Territory

The period of transition from an Irish Catholic Church which nourished Ireland’s traditional culture and its relationship to the Catholic faith, to what we have in many places today, that is to say Ireland being declared mission territory by some, began around the 1960s and continues to this very day.

It was around this time that liberty was granted to members of the clergy to, in certain matters, act to a great extent as they saw fit, such as in the liturgy as well as education and diocesan pastoral efforts. Or at least that’s how the “reforms” of the time were interpreted, and such interpretations have not been reined in yet.

In Ireland the results of this liberalisation began manifesting in the late 1960s, continuing with the removal of the Penny Catechism from schools in 1976 and the cancellation of influential poets like Belloc from the curriculum, but that was only the beginning. More recently,

And this despite over 90% of primary schools and 50% of secondary schools being under Catholic patronage and religious education being allocated 2½ hours a week in Irish primary schools, almost as much as history, geography and science.

Even more recently, a diocesan survey revealed that almost the totality of Irish Catholics want married priests and women priests, 85 percent want the obsoletion of any negative sentiment towards homosexual acts, and 70 percent want the laity to have authoritative decision-making power in the Church.

Defiance Against the Faith

We might also ask how referendums on abortion and same sex marriage were passed in a country where three quarters of the population considers themselves to be Catholic. Perhaps the Washington Post might have a few ideas:

“In at least a few cases, though, Irish Catholics may vote “yes” not in spite of their priests, but alongside them... The Rev. Tony Flannery, founder of the reform-minded Irish Association of Catholic Priests, estimated that 25 percent of the country’s clergy would vote ”yes.”

“In a phone interview with The Washington Post, Standún said he had no qualms going public with his vote, and he doesn’t expect to face any repercussions from Church leadership, who have for the most part expressed their opposition to the amendment in measured terms.

“They haven’t really said anything besides ‘think carefully,’ which I did,” Standún said. “It’s a free country and it’s a political choice.”

That is an extraordinary statement for anyone claiming to understand Catholicism or to be a shepherd to make. He was however far from alone.

“Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown was speaking for the “no” position on the referendum, as supported by the bishops of Ireland, in a debate on the Shaun Doherty Show.”

“...he equivocated that people could vote yes or no in the referendum “in good conscience,””

This is a statement in defiance of the teachings of the Church. Furthermore both the current Pope and the previous Pope have made it clear that men with deeply seated homosexual inclinations should not present themselves for the priesthood.

In the face of which we have the spectacle of seminarians in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth openly using gay dating apps like Grindr, being sent to Rome purportedly to escape the atmosphere in said institution, and then being sent back to Ireland after being caught sleeping together. These are non negotiable parts of Catholic teaching being publicly and blatantly defied by members of the Irish clergy at every level.

We can even find priests declaring publicly that they don’t want new priests who might not support their political views!

So no, all is not well.

What Can Be Done?

But what can be done? We must always remember to speak with respect about and to our priests, while remembering that the Church does offer options for concerned laity. Under the Code of Canon Law - Book II - Part I, we may even have a duty to express our concerns.

Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

We are also allowed to decide which Masses we attend, not being bound to a single parish, although moving around is generally discouraged.

We must decide for ourselves whether or not the community we are a part of is really a community which is trying to preserve and promote the wellbeing of the Faith and the wider community of the nation, or whether it tries to serve more than one master.

Asking ourselves these questions will help to reverse the course and direction of the Faith in Ireland, from one of decline to one of prosperity and joy.

Generally speaking, situations where Scripture is changed to be more politically correct, where “participation” is more emphasised than attendance, where speakers try to couch the language of the imperialist and colonist – sadly so familiar to us here in Ireland – in wordy pillows of charity and brotherhood, where solidarity is advised with those who mean us no good, where a platform is given to those who deny or downplay the value of sacraments like confession, and related occasions should probably be avoided or addressed where it is possible to do so.

We would do well to be particularly cautious of those who seek to separate the young from their parents and guardians or who place a continual overemphasis on the “youth”. That doesn’t mean all such initiatives are problematic of course, but they do merit a great deal more attention than usual.

A reverent and traditional Mass is generally a good sign of a community we should try to participate in.

Of course even if we should find a good community that doesn’t mean every individual prominent in that community is of beneficial influence. We must be cautious of those men and women who seek social status by adjacency to the Church and develop little “courts” around themselves, who stand on their great pride and imagined status first and foremost. Any outside their circle are but catechumens and must be "baptised" in some manner to gain acceptance.

The community they create is very different from that of the original Christians, of whom it was said by Tertullian, "Look how they love one another, and how they are ready to die for each other".

The complete quote is, " ‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they [Christians] love one another’ (for they [pagans] themselves hate one another); ‘and how they are ready to die for each other’ (for they [pagans] themselves are readier to kill each other)."

Which better describes modern day Irish Catholic communities?

Charity is far distant from such. Let them off – they have received their reward already.

We must instead remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 12:46-50 as we try to rebuild the warmth and openness of Catholic communities here.

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”


A word should also be spoken about the Charismatic movement in Ireland, with due deference to the teachings of the Church and the many people who find comfort in attending Charismatic meetings.

The modern concept of Charismaticism believes that the Holy Spirit grants extraordinary gifts, called charismata, such as prophecy and speaking in tongues, to charismatics. This contemporary movement began with Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century, in the ministry of Charles Parham and the subsequent ministry of William Joseph Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival.

Before 1955 the religious mainstream did not embrace these Pentecostal doctrines. If a church member or clergyman openly expressed such views, they would voluntarily or involuntarily separate from their existing denomination. However, by the 1960s many of these teachings were gaining acceptance among Christians within mainline Protestant denominations.

By 1967 it had spread to Catholicism. There is little to no record of any related movement or tradition in the Church prior to this point except for the time of Montanus in the second century.

Montanus had a habit of speaking in the first person as God, as well as behaving irrationally and babbling incomprehensibly while inducing ecstasies among his followers. The early Church discerned these performances as not having their origins in the Divine.

The Church moved away from Montanism because it was difficult to reconcile with orthodoxy and keeping the Church in line with Scripture. The early Church was full of prophets like Montanus who used the idea of charisms to to to spread beliefs that were outside anything Jesus ever taught, as well as being contrary to Church teaching and Scripture.

He and his followers also claimed to have new public Revelation to add to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and of course preached that the end times were near and pinpointed the exact location of the New Jerusalem.

It has been observed that Charismatics generally maintain a shroud of secrecy around their meetings, that they do not share the prophecies they have made or whether any of them came true, that their “speaking in tongues” is indistinguishable from random vocalisations, that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit by Catholic tradition are granted during confirmation and do not include prophecy or speaking in tongues, that none of their presumed gifts are properly discerned by a Church authority, and that their members will use selective quotations from Scripture and papal documentation such as Lumen Gentium to support their activities, omitting sections such as the following:

"Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good."

St Vincent Ferrer was a remarkable Saint who converted many others, some of whom in turn became Saints. It was said of him that no such preacher had lived since the Apostles.

He converted 10,000 Jews at one time by marching into their synagogue and preaching to them, the Jews turned their synagogue into a Catholic Church. He converted St Bernardine of Siena and Blessed Margaret of Savoy.

Vincent had the gift of tongues. Preaching in his native Valencian, he was understood wherever he went; and in conversation he spoke French, Italian, German or English as fluently as his native tongue. He converted 25,000 Jews and 8,000 Moors; his total number of conversions was around 200,000 souls - among them Moors, Jews, heretics and apostate Catholics. He was often depicted with a trumpet because when he preached, his voice could reach thee miles away, and it was a miracle.

St Vincent stilled a storm in order to preach from a wharf. At Beziers he stopped a flood. At the gates of Vannes he cured a great number of the sick. At Leride he cured a cripple in the presence of the king and some said he was seen with a vision of wings about him, causing him to fly.

He wrote a similar passage:

"The first remedy against the spiritual temptations which the devil plants in the hearts of many persons in these unhappy times, is to have no desire to procure by prayer, meditation, or any other good work, what are called revelations, or spiritual experiences, beyond what happens in the ordinary course of things... such a desire of things which surpass the common order can have no other root or foundation but pride, presumption, a vain curiosity in what regards the things of God, and, in short, an exceedingly weak faith..."

St. Vincent continues on this subject thus:

“It is to punish this evil desire that God abandons the soul, and permits it to fall into the illusions and temptations of the devil, who seduces it, and represents to it false visions and delusive revelations.”

The mystical Saints had many supernatural experiences such as bi-location, trances, levitation, and so on, but they were different from the modern-day Charismatic.

The mystics did not seek these gifts. Instead, they desired the Giver of the gifts. St Teresa de Avila prayed that these gifts, and the appearance of stigmata, would be taken away. They saw these gifts as a temptation to pride and they accepted them very reluctantly. They tried to hide these gifts from others.

Dependence on emotion and high spiritual excitement is not a path to God, for one cannot cross the desert with these things.

Claims of mistranslations are also common, which upon investigation turn out to be inaccurate. Charismatics claim the new gifts of the Spirit are awakened by “baptism or slaying in the spirit”, a phrase which is not accepted in Catholicism and is lifted directly from Pentecostalism.

One final question should be asked about Charismaticism, since it is often described as a “renewal”, where are the hordes of new converts? Where are the Charismatic Saints?

None of this is intended to condemn Charismatics, there are many wonderful, earnest and pious Catholics who participate in Charismatic meetings. It is simply that people should have full knowledge of a situation before getting involved. At this time, the Church accepts Charismatic practices as valid.

We Are Not Alone

Despite the depth of our woes, none should imagine that Ireland is alone in these troubles, although perhaps the decline here is made more stark by the former heights to which we aspired. Throughout Germany, France and many other places Catholicism has suffered greatly.

We must work together to reclaim our civilisation, a Catholic civilisation, as preached by Fr Brian McKevitt OP:

We can all learn a great deal from the plainly spoken words of Fr Sheehy in Kerry:

“We see it, for example, in the promotion of sex between two men and two women. That is sinful. That is a mortal sin and people don’t seem to realise it,” he said.

“It’s a fact, a reality, and we need to listen to God about it because if we don’t, then there is no hope for those people.”


Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.

– GK Chesterton

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23 1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.

11 “Both prophet and priest are godless;
even in my temple I find their wickedness,”
declares the Lord.

16 This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
they fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds,
not from the mouth of the Lord.
17 They keep saying to those who despise me,
‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’
18 But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see or to hear his word?
Who has listened and heard his word?

- Jeremiah 23 1-2, 11, 16-18


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