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Irish secularization began long before Vatican II, says Dublin's archbishop

April 24, 2013

“The Catholic Church in Ireland had for far too long felt that it was safely ensconced in a ‘Catholic country,’” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told a New York audience in an April 24 lecture. “The Church had become conformist and controlling, not just with its faithful, but in society in general.”

In an address at Fordham University, Archbishop Martin said that the secularization of Irish society has been a lengthy process rather than a sudden development. The problems within the Catholic Church developed decades ago, he said, although there were not immediately evident. “The demographic majority which the Church enjoyed hid many structural weaknesses and the Church became insensitive to such weakness.” In fact, he suggested, the enthusiastic embrace of changes after Vatican II “probably indicated that there was already a deep dissatisfaction,” and Church leaders had failed to recognize popular sentiments.

Old conceptions of Irish Catholicism and even Irish national identity have become outdated, the archbishop said. For example, he noted that it is no longer safe to assume that in Northern Ireland, most Catholics would favor union with the Irish republic. “A very large number of Northern Irish Catholics would favor staying in the United Kingdom,” he said. Today, the task of reviving Catholic influence is complicated by the country’s economic and social difficulties, Archbishop Martin said. After years of booming economic growth based on an uncertain social foundation, “Ireland is picking up the pieces economically and paying the price socially.”

The Church in Ireland must learn to live without the comforts of majority support and state power, the Irish prelate concluded. “Renewal in the Irish Church will not come simply from imported plans and programs. Renewal must be home-grown.”


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