Ireland Propelled John Paul and Pulverized Francis 

By Thomas McArdle Published on August 28, 2018

Ireland has so often been a problem. Hitler believed “possession of Ireland could hasten the end of the war” and was ready to invade. Britain kept Northern Ireland in 1921 not only because of its Protestant majority; it foresaw that “a secure military bridgehead in Ulster was of vital importance.” 

An educated country that bans abortion was a big problem for the European Union. It harassed Ireland for its self-governance.  

But for the Papacy, Ireland has more than once proved convenient. 

The ‘Filthy Practices’

Laudabiliter was an 1155 papal bull to English King Henry II. It gave permission to conquer the unruly isle to his west. It came from the only English Pope in history. (You just can’t make these things up.) Before his unanimous election, Adrian IV was an expatriate abbot-turned-papal-legate named Nicholas Breakspear. The bull may be a forgery, but there are identical orders from Adrian’s Sienese immediate successor, Alexander III. England was charged to subdue her neighbor island. The goal: reform the corrupt Irish church (plus collect the annual penny-per-house Peter’s Pence) “that the filthy practices of that land may be abolished.”  

That lack of delicacy is eight centuries before the first Trump tweet. 

Two Popes in Ireland

For Pope St. John Paul II, of course, Ireland in 1979 was the first showcase of a charisma that would help bring down the Soviet Union. “Young people of Ireland, I love you” in a Polish accent was the punchline of so many fourth-round-of-pints jokes that it became passé. He drew the largest crowd in Irish history at Dublin’s Phoenix Park and thanked them that “Divine Providence has used this island on the edge of Europe for the conversion of the European continent.”  

Francis celebrated Mass in the same park last weekend. Instead of one-and-a-half million, fewer than 150,000 came; 97 pontiffs after the medieval order to invade, the mission is not accomplished. It has collapsed in on itself in a country steeped in Catholicism. 

Indeed this Pope got preached at by a proudly-active homosexual prime minister. To press adulation, Leo Varadkar on Saturday lectured the Vicar of Christ. He recited a litany of Holy Mother Church’s failings: “Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions and clerical child abuse are stains on our state, our society and also the Catholic Church.” 

And he let him know in no uncertain terms: Ireland has “voted in our parliament and by referendum to modernise our laws — understanding that marriages do not always work … families come in many forms, including those headed by … same-sex parents.” 

In other words Catholic teaching on personal morals is a crock. 

Then Varadkar’s crescendo: “The time has now come for us to build a new relationship between church and state in Ireland — a new covenant for the 21st century.” Forget Christ’s stale New Covenant. The modern Irish state has a New New Covenant. 

180 Degrees Later

The tables have turned 180 degrees from when a Pope’s mere presence could make a secular ruler’s knees tremble. That was exactly what happened when John Paul II met his Polish homeland’s Soviet-backed puppet Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski in Warsaw in the summer of 1983.  

It was not the only time Poland’s saint Pope exposed the emptiness of Stalin’s sneer: “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” President Bill Clinton endured John Paul telling him of “the inalienable dignity of every human being and the rights which flow from that dignity — in the first place, the right to life, and the defense of life.” Forget divisions. The nuclear codes of the most powerful arsenal in history were a few feet away. They were impotent beside the moral authority of the Papacy. 

In Communist Nicaragua, John Paul ostentatiously scolded Fr. Ernesto Cardenal for serving in the Sandinista cabinet. The pope defrocked him the next year. 

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How instructive that it didn’t matter to Varadkar that Francis asks “Who am I to judge?” Or is pushing change on marriage and capital punishment — with contraception possibly next. And is in general making Karol Wojtyla look like Pius IX. 

This was a rudderless, self-loathing Catholic Church personified. The prey had voluntarily entered Leo’s den. And Varadkar had yet to know of Archbishop Viganò’s charges that Francis knew ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s was a long-time predator. 

Varadkar might well have asked of his foil, “The Pope! How much moral stature has he got?” 

The Irish — Shaped by the Clergy

But Varadkar would have no power unless it was given to him from below. In representative government there is no absolving the voters. And in Ireland, moreover, the vast majority, of all ages, were moulded by the clergy. They were taught, sermonized, given moral example. Most in Ireland’s news media and entertainment — who labor tirelessly to bring the Church down — spent childhoods under clerical tutelage too. Even if their educators were lay, overseen by clergy. 

Unlike in America, most elementary education in the Irish Republic is both Catholic-run and government-funded. Knowledge of and affection for Church teaching should have flowed into young minds like nourishment from a loving mother’s bosom, from both chalkboard and pulpit. Vatican II should have — and could have — been key. The too-prevalent sternness and aloofness between cleric (or religious) and layman (all too familiar in the U.S. Church too) could have been swept away. In its place should have come the hospitality and kindheartedness for which the Irish are famous. 

Not Speaking the Truth

It didn’t happen, because the message was dumped with the packaging. As elsewhere, Irish bishops and priests grew reticent in speaking the truth — as in the Catholic faith as truth. 

How extraordinary that Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1995 had to remind Ireland — of all places — that “divorce is not only wrong for Catholics. It is wrong for everyone … to be faithful only ‘until divorce does them part.’” By referendum Ireland approved divorce anyway, if only by a sliver

Nearly two decades later 62 percent voted to legalize same-sex marriage. And in May this year, of course, a chilling 66 percent repealed Ireland’s ban on abortion. 

Much of this is defiance of the Church. Much else of it is ignorance of, or confusion about, the faith. And there is an unawareness that obedience to core Catholic teaching is still not optional.  

Francis’ Message: Tea and Technology

Pope Francis’s counsel on Saturday to the multitudes in North Dublin’s Croke Park amidst all this metastasizing evil, and whatever culpability he bears? He reminded them that “a good cup of tea takes time and patience; it needs to brew!” (Skilled tea-making being the last thing the Irish need help with.) And maybe families should “cut down on the time they spend with technology.”  

With Varadkar, the Pope made one reference to the unborn. It was buried in a ponderous observation of the negatives of “creating economic prosperity” and a “materialistic ‘throwaway culture.’” 

In place of John Paul’s bold words, only two Popes later comes a near-parody of the milquetoast mediocrities almost all priests and prelates have been feeding the Irish — and Catholic Americans — for a half century. As with parenting, obedience comes only in the wake of love. Most of the Irish no longer know Catholicism — because their priests haven’t shown them. So they do not love it. And they therefore do not obey. 

Christ’s command to his disciples, “Teach ye all nations … teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” was a mandate for a missionary conquest. And as with Ireland, the conquest’s purpose is “that the filthy practices” of all lands, all souls, “may be abolished.” 

It doesn’t work, however, when the missionaries’ successors forget why they’re there, and who they are.

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