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This chapter takes a number of priests with a public profile and examines the extent to which they are prophetic voices or complicit functionaries. Choosing the French priest-writer Jean Sulivan (1913-1980) as a comparator, Eamon Maher examines the published work of Joseph Dunn, Vincent Twomey, Mark Patrick Hederman and Brendan Hoban, before concluding that they all share the prophetic tendency of raising uncomfortable and often unpopular issues while remaining within the institution. He further argues that being so closely aligned to the Church makes it difficult, and professionally dangerous, for priests to criticise certain practices within the institution. However, while retaining a huge love of, and devotion to, the main tenets of Catholicism, these men nevertheless feel obliged to point out things that are going wrong, even when expressing such views can often involve them in conflict with their superiors at home and in Rome.
This book engages with the spectacular disenchantment with Catholicism in Ireland over the relatively short period of four decades. It begins with the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979 and in particular his address to young people in Galway, where the crowd had been entertained beforehand by two of Ireland’s most celebrated clerics, Bishop Eamon Casey and Fr Michael Cleary, both of whom were engaged at the time in romantic affairs that resulted in the birth of children. It will be argued that the Pope’s visit was prompted by concern at the significant fall in vocations to priesthood and the religious life and the increasing secularism of Irish society.
The book then explores the various referenda that took place during the 1980s on divorce and abortion which, although they resulted in victories for the Church, demonstrated that their hold on the Irish public was weakening. The clerical abuse scandals of the 1990s were the tipping point for an Irish public which was generally resentful of the intrusive and repressive form of Catholicism that had been the norm in Ireland since the formation of the State in the 1920s.
Boasting an impressive array of contributors from various backgrounds and expertise, the essays in the book attempt to delineate the exact reasons for the progressive dismantling of the cultural legacy of Catholicism and the consequences this has had on Irish society. Among the contributors are Patricia Casey, Joe Cleary, Michael Cronin, Louise Fuller, Patsy McGarry, Vincent Twomey and Eamonn Wall.