Irish Catholicism and It’s Underbelly

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Derek Scally’s The Best Catholics in the World is stirring lots of interest for its bold truth.  A favorite definition of contemplation to which I aspire is: to see things as they really are.  My interest in this carefully researched and winsomely attractive report revolves around that very notion.  I am so grateful for the expose that tells me so much more than the Ryan or Murphy Reports.  Having lived and worked in Ireland since 2005 I have sensed a heavy quality about Irish Catholicism that I didn’t expect.  So many people have had negative experiences in their parishes that explain a lot about their attitude toward their religion. 

I tended to attribute peoples’ experience of shame to their colonization for all those centuries.  But Scally shows me more to the underbelly of repressed memory.  He uncovers the shame and secrecy of the culture as attributable to all sectors: Church, State, and family.  I understand how poverty and overly large families could set the scene for families being overwhelmed.  People had so much personal difficulty to tend to, they had little energy for taking responsibility for society. [ And many leaders of society themselves must have been overwhelmed by the enormity of pulling together a newly independent country.]

Scally contends that unaddressed historical trauma with its frozen sensations has left a pile-up of pride and shame that has left many silent, struggling to deal with a conflicting narrative they cannot process.  Often what we do in complex situations is pick a scapegoat.  That relieves me from admitting any self-collusion.  We repress to avoid pain and yet that very repressed pain cripples us.

From an experience of serious betrayal and abuse myself I can vouch for the therapy of speaking out one’s truth, being heard by responsible other(s), sorting out what really happened, the damage done to self and others. Part of the exercise is to admit how serious was the abuse –how destructive– before one can hope for healing.  It’s about getting the poison out. Seeing things as they really are is facing the truth, one’s own, and that of others, perhaps the whole society.  Then one can begin to grieve the loss.  Last of all comes forgiveness, but not too soon.  Once all those deep feelings are admitted and dealt with, the searing pain has its day.  But there is a way through the pain: exposing it, grieving it, and begging the grace to forgive and heal. If the process is thorough and healthy then one can begin to integrate it.  Pain draws energy inward.  Empathy and forgiveness, say Scally with whom I agree, allow you to expand and grow, to free self from pain and become more authentic.  New energy is released.

I’m convinced that the Irish people are burying a lot of otherwise good energy in unaddressed secrecy and shame.  Buried, paralyzed enthusiasm.  When one blames it all on the Church and simply walk away what good does that do?  Is the Church really the seat of all evil or is it all more ambivalent?  Am I mature enough to admit and live with ambivalence?  Pain follows anger and curiosity can follow apathy.

Thank you Derek Scally, for opening this conversation.  May it bear much fruit!

Sr. Patricia McGowan

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