Acton Institute Powerblog

What Ireland Has Lost, and How It Can Be Regained

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George Weigel writes on National Review Online, “something quite remarkable has become unmistakably clear across the Atlantic: Ireland—where the constitution begins, ‘In the name of the Most Holy Trinity’—has become the most stridently anti-Catholic country in the Western world.”

While he calls the Irish prime minister’s recent anti-Catholic tirade what it is—calumnious—Weigel also acknowledges that the Church in Irelandis in a bad way. He goes so far as to say

Apostolic visitations of the principal Irish dioceses and seminaries have been undertaken, on Vatican orders, by bishops from theUnited States, Canada, and Great Britain; their reports, one understands, have been blunt and unsparing.

What has not happened, and what ought to happen sooner rather than later, is a wholesale replacement of the Irish hierarchy, coupled with a dramatic reduction in the number of Irish dioceses…. The Vatican, not ordinarily given to dramatic change, might well consider clearing the Irish bench comprehensively and bringing in bishops, of whatever national origin, who can rebuild the Irish Church by preaching the Gospel without compromise—and who know how to fight the soft totalitarianism of European secularists.

Why this atrophy of the Church in Ireland? Weigel looks at Erin’s recent history and that of three other nations—Spain, Portugal, and Quebec—that share a formerly vibrant faith which has all but disappeared in the last fifty years.

In each of these cases, the state, through the agency of an authoritarian government, deliberately delayed the nation’s confrontation with modernity. In each of these cases, the Catholic Church was closely allied to state power (or, in the case of Quebec, to the power of the dominant Liberal party). In each of these cases, Catholic intellectual life withered, largely untouched by the mid-20th-century Catholic renaissance in biblical, historical, philosophical, and theological studies that paved the way toward the Second Vatican Council.

A free society cannot exist without strong intellectual underpinnings, and paradoxically, because of state support of the Church in those four countries, freedom’s intellectual foundations have withered. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Quebec must serve as warnings for the rest of Christendom:

This, then, is the blunt fact that must be faced by bishops, priests, and lay Catholics who want to build the Church of Vatican II, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI — the Church of a New Evangelization — out of the wreckage of the recent Irish past: In Ireland, as in the other three cases, the Church’s close relationship with secular power reinforced internal patterns of clericalism and irresponsibility that put young people at risk, that impeded the proclamation of the Gospel, and that made the Church in these places easy prey for the secularist cultural (and political) wolves, once they emerged on the scene.

Kenneth Spence


  • Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render to God that which is God’s

  • There is a great divide between the Roman “Teaching Church” (Clergy) and the “Church of those who are taught” (Laity). This has existed for almost a thousand years and that may well be the Roman Catholic Church’s fatal flaw.

    • That distinction is what we call a “hierarchy,” and it’s actually existed for all 2000 years of the Church’s history. It happens to be essential to the Church’s existence.

  • There is absolutely no reason why my country should continue to have Diplomatic relations with the Vatican. The Vatican has shown nothing but contempt for the Justice system in The Republic of Ireland and I sincerely hope that our Government will stand up to these thugs in Rome and kick them out.

    • Hard-Core Catholic

       I’m Irish and I would like to know if you have proof that the Vatican has shown contempt for the Justice System in Ireland, other than the half-truths supplied by the Government?

  • Graham Sproule

    Very good article. The Catholic Church has relied on state power in those countries.