The Irish Church is stronger than it seems

SIR – I find it hard to recognise the very negative picture of the Irish Church given by Jon Anderson (Cover Story, March 31). Mr Anderson is unfair to the three Irish cardinals of the last quarter of a century – the late Cahal Daly, the late Desmond Connell and Seán Brady – when he describes them as having been tarnished by the child abuse controversy.

Child abuse was not a very critical problem in any of the three dioceses over which Cardinal Daly presided, and the one case most often linked to Cardinal Brady involved his presence as a young priest at an inquiry; Cardinal Connell’s record in regard to abuse is generally recognised to have been much better than those of his two predecessors in Dublin.

Mr Anderson also fails to mention the numerical strength of the Church. Weekly Mass attendance is still more than a million across the island – a figure higher than attendance each week in the Church of England. My own diocese, Down and Connor, is in good health and many parishes are well supported by the laity. The annual diocesan Faith and Life convention is well attended. So too was the inaugural conference in Northern Ireland of Iona, the Catholic think tank. He omits also any reference to that fine weekly publication, The Irish Catholic.

Mr Anderson places too much emphasis on the Association of Catholic Priests, a body founded in recent years but which is stuck ideologically in the 1960s. He says that its membership is elderly. More to the point, it represents only a minority of the clergy and has only a tiny membership outside the Republic.

I fear that I had to laugh when I read that the ACP “is very much a loyal opposition”. It is a pity that Mr Anderson wrote before the Irish Times reported the latest pronouncements of a leading ACP figure, Fr Tony Flannery. Fr Flannery (according to the the newspaper’s reports, which he has not contradicted) has used his blog to reject, among other teachings, the idea of God’s personality, the Trinity and the virginal conception of Our Lord. That may be opposition, but it is hardly loyal.

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