As I touched down in Ireland the morning of Easter Sunday, I was saddened to think how sparse the Catholic faith — and with it, conservatism — has become in that once-proud bastion of sainthood. Still sometimes called “the land of saints and scholars,” Ireland has become in recent years a hotbed of moral degeneracy and political leftism, fueled by anti-Catholicism and resisted by precious few of those who cling to the faith that St. Patrick preached so many ages ago.
What’s so surprising about a Catholic priest preaching Catholic catechism? Absolutely nothing. What should be surprising is how Fr. Sheehy’s bishop responded.
The Emerald Isle’s status as one of the furthest-left nations comprising what we still call Western civilization may not be conspicuous but is indisputable. Some of the country’s top politicians — most notably Taoiseach (Ireland’s word for Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar and Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman — are openly gay, and the rest proudly endorse the LGBT agenda. In 2015, Ireland was dubbed one of the world’s top ten most gay-friendly countries; for comparison, the U.S. ranked closer to halfway down that same list, made up of nearly 150 countries. Homosexual lobbies are promoted and funded (sometimes unethically) across the nation, and (because L, G, and B are always followed by a T) transsexual ideology is even being pushed on children; both Ireland’s Taoiseach and President have backed the proposal. Perhaps most ironically, the 2023 St. Patrick’s Day festival in Dublin was dominated by drag queens and gay nightclub-themed pavilions.
Ireland legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, becoming the first nation to do so by referendum. Three years later, another referendum decriminalized abortion. Ireland’s government is still pushing to remove even the precious few abortion restrictions it still has in place.
How can Catholicism thrive amongst a people so blithely and blatantly antagonistic to the perennial moral teachings of the Church? It simply isn’t possible. The tragic fact of the matter is Catholicism is dying out in what was, even a hundred years ago, a stronghold of the faith.
Numbers bear this out. An independent survey conducted by analytics and data company Amárach revealed only about 14 percent of Ireland’s population regularly attends Sunday Mass. But domineering leftism didn’t suddenly appear on the scene and start suppressing the practice of Catholicism; rather, degeneracy has only been allowed to seize the state and the society because Catholics stopped being Catholic.
Take the recent case of Fr. Seán Sheehy for example. The Kerry-born priest delivered a homily late last year, in which he called on the Irish population to abandon sin and return to Christ and His mercy. He noted the stranglehold sin seems to have on the Emerald Isle, specifically enumerating homosexuality, transsexualism, and abortion. Although the LGBT and pro-abortion lobbies practically control the state, and although the pews were relatively empty, the priest’s bold (and, according to Catholic teaching, correct) proclamation sparked outrage, even making headlines with national, state-funded media like RTE.
What’s so surprising about a Catholic priest preaching Catholic catechism? Absolutely nothing. What should be surprising is how Fr. Sheehy’s bishop responded. Bishop Ray Browne issued a public apology for the priest’s theologically-sound call to repentance, even outright lying when he wrote, “The views expressed do not represent the Christian position.”
Unfortunately, Browne’s reaction isn’t surprising, given the recent track record of Ireland’s bishops. When gay marriage was legalized in 2015, then-archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin didn’t condemn the legislation and didn’t call his countrymen to uphold the principles of the faith they had clearly abandoned. No, Martin insisted it was the Church that needed to get with the times. He quipped, “[T]he Church needs a reality check right across the board.”
The Roman Catholic Church, an institution that has stood for 2,000 years, an institution that has consistently claimed divine guidance and asserted its unerring supremacy, an institution which serves as the lynchpin and foundation of Western civilization, needs to get with the times, “needs a reality check,” apparently, because the results of a referendum show that ancient and venerable institution’s policies are no longer popular.
Without, I’m sure, realizing it, Martin was at least half right. While the Church — meaning the deposit of faith, the magisterium, the centuries of tradition, etc. — doesn’t need a reality check, those entrusted with safeguarding it might.
Funnily enough, as long as Catholic leaders — whether in Ireland or the United States or anywhere — treat the faith handed on to them by the Apostles as a sort of popularity contest or marketing campaign, Catholics will continue leaving the Church. For 2,000 years, men and women and even children willingly gave their lives for the Catholic faith, singing songs of praise as they were led to the lions or to the scaffold. But no one ever died for a marketing campaign. Ireland can once again become the land of saints and scholars, but only if Catholic leaders follow St. Ignatius of Loyola’s exhortation to “hate what the world seeks and seek what it avoids.”