\"Catholic

Catholic churches are full of atmosphere at Christmas.

Catholic Church has lost all credibility, making me a pagan in Ireland

\"Catholic

Catholic churches are full of atmosphere at Christmas.

Good pagan that I am, I don't darken the door of my local church from one end of the year to the next. But Christmas is different.
You need the little bit of religion at Christmas time. There's something about going to church on Christmas morning that makes the day complete, even for us atheists and agnostics.

For my teenagers it's a glimpse into a weird world of ritual, of men in frocks and old folk on their knees mumbling strange incantations. At least that's how they see it. It's like stepping into Harry Potter, one of the teens told me last year.

But for me it's a nostalgic journey into the past, evoking deep memories from boyhood days in a small country town, memories of the way we were way back when everything was simpler and somehow more alive.

It all comes flooding back, the early start, the crunch of feet on the icy path, the crib in the nave of the church, the Happy Christmases in the church yard afterwards as neighbors shook hands, and then the quick walk home and opening the door to the smell of the rashers already spitting on the pan.

We used to do midnight Mass when I was a young teenager, but my mother disapproved because a few of the congregation always went straight from the pub to the church and then lacked the requisite reverence.

I can remember at one Christmas Eve midnight Mass the priest intoning the line about the Lamb of God and being answered by a chorus of Baa! Baa! from the boyos in the balcony. A few minutes later someone dropped a bottle of beer at the top of the balcony staircase and it slowly rattled its way down every step to the bottom. The priest paused the ceremony, turned around and glared, and you could have cut the silence with a knife.

We thought it was brilliant drama and wanted to go back the following year. But from then on it was Christmas morning Mass for our family.

Eventually, of course, we all left home and lost our religion. As students in the radical sixties and seventies, all that crazy stuff about the immaculate conception and transubstantiation was too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

But every Christmas, when we all gathered at home, we went to Christmas morning Mass like true believers because it was part of our growing up, part of what we were.

So for old time's sake -- and to give my own kids the experience -- I still insist on going to church on Christmas morning. We don't limit ourselves to the local Catholic Church. The Protestant Church of Ireland service is much better.

Instead of the muttering and moaning of an interminable mass, the Protestant service is all joyful hymns and carols, with a few prayers in between the singing. It's lively and uplifting.

Mind you, the kids this year say they want to go back to the Catholic Church this Christmas. The Mass is much more mysterious, they say. And you can get Communion!

Maybe we'll go back this year. Because the way the Catholic Church is going here, it may not be around much longer. If it's not gone altogether, it could well be reduced to a small rump by the time my kids have kids of their own to bring to church on Christmas morning.

The recent publication of the state commission of inquiry into the behavior of priests and bishops in the Dublin diocese since 1975 has been a tipping point as far as the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned. The outcome has rocked the church, not just in Dublin but throughout the country.

It is the second inquiry of its kind here, since the accusations about clerical sexual abuse in Ireland started to snowball about 10 years ago. The first was the inquiry in Wexford and that was shocking.

But the scale and depravity and then the cover-up revealed by the Dublin inquiry is far worse. Dozens of priests were implicated, successive bishops knew what was happening, yet it went on and on.

The numerous abusing priests were shifted from one parish to another when complaints arose, leaving them free to abuse again.

The priority of the church was always to protect itself, even if it meant children continued to suffer.

In the Dublin diocese, which is so big that it has an archbishop at the top and auxiliary bishops as well, meetings between the bishops were held on a monthly basis, and it is hard to believe that the problem of abusing priests would not have been discussed.

The report makes clear that all the archbishops over the past 30 years or more knew what was going on, yet did nothing effective to stop it.

The present archbishop is in the clear because of the new procedures put in place in the recent past for protecting children, part of which means immediate reporting of accusations of abuse by priests to the police. That's a big change from previous decades when the church dealt with these matters itself, under canon law.

But the present archbishop's predecessor, still alive but now retired, is implicated in the cover-up, as are the auxiliary bishops who served under him and are now full bishops in other dioceses around Ireland. One of them has already resigned, after a trip to Rome to consult the Pope, and the other three are hanging on by their fingertips.

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