\"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.

As I said, this is a tipping point for the Catholic Church in Ireland. It's a crisis that has shaken the Irish Catholic Church to its foundations and damaged its reputation and standing, perhaps permanently.

One indication of the sea change in attitude to the church is the way people here are now questioning everything. Is it right that the local bishop should be the patron of all the Catholic schools in the area if the church cannot be trusted with children? Should people be taking moral guidance from bishops when the culture in the church was corrupt?

The old deference is now completely gone. The Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin, for example, publicly criticized the failure of the Papal Nuncio to cooperate with the commission of inquiry and provide access to church files, something which the judge who ran the inquiry commented on. It's a long way from the days when government ministers here used to sink to their knees to kiss the bishop's ring.

This end to the deference and respect that used to be shown to the church is not confined to senior figures like government ministers. Ordinary people -- with the exception of the elderly faithful -- have been scathing in TV news interviews not only about how the church behaved in Dublin, but about the decades of orchestrated cover-up.

The cover-up by bishops is seen by most people as being almost as bad as the abuse perpetrated by so many priests because it left those priests free to abuse again.

The media has been full of calls for bishops to resign, an unprecedented change in attitudes here. And it could get worse for the church because the five-year inquiry in the Dublin diocese is unlikely to be the end of it.

Wexford and Dublin have been dealt with. But what about all the other dioceses in the country?

Given the culture of concealment in the Irish Catholic Church over the last few decades, the presumption must be that all the other dioceses will be just as rotten. There is no reason to think that Wexford and Dublin were aberrations and that everywhere else was okay.

Of course the problem with the Catholic Church goes far beyond these latest revelations in Ireland. It goes right back to the life denying, sex denying, guilt laden culture that permeates the whole institution, the lack of women priests, the lack of married male priests, the whole system that shoved young men into seminaries at a very young age.

With minimal contact with girls and their sexual development arrested in early boyhood, is it any wonder that so many of these priests went on to experiment sexually with children, to be child abusers?

You can suppress sex for so long, but eventually, as Freud correctly insists, it will always find a way out in some form, normal or perverted.

Our tragedy in Ireland was that the suppression by the Catholic Church of a normal healthy attitude to sex was worse here than elsewhere. And the consequences, inevitably, have been worse, a terrible price paid by so many abused children here.

That's a big subject and one we will explore in due course in this column. But it's not one for now, a few days before Christmas.

The Christian message in its pure original form is still one of great merit. And the story of the Nativity and the Baby Jesus is still one that connects with children at this time around the world. I can see it in the eyes of my own kids, even though they have been sent to a non-denominational school and educated to be free thinkers.

Like me, there will be a lot of people in Ireland going to other churches this Christmas. And many of those who go to a Catholic Church will be doing so with a heavy heart.

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