“Ireland used to be such a nice Catholic country,” an American man chided after the referendum. Where do I even begin in picking this apart?
Living in New York, I couldn’t make it home to vote – but I followed the polls incessantly. I anxiously refreshed the Irish Independent as I prayed (excuse the irony) that what we pulled off in 2015 could be done again; that we could, through the power of the ballot, make Ireland a more progressive place for all of our people.
On the 26th of May, I was walking on air. My country had just voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and I couldn’t have felt prouder of our little green rock.
That was brought crashing down when, upon hearing my accent and striking up a conversation with me, a strident American looked me in the eye and asked “what did you guys do with the abortion thing? Ireland used to be such a nice Catholic country.”
His unwavering gaze scalded me, waiting for some sort of reaction to gauge whether he could rank me as a “good, sensible coleen” or a monstrous baby killer.
How does one reply to such a flippant, unforgiving comment like that?
Ireland used to be a “nice” Catholic country, yes sir.
We also used to banish “fallen women” to a life of misery at Magdalene Laundries. We used to sell their babies to wealthy Americans without their mammies’ knowledge. And in destroying the paper trail we were destroying any link those thousands of women had to their precious leanaí; the fruit of their wombs.
And the poor créatúrs that didn’t get adopted? We’d leave them starved of both nutrition and affection, and when their tiny emaciated bodies gave up, they’d be discarded; sometimes into septic tanks along with the other waste.
A “nice” Catholic country, that failed our children by not taking them seriously when they told of the crimes that were inflicted on their wee bodies day after day by a man who was meant to be their closest link to God himself. A man who’d one minute be preaching morality from a pulpit and lifting the alter children’s’ gowns in the sacristy the next.
And God forbid you’d be enrolled at an Industrial School where corporal punishment was the norm and the stench of misery permeated the very bones of the building.
I attended IADT Dún Laoghaire, which was once a Christian Brothers School rife with abuse. The desolate skeleton of the building was completely revamped in the ’90s; the chapel now a place for arcade games and gossip, decked out with plush neon beanbags and a bustling coffee stand.
And yet we never forgot the building’s history, what happened within those very walls.
It only seems fitting that as I was educated alongside the ghosts of the boys who suffered from these people first hand, that I would add my voice to the chorus of protest surrounding Pope Francis’ visit.
And I know you may be thinking I’m coming off as brash and lurid, but this should not be sanitized. This should be presented in its rawest possible form.
You should not be comfortable reading this; in fact, I hope you’re squirming.
The days of sticking our fingers in our ears and doing the grand old Irish act of “turning a blind eye” are finished.
This was exemplified in the Taoiseach’s fantastic speech this morning, in which he implored the pope to listen to the victims.
“Wounds are still open and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors. Today I asked the pope to use his office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the World,” Varadkar said.
It goes without saying that it is wholly inappropriate to conduct a papal visit to a nation that is home to thousands of abuse survivors just days after an investigation revealed that more than 300 priests abused over 1,000 children in Pennsylvania.
Our Taoiseach referred to this as “tragically familiar”.
The pope issued a 2,000 word letter apologising for “[showing] no care for the little ones” earlier this week, but that just isn’t going to cut it.
Speaking to RTÉ News ahead of the pope’s visit, Maeve Lewis, the executive director of survivor support group One In Four said: “This visit is enormously distressing for a lot of survivors. It has reactivated a lot of the trauma and the pain that they have experienced, so the very least they deserve is a clear statement of the actions the pope intends to take, not another apology.”
This institution has opposed every progressive thing proposed in Ireland.
A healthcare programme proposed by Dr. Noel Browne TD in 1950 that aimed to assist mothers and children was criticised by the then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, for being out of step with “Catholic moral teaching.” Contraception wasn’t made readily available in the Republic until 1992 (to those aged 17 plus) due to issues surrounding sexual mortality. The Amendment banning divorce wasn’t lifted until 1996. They advocated for a no vote during the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.
Repealing the Eighth Amendment is the most recent achievement Ireland has secured as we move towards secularism.
Is it a coincidence that the pope’s visit was announced as the repeal movement gathered traction, Savita Halappanavar’s grave still fresh, considering one of the key motivators for the no to repeal side was good old fashioned Catholic guilt?
I am in no way attacking the individual Mass-goer. My entire family are Catholics, I come from a Catholic area, and occassionally I do pray.
I am however, attacking the institution itself. For all it’s done to the country I am so proud to say I am from, and for all it continues to do.
If you do plan on attending the World Meeting of Families, please keep in mind the (very) recent history of this cancerous institution.
If you are interested in standing in solidarity with abuse survivors this weekend, the papal protest rally Stand For Truth is taking place at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin on Sunday August 26th at 3pm. For more, check out their Facebook event page by clicking here.