Ireland and Its Church

What Kevin says below about Ireland is occurring in the USA as well. Kevin Hargaden works for a small church in the suburbs of Dublin and is preparing for ordination with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He blogs at and is a board member of the IBI.

Ray D’Arcy is a well-known and well-respected radio presenter in Ireland whose morning program has a daily listenership of almost a quarter of a million people. At about 9.15 in the morning on Friday April 20th he claimed live on air that the Catholic church had “in many ways f**ked up this country”. The comments were made, not in direct response to the series of shocking government reports unveiling decades of extensive physical and sexual abuse in schools and institutions run by the Catholic Church but during a reflection on a debate the previous day in the Irish parliament. While discussing proposed legislation that would permit abortion in the case of a risk to the life of the mother, a rural member of parliament, Michelle Mulherin, described “fornication” as the primary cause of unwanted pregnancies. D’Arcy’s comment was made in direct reference to this speech by Mulherin. D’Arcy apologised twice for the improper language he used but stood by the sentiment of his words.

Where do we see this in the USA? What “witness” is there against the church?

The Irish Catholic Church responded by demanding an apology. Martin Long, the spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office declared D’Arcy’s comments to be “grossly offensive and factually inaccurate”.

When D’Arcy began his show the following Monday he simply said “There’ll be no apology and no retraction. Good morning.” He then played “Graceland” by Paul Simon.

This little fracas raises a host of interesting thoughts. Some have argued it reveals a coarsening in Irish society so that harsh and aggressive language about our perceived foes has become tolerable. Others have been struck by how the incident reveals how low the Catholic Church has sunk in the perception of the public. While a remarkable 84% of Irish citizens still declare themselves Catholic, the reputation of the church is in tatters. Not too long ago it would have been unimaginable that a public personality could speak this way about the church.

Yet there are two less obvious reflections that can also be drawn from D’Arcy’s run-in with the Catholic authorities. The first applies to the role of the media in the public square and the second applies to the way churches should respond to attacks.

D’Arcy broadcasts on Today FM, a station owned by the billionaire magnate Denis O’Brien. O’Brien was a key figure in various corruption scandals that shook Irish society through the 1990’s. Ireland is currently suffering through the worst recession in its history, which was largely created by the reckless financial conduct of financial buccaneers like O’Brien. Yet there is remarkably little comment from the media about the extent to which the economic leaders of our society messed up the country. Why do those journalists who now raise their voices against the past abuses of a presently weakened church hierarchy remain silent when it comes to the baron-classes?

For Christians, the squabble is surely a good opportunity to reflect on how the church responds to criticism. In the PR battle, D’Arcy used the fact that he had the microphone to his advantage. The impression is that he was able to brush off the call to apologise because the call was trivial and whinging in the first place. How much more effective would it have been had the Catholic Church responded by asking D’Arcy to go for lunch with the Archbishop of Dublin to discuss the way things had gone wrong and how the church could contribute to a more constructive future? Christianity certainly faces increased hostility from the Irish media but arguably the hostility is historically justified. Whether in Ireland, the US or any other western nation, how (if at all?) do Christians stand up for themselves?


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  • Mark

    Maybe it would help us if we learned to listen a little more to find what truth there is in he critique. Enemies of the church are not new, but unfortunately, neither are quick, thoughtless, emotional response.

  • DRT

    Isn’t the debate quite different in the US? There is no the church. If Ireland is in a bad time, and there is but one church, then it is, by definition, the church’s fault.

    In the US there are multiple churches.

    OK, though, there is a propensity in the US for the church folks to align with one political party, so the fault seems to get laid at the feet of that one party.

    I have a difficult time generalizing to the US on this.

  • Ben Thorp

    @DRT There isn’t really “one church” in Ireland either. It is a predominantly Catholic country, but the author of this piece himself isn’t Catholic, but Presbyterian. The question is what the link between church and state is, either real or perceived. As someone who lives in a country where church and state are truly linked by law, I’m still amazed at the strong links between the church and the state in the US. I wonder what the “average Joe” would about the effect of the (insert type here) church on the USA.

  • Peter Stone

    As Someone who lives in Northern Ireland, while I disagree with D’Arcy’s use of language I completely agree with his sentiment. I am not using this as an excuse for the violence that overtook my country for the last 40 years but one of the reasons why we protestants in Northern Ireland did not want to Unite with Dublin was because of the power and abuse of power of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 70’s and 80’s it was widely talked about in the Protestant community about peadophilia among the priests we even had a rhyme for it in school, but we where accused of being secterian, which maybe looking back we where but it does not change the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has no right to give moral advise to ANYONE until they get their own house in order and hand over the 100’s of criminal’s and child abusers that they are still protecting to this day. 2 Weeks ago on Northern Ireland tv there was a program about the current archbishop of Ireland who knew what was going on in the 70’s and protected them from the police and still he refuses to resign or appologise (although he did offer a half hearted appolgy which was a joke).

  • Cal

    Is this not the pendulum swing of a society dominated and lorded over by powerful prelates? The comment that no one a couple decades ago would’ve be able to say something akin to D’Arcy, why is that? Is it because it would be so unfounded and untrue that people would think him just a nasty brute or was it because the pressure of the church would be the kibosh on his radio program?

    I’m no apologist for many of the state protestant (and non-state, I’m American) churches who have dominated a society, but when you sow wind you reap a whirlwind. Regardless if the hierarchy of Roman Catholicism is truly repentant, it has incurred the wrath of those whose shackles (so to speak) have been broken. The same is happening in the US, though it is not quite so monolithic here. It is either the cross or Constantine and the sin of many churches is to choose the latter. I think it is for that reason the Lord Jesus removes their candlestick.

  • Jamie

    I’ll offer my viewpoint, as limited as it is. I just came back to the US after living, studying, and working as a Christian in Dublin for 5 years. One thing that I have noticed, is that many Irish, mostly the older generation, expend a large amount of energy in trying to blame someone for anything they can. Because of the hard times, and a general pessimism that plagues the country, I am not surprised about the comment. I’ve heard it a thousand times. There certainly were abuses, there is little to no action towards reconciliation or making sure this doesn’t happen again. Sadly, those things happened and people are skeptical, not only of the church, but anyone in an authoritarian role.

    I think the worst thing is that those who are “Christians” (follower of Christ from whatever denomination) are put under even more pressure. You might be baffled at the confusion with this term. Is it catholic, protestant, or some kind of weird cult? Either way, as people find out that you are a “Christian” you have some sort of weird stigma about you, and in the difficult neighborhood we worked in, it meant danger for your life or being ostracized from the community. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the name “pedophile” thrown at me because of my faith in God. Yes, I accept that disciples will inherit abuse and hard times, but sadly the failings of the Catholic Church have boarded up the doors of opportunities for reaching out in practical loving ways to our neighbors in need.

    I really do believe the way forward there is developing communities of believers that build long and deep rooted relationships with their neighbors. People want to see credibility and in our claims as Christians and it takes time.

    As for America, I’m only just back here, but it seems like a different issue altogether depending on where you are located geographically.