As our generation grows in influence, physician Timothy Potenz takes a look at how we regard religion and the Catholic Church.
If you are reading this paper, troche it is unlikely that you were able to spell the word “diocese” this week 17 years ago.
At that time, patient in early April 1995, Andrew Madden became the first victim of clerical child sex abuse in Ireland to go public about his ordeal.
The event was a landmark, signaling one of the most significant changes in Irish history. For the great majority of the nation it marked a betrayal, a powerful shift in attitudes, and a hammering emotional blow.
Most of the people currently attending this university, on the other hand, probably didn’t even notice.
That generation has now matured, the first in Irish history to have spent the entirety of their conscious lives viewing the dominance of the Irish Catholic Church not as a reality, but as a section in their history books.
So what does this mean? If we are “the future,” how does the Church fit into the world that we are going to build?
“It’s dead,” asserts David Nolan, 2nd Year student of Medicine. “Everyone knows that really. There might be a few hangers on, but really I think everyone sees religion as dying out.”
However, this reporter interviewed six students on their perceptions of the Catholic Church, and even in this small group the attitudes revealed were far from uniform. The only consensus was not that the Church’s place in society has disappeared, but that it had changed.
“It’s not that the Church is gone, it’s just that the old way it did things is gone,” says 2nd year Stephen Dunne. “It’s not aggressive or dominating anymore, its more open-armed.”
2nd year Laura Cullen, a member of UCD’s Newman Society, has a similar sentiment.
“The priests in UCD are really really nice. They focus on being inclusive and modern. Its not like the way it was when my father had to kiss the ring. Everyone is just welcoming.”
This shift from the iron grip to the velvet glove is one of the most significant changes in the Church in the last half century. What makes it particularly interesting for our generation, however, is the extent to which we can really perceive it as a shift.
“I know things used to be different,” says Laura. “But I’ve always been surrounded by positivity in the Church. I didn’t experience the abuse.”
“All of that is kind of distant from me,” comments Arts student James McCarthy. “Like, I know [the abuses] happened, and its really important and I understand why people felt betrayed. But I’ve only ever known it as something in history. Its awful in the same way the Holocaust was awful, if you get me.”
If, as this attitude suggests, the abuses which caused the downfall of the Church are something distant in our eyes, has a window been left open for the Church to recover as our generation continues to grow in influence?
“I don’t think the Church can ever really recover to what it was anyway,” says 1st year John Donoghue. “People are too rational for that now. We think about things.” “The Irish are not sheep anymore,” asserts Catherine Delany of 2nd year Arts. “We don’t just follow the parish priest’s advice or wait for Sunday mass to tell us what to think. The Church won’t ever get that back I think.”
Religion and religious devotion have long been associated with conformity and a stifling of individualism. It is an understandable outlook then that as we become an increasingly individualistic and free thinking society we would move away from religious affiliations.
Yet there is something odd about this argument. Religious youth are, quite frankly, rare in Ireland. This is something they readily admit.
“Oh no doubt,” says Laura. “You absolutely feel like you’re in a minority.”
If this is the case, does it make sense to say that to be a religious person in our generation is actually to be individualistic?
“I definitely think religion encourages individualism,” Laura continues. “Its completely unique. Living reverently is individual in that its unusual.”
The history of attitudes to religion in other countries reveals that the only thing constant is change. The 1940s and 50s have been described as “arguably the most religious in American history,” yet they were followed by the remarkably atheistic 60s. At this point in time, the evangelical vote is one of the most influential in America.
So where does this leave us? For our generation, the Church is not so much missing as it is different, not so much dominant as it is “open-armed,” and not so much an expression of conformity as of individualism.
The future of the Church may be less certain than we would think.