Bill Heaney’s Notebook column
Thursday, 19 July 2018
We’re all in this together. That’s a quote we hear and see daily from politicians and we take it with the proverbial pinch of salt.
But when we hear it – or something tantamount to it – from two organisations as disparate as the Catholic Church and the Orange Order, we prick up our ears and listen. Or we should do.
The Church and the Orange Lodge are being unusually conciliatory on the wake of the sectarian attack on Canon Tom White outside St Alphonsus Church at the Barras market in Glasgow.
The Church was the only one of many organisations contacted by the media which didn’t call for a ban on these poisonous parades.
Their spokesperson, after consultation one would expect with Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, suggested these walks should be re-routed away from churches.
They would be acceptable if the marching bands were kept well clear of the House of God.
There was no mention however of a prayer to that same God to help the rest of us who would have to put up with the sound of flutes and Lambeg drums passing by our front door. Or stopping us crossing the street.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, after a predictable “it wisnae us” or “a big boy did it and ran away” denial, issued this remarkably diplomatic statement: “We welcome the opportunity to continue positive dialogue with Glasgow City Council, the police, and other stakeholders regarding future parades.”
Puffing out his chest and adjusting his sash, no doubt, the spokesman added: “”We should be looking forward, not back, and our lodges therefore took the decision to postpone the parade due to take place this Saturday, therefore allowing some additional time over those discussions, which would give everyone the opportunity to look at matters from a fresh, forward thinking perspective.
“The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland fully supports this decision.”
What is it that is happening here then?
It seems clear that both these fundamentalist organisations have come to realise, if only a little and late in the day, that they need all the friends they can get.
They are not popular, their numbers are dwindling and they are considered by many not to be fit for purpose in the 21st century.
What must it have felt like then for the Orangemen to be called out by Nicola Sturgeon?
And told by the First Minister to take a leaf out of the book of Pride, the LGBT group, when it comes to organising marches through the streets of our towns and cities.
This must have stuck in the craw of the leaders of both church and lodge, not least since it focussed on Pride.
This is one of the very few things they can find common ground on.
Both church and lodge believe Pride should be banned and that all homosexual activity is not only unacceptable but sinful.
Evidence of this is the Church’s stance on homosexuality underscored by that sad incident in Glasgow in the past few days.
This was the holding of a rosary recitation in his church by Glasgow Caledonian University chaplain, Father Mark Morris, to apologise for the Pride march, which he claimed was an insult to God.
The university moved swiftly to distance themselves from Father Morris and his attitude to gay people’s rights to march or marry as they please.
They showed the priest the door and told him not to come back after the summer holidays.
As for the Catholic Church, one is often left wondering what century they are living in.
Sex between consenting adult males is no longer a crime. Gay marriage has become commonplace.
Families are opting for non-religious funerals for their loved ones.
Children are no longer being baptised but named in secular services.
There are gay priests in the Archdiocese of Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland.
And in Ireland, mother church of the Catholic Church in Scotland, where more churches are dedicated to St Patrick than St Andrew, things ain’t wot they used to be.
If Catholic Ireland is a culture of obedience to a male hierarchy, it is indeed over – and has been for some time – and this is being replicated in Scotland.
The recent referendum on abortion in Ireland produced for the church leadership something much worse than defiance: mere indifference.
Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote: “The bishops issued pastoral letters, but few people read them and fewer still took their exhortations to heart.
“Nobody even bothered to rail against the bishops – the hierarchy is not worth anger any more.
“It is not even clear that the most faithful and orthodox Catholics look to the bishops for leadership on political questions rather than to media figures …
“But is that all that Catholic Ireland ever meant – the power of an authoritarian institution?”
The church’s power in Ireland was copied here in Scotland with the influx of immigrants over a century from 1843 to 1950 and had some very particular foundations.
There was the long endurance of a popular religious identity that, very unusually in Europe, defied the rule that subjects should follow the faith of their rulers.
Catholics were given the right to their own schools and eventually these produced young men and women who were university educated and became teachers, doctors and lawyers.
And, importantly, politicians emerged who were elected to parliament and local government.
Some members of the Church of Scotland became so concerned about the rising influence of Irish immigrants that a motion was moved at the General Assembly in Edinburgh to have them all sent home.
The church’s power had some very particular foundations. Oppression had made it the locus of endurance and defiance.
Irish nationalism, in spite of its republican and non-sectarian rhetoric, effectively fused Catholic and patriotic forms of self-assertion.
That spread to Scotland where third and fourth generation Irish people here became more Irish than the Irish themselves.
This manifested itself in church attendance and the support of certain football clubs.
Emigration made the universality of Catholic ritual – you could go to the same Mass in Baillieston as in Ballymote – a guarantor of personal and communal continuity in a broken society.
Whereas in other countries it was factory life that “civilised” people, teaching them how to turn up on time and control their bodies, in Scotland, as in Ireland, this process was largely managed by church attendance.
These factors gave the church power over collective identity and sexuality, especially the sexuality of women.
O’Toole says: “What we have to consider, though, is not that it was often brutally enforced but that this brutality was deemed necessary. You don’t have to enforce something if you’re fully confident of its strength.”
Priests patrolled their parishes to deter young couples of different faiths going out together. Rigid censorship had to be imposed – some books and newspapers were advised against – to keep forbidden images and unorthodox thoughts out of the minds of the faithful.
The church’s strictures were deeply embedded in a culture of conformity and respectability. It controlled education and took a close interest in healthcare.
It made its presence felt, lobbying politicians and reminding them that it had very real influence on elections via the so-called Catholic vote.
They drove home Catholic teaching on divorce, contraception and health from the pulpit and in the classrooms.
So-called “mixed marriages” between Protestants and Catholics were not accommodated in Catholic churches and Catholics were forbidden to attend funerals in Protestant churches. Cremation was not an option for Catholics, only burial.
In Ireland, church and state collaborated in a reign of terror imposed by incarcerating an astonishing one per cent of the entire population in industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother-and-baby homes and mental hospitals.
Scotland again mirrored this with its Catholic approved schools (St John’s, Bishopbriggs), mother and baby homes (Sacred Heart, Bishopton) and children’s homes (Nazareth House), where cruelty and abuse took place.
Details of this are only now emerging from evidence given to Lady Smith’s Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and the McLellan Commission Report on abuse in the Catholic Church in Scotland.
In 1950, when this kind of Catholic Ireland was at its height, the church there ran 51 industrial schools in which 6,000 children were held in conditions that O’Toole says can reasonably be compared to slavery.
He added: “Some of this vast abuse of power can be explained by sheer overkill: tyrants, after all, tend towards paranoia. But some of it may have come from a justified suspicion that, if they were let off the leash, the Irish faithful might be inclined to stray.”
The spectre of emigrants “falling away from the faith” in the fleshpots of Scotland, England and America haunted the church because it had some substance.
The acclaimed novelist John McGahern reported the reaction of a neighbour to whom he explained that he did not go to Mass because, as an unbeliever, he would feel a hypocrite: “But, sure, none of us believe . . . We go to see all the other hypocrites!”
Hypocrites is probably too strong a word, says O’Toole. Hypocrisy involves saying one thing and doing another. In the real, underlying Irish Catholicism, the gap between saying and doing was not so wide. It was wriggle room. Devotion was generally sincere.
The church’s practices, as McGahern pointed out, provided colour in an often dreary world. The Stations of the Cross and the Corpus Christi processions were the theatre of the countryside.
The Redemptorist priests, with their blood-curdling sermons, were “evaluated as performers and appreciated like horror novels” and their “missions” took place in Scotland and Ireland.
The larger-than-life parish clergy, cut from the same cloth as their seminarian classmates who came to Scotland and staffed parishes from Selkirk to Shetland, were – “from a line of swaggering, confident men who dominated field and market and whose only culture was cunning, money and brute force.”
Clergy and bishops were looked up to. Families were very proud to have a priest or a nun in the family: The Catholic theologian Donal Dorr has written of the emergence of a “privileged clerical caste”.
The poet Patrick Kavanagh tells how in Dublin people genuflected on the pavements when the limousine of the notorious Archbishop John Charles McQuaid passed through the city centre.
The “foreign missions”, with their exotic tales and assumptions of cultural superiority, created the illusion of a “spiritual empire”. They were big in Scotland, where children brought pennies to school for mission charities and “the black babies”.
Even the sprayed-on odour of sanctity, the desire to be holier-than-thou (and especially holier than England) that culminated in the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, which prohibited abortion, functioned as a kind of compensation culture.
God may have made Ireland uninhabitable for so many of its citizens but he blessed the remnants with divine self-righteousness, says O’Toole..
Yet however sincerely felt most of this was, it was never quite as simple as it seemed. Emigration itself was the ultimate in wriggle-room, but even at home there was no uniform conformity.
How, for example, could Catholic schools and hospitals function if the married female teachers and nurses were doing their duty and having a baby a year?
The legal affairs correspondent of The Irish Times gave the answer in April 1970: “The pill is not described as a contraceptive in presentation by manufacturers for import to Ireland. It is imported under the title of ‘cycle regulator’.”
What happened in Ireland (and Scotland) is what was bound to happen in a society that was becoming economically and politically globalised and ever better educated.
The wriggling got stronger and faster, and it gradually shrugged off sexual shame, social conformism and deference to authority.
The remarkable thing, indeed, is not that the official Catholic Ireland died but that it lingered so long.
O’Toole says: “It is astonishing to think, for example, that it is less than a quarter of a century since a proposal to remove the ban on divorce – the most flagrantly Catholic provision in the [Irish] Constitution – was passed by a margin of fewer than 10,000 votes.
“If it had not been for the child abuse scandals, and the church’s catastrophic reaction to them, it is possible that this Catholic Ireland would have lasted much longer.
“As it is, this long goodbye has now finished, and it is hard to foresee a resurrection of the authoritarian, clericalist and patriarchal church.
“But Irish paganism was vanquished 1,500 years ago – and we are still tying rags to holy trees, drinking from holy wells and climbing sacred mountains.
“And where else would a community stunned by shock and grief go to light a candle against the darkness except to the place it has been going for centuries?”
He added: “We are left, certainly, with a religious rust belt: hulking half-empty churches, too cavernous to be heated in the winter, that were once literal powerhouses, factories that churned out dominance and consolation, shame and beauty, terror and pride, for the Irish and global markets.
“But this de-industrialised Irish Catholicism will gradually become what it has been before: local and artisanal.
“When, as there will be, there are women priests and bishops, when the clerical monarchy is no more, when the church belongs to its members rather than the other way around.
“When it lights candles against the darkness of all human troubles, Catholicism will take its place as one rich seam in a many-layered Irish culture.”