The following lecture was given to the annual Maynooth Union Summer School in 1957 by Rev. Kevin Smyth, S.J., Professor of Fundamental Theology at Milltown Park, Dublin.
Dr. Samuel Johnson said that the Irish were a very fair-minded people: he never heard one Irishman speaking well of another. The same sentiment was echoed unconsciously by an Irish priest when he was asked was there any prospect of the beatification of Father Willie Doyle: “No….you’ll never get one Irishman to swear to the sanctity of another.” This attitude causes a grave difficulty to anyone taking a Gallup poll about how people regard their priests in Ireland: the first thing that the subject thinks of is criticism. “The bitther word” rises only too readily to the lips of the Irishman, and if you were fool enough to ask a straight question of a layman, he would probably begin by translating your question into: “What have I got against the priests?”
On the other hand, just as the first reaction is one-sided, it is also often superficial, and the Irishman is as insincere in his blame as he is extravagant with it. Loose talk does not represent the permanent and deep-seated attitude of people towards priests, and most people are incapable of valid generalisations, and inarticulate about their most vital and fundamental loyalties. Our difficulty is therefore to assess the real relationship on its merits, apart from conventions and habits, and to distinguish glib criticism, which people do not really stand over, from the real discontent which may be as potentially explosive as it is silent and unformulated.
My own effort to get some facts, to relate particulars to the universal, to interpret such generalisations as I dared to form, has been haunted by misgivings. Ever since I accepted the invitation to read this paper I have been saying to myself: who am I to draw up the indictment of a nation? How does one take the pulse and the temperature of a people? My only excuse and encouragement is that each of you in the audience is better informed than myself, and therefore that each of you is even more keenly conscious of the difficulty of describing “the present position of Catholics in Ireland” than I am, so that I can count on your sympathy. The best I hope to do is to spark off discussion or contradiction on some points, so that you yourselves may complete and balance the picture, out of your better judgement and wider experience. At any rate, we shall be dwelling on matters about which we all care deeply: our own purposes are involved, as well as the great issues of Ireland’s Catholic future and her almost indispensable contribution to the Church in England and overseas.
Read the rest of this entry →