After papal rebuke, Ireland takes stunned stock of battered church, economy, and nation
Many in Ireland are stunned that the once high-flying 'Celtic Tiger' is now just another battered economy – and by fresh revelations of coverups of sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic church as Pope Benedict XVI apologized directly to Irish abuse victims.
Having enjoyed the celebrations of St. Patrick's Day, many Irish people at home and abroad are now staring with disbelief at the state of their nation.Skip to next paragraph
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"I can't think of anything that makes me sit up and pay attention," says Gerard Casey, professor of philosophy at University College Dublin. "In terms of our political leaders, bankers, or even our self-knowledge, there's nothing good to say. I see no sign of what people like to call 'green shoots.' "
How different things were just three short years ago. The country was riding high: business was booming and Ireland was one of the richest countries in the EU. The peace process in Northern Ireland was, while far from perfect, at least pointing toward a settled future.
Then economic crisis hit in 2007, just after the Irish general election brought a government to power promising a long boom. Instead, the country got a long bust and since then things have only been getting worse.
Unemployment has hit 12.6 percent, with 436,956 jobless, while the country's $30 billion deficit represents 12.5 percent of gross domestic product – trailed only by Greece among the 16 countries in the eurozone.
As the world indulged in a kitschy global celebration of all things Irish this past week, many Irish lawmakers were among them in the hope of raising investment in the country. Irish officials, from Prime Minister Brian Cowen and cabinet ministers right down to county councilors, spread across the globe promoting the "Irish brand" – but the public is unhappy, seeing the foreign trips as mere junkets.
The Roman Catholic Church, long the lodestone of Irish life, is virtually discredited after judicial reports into sexual abuse of children by clerics. One government-sponsored report in particular criticized state bodies, including the police, for failing to protect children from abusers.
Last week, the church faced fresh allegations of coverups when it was revealed that Cardinal Sean Brady, now the leader of the Irish church, concealed abuse by the Rev. Brendan Smyth, who was later convicted of assaulting children for decades, and died in prison. Father Smyth abused children in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United States, and his activities were known to church authorities as early as the 1940s.
Smyth's return to the front pages so long after his death is an unwelcome reminder of Ireland's difficult past and murky connections between church and state. Smyth's arrest in 1994, three years before his death, caused the collapse of the then Irish government when it transpired that the office of the attorney general had failed to handle an extradition request appropriately.
In a pastoral letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Irish Catholics, made public on March 20, the pope apologized to the victims of clerical child sexual abuse, saying that he was "deeply disturbed by the information that has come to light," and that he could only "share in the dismay and sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced in learning about these sinful and criminal acts and the way the Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them."
He said he could meet with victims and "acknowledge their suffering" and pray with them. but many people are questioning whether the church can regain its moral authority in the wake of the revelations. The pope also told abusers that they must answer for their offenses "before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals."