It certainly is a current issue at the heart of our zeitgeist at present. Switch on a radio this week or have a look at our newspapers and they are full of shrill arguments in the media about abortion rights and about church ownership of schools and hospitals.
This is because, by a curious coincidence, in the same week that the citizens assembly recommended amending the constitution (which requires a referendum) to allow for the parliament to legislate for abortion provision in Irish hospitals, a huge controversy has blown up regarding the baffling decision to gift a hospital to the sisters of charity because the hospital is to be built on their lands.
It seems official Ireland is still happy to keep church and state solidly intertwined. The general population has moved on however. Nothing illustrated this better then the public vote to legalise same sex marriage in 2015. It wasn’t , of course, the first country to do so, but it was the first country to do so by public vote and the 76% in favour was a stunning endorsement of a liberal policy change.
None of which is necessarily bad news for Irish Catholicism. We still have the highest mass attendance in Europe with 46% attending weekly and 65% attending monthly. We still listen to the church, we just don’t always agree.
The church is also still a huge part of family and community life in Ireland. Just this week, I brought my daughter to a preparatory mass for her communion later in the month. It was a very pleasant experience and the gentleness of the service was striking. Although I don’t attend mass regularly, I was very happy for my daughter to share in the spiritual experience of prayer, community and eventually communion. In these materialistic and superficial days, I hope that it can provide a spiritual grounding in a religious tradition. As someone, who is not a practicing Catholic but is happy to acknowledge the role of tradition and spirituality I suspect that I am pretty representative of my generation.
We are slowly but surely coming to the point where religion can have its role as a spiritual servant of the people who want it and not the master of our institutions. But we are not there yet !