DUBLIN — As Archbishop Charles Brown takes up his new post of papal nuncio to Ireland, he will face what some see as unprecedented difficulties for the church in Ireland. After the publication of a series of reports outlining gruesome cases of sexual abuse by priests in Ireland over recent decades, coupled with a falloff in church attendance, and less quantifiably, a perceptible decline in religious belief and practice, it’s little wonder that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin predicted that his archdiocese faced its toughest challenge “since Catholic Emancipation,” the 1829 changes to British law that removed many of the discriminatory provisions against Catholics in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was then a part. Archbishop Martin was commenting on a drop in Mass attendance in Dublin to 14% and declining priest numbers, but the remarks were seen by many as appropriate to the wider church in Ireland, which now operates within what Irish writer John Waters described to the Register as “the most anti-Catholic country in Europe.”
TIBERIAS – The breeze cooling the furnace-like lakeshore funnels down between hills that are redolent of history like so much else in the Holy Land. One, an extinct volcano popularised as the “Horns of Hattin,” marks the site where Saladin defeated a Crusader army in 1187. Closer again is the cliff-face where, over a thousand years before, Jews are said to have committed mass suicide rather than be taken captive by the Romans in 67 AD, 3 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and a better-known mass suicide at the Masada. Downhill is the reed-laden lakeshore along the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus Christ walked. He may well even have preached in what is a startling discovery 200m from the water’s edge at Magdala, a town thought to be the home-place of Mary Magdalene, 5km from Tiberias and around the same from Capernaum. The discovery is a synagogue dating to the first century AD, possibly destroyed during the same Jewish revolt, and uncovered during excavations for the construction of a new Catholic pilgrimage center.
KNOCK — 2009 saw the publication of two reports that have shocked Irish people, led to the resignation of four bishops, and prompted speculation that Pope Benedict XVI will instigate a reorganization of the Irish Church in a pastoral letter scheduled for early 2010. The 2,600-page “Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse” — the Ryan Report — was an investigation into the treatment of thousands of children, over many decades, in institutions and schools run by religious orders and congregations. It concluded that “physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions. Sexual abuse occurred in many of them, particularly boys’ institutions.” The report is not for the squeamish. For example, one case study tells how an abuser blared out music on a stereo system loud enough to cover the victim’s cries.