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Eamon Maher, Eugene O’Brien, Tracing the Legacy of Irish Catholicism. From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2017

Alexandra Slaby
p. 166-167

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1This volume is the latest study of the challenges and prospects of contemporary Irish Catholicism. The word “legacy” suggests that the contributors write on the assumption that Irish Catholicism is dead. What is Irish Catholicism, and what about it is dead? To answer these questions, the editors look at Irish Catholicism with cultural lenses, bringing together academic contributors across the spectrum of the humanities as well as voices from the Church and the media.

2What happened between Galway and Cloyne? The first section contextualizes the changing relationship between the Catholic Church and the population. The second draws attention to critical voices, and the third presents the challenges that lie on the horizon as Irish Catholicism may face death by “Eucharistic famine” and as Ireland watches its “Catholic twilight”.

3In the legacy, one finds the Entweltlichung of the Irish Church, its association with state – and identity-building resulting in “the sacred being corrupted by the political”, the Catholic label being loosely and meaninglessly attached to institutions. It may come as a surprise to find among the proponents of disentanglement a cleric, Fr Vincent Twomey, seen as a spokesperson of conservative Catholicism because he was a doctoral student of Cardinal Ratzinger. Maher points out very rightly that Fr Twomey’s views are in fact radical.

4Parting with those inherited circumstances would enable the Catholic Church in Ireland to be more faithful to the “life-giving word of God”, to become a Church characterized by a service-oriented pastoral approach. A Church that would re-engage the religious imagination through art and poetry, and that would recover its theological and spiritual heritage and transmit it from the pulpit during substantial Sunday homilies.

5Eamon Maher and Catherine Maignant introduce to us “prophetic” or dissident voices from the Irish and French clergy whose bold utterances or warnings compel the reader to reflect upon what is to be held as an eternal truth and what is a matter of circumstance that can be reformed. One such prophetic voice is that of Fr Twomey whose ideas to foster the dawn of a reflective Catholicism in Ireland involve Catholic academies on the German and Austrian model. The clergy also needs to be better trained in theological basics and not only in managerial skills. What is at stake? As Eugene O’Brien shows in a thought-provoking transposition of Terry Pratchett’s Omnia to an Irish Church, a Church that is too big and too heavy risks becoming an empty shell that will have allowed God to wither away. But the decline of organized religion does not “inevitably or directly lead to positive gains for rational or humanist thinking”; it can also lead to superstition, to a diffuse and syncretic spirituality or to the replacement of one transcendence by another, the market of neoliberal materialism.

6Among its many qualities (expertise and diversity of the contributors, construction of the sequence of chapters), this volume distinguishes itself by its dispassionate tone. It succeeds in avoiding the pro- or anti-Catholic stance. Joe Cleary invites the Irish Catholic world to move from “dead certainties” to “intelligent questions.” This book will definitely contribute enormously to accomplishing that transition.

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Référence papier

Alexandra Slaby, « Eamon Maher, Eugene O’Brien, Tracing the Legacy of Irish Catholicism. From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2017 », Études irlandaises, 42-2 | 2017, 166-167.

Référence électronique

Alexandra Slaby, « Eamon Maher, Eugene O’Brien, Tracing the Legacy of Irish Catholicism. From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2017 », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 42-2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 29 novembre 2017, consulté le 18 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudesirlandaises/5410

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Alexandra Slaby

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