Christians will need a thick skin

Is anti-Catholicism ‘the last acceptable prejudice’?

Is Europe a cold house for Christians? Is anti-Catholicism ‘the last acceptable prejudice’?

Some prominent atheists dismiss any such concerns arguing that Christians simply have too thin a skin. After centuries of being afforded preferential treatment Christians cry foul too quickly when they are subjected to what is merely the regular cut and thrust of public scrutiny and exchange.

Others argue that being the subject of robust interrogation and even satire is a sign of a mature relationship between a particular faith and the local culture. Even G.K. Chesterton remarked that “the test of a good religion is whether you can joke about it”.

Indeed, rather than play victim, it can be more rewarding to see if one's opponents actually have a solid point and to discern how God might be at work in a challenging culture. However, there is also a point when that well-intentioned approach becomes hopelessly naïve.

Increasingly there are signs which ought to worry us.

In discussing the pressure Catholicism is subjected to, there’s always the risk of developing an unhelpful persecution complex, or becoming a doom merchant convinced that that the world is going to Hell in a handcart on our watch.

But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you!

Last year a member of the Seanad expressed concern because Catholic politicians were opposing the abortion legislation. He wrote in a Sunday newspaper that “a cabal of insurrectionists, sympathetic to the agents of a foreign state [the Vatican] are, as you read this, plotting and executing a coup d'etat”. Note the intemperate language of diatribe. It’s an unsettling echo of the historic demonisation of Catholics as ‘fifth columnists’.

In recent weeks pro-life groups and a chastity organisation have been subjected to a level of media scrutiny that those at the other end of the ideological spectrum rarely experience. Needless to say these groups should always adhere to the highest professional standards, but it was telling that one of the objections voiced was that the participants were asked to pray to Jesus. These groups were presenting the teaching of the Church but it was made to sound like something sinister.

Those in the Church who believe that these groups “drew it on themselves” for choosing to engage in controversial issues are living in a fools’ paradise. In December, an atheist took to the airwaves to complain that priests should not be speaking about Jesus at weddings and at Christmas because it’s not inclusive. In Britain a senior barrister has counselled dioceses to prepare protocols for what to do when a service is disrupted by protestors.  

Again, this is not to scaremonger or feed a victim complex. But there seems to be an increasing tolerance for intolerant language in describing Catholicism in Ireland.

Only last week a newspaper editorial pointed out that in a democracy one must put up with those who hold odious views such as Holocaust deniers. The line must be drawn somewhere, it argued, and faith groups who visit schools to talk about chastity are beyond the pale. 

Yes, Holocaust deniers are grudgingly tolerated in the name of free speech but Catholic groups promoting the teaching of their Church should not be entertained.  

It’s a daft argument, previously the preserve of fringe commentators, but to find it on the editorial page of a national broadsheet daily newspaper is deeply troubling.

Welcome to the New Republic.


Divine Mercy gathering

One of the highlights of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress was the sense of community and camaraderie experienced by those attending the various events and celebrations at the RDS.

The Divine Mercy Conference which took place recently at the RDS reminded me of those days of fellowship. There is something refreshing about the joy and authenticity of the people who attend this event. They come from all over Ireland for a weekend of prayer and reflection.

This year, the Poor Clares from Drumshanbo in County Leitrim had a stand in the exhibition hall. The nuns are celebrating 150 years in the town and, in addition to a first profession of vows this year, they also hope to welcome a new novice.


Giving up gossip

Recently I wrote about gossip. Since then Pope Francis has preached another sermon highlighting its dangers. His language is every bit as tough as before. Gossip, he says, kills another person’s reputation. It’s like the tongue of a serpent. It’s rotten, poisonous and, although enjoyable, creates only bitterness. The Holy Father clearly sees it as a major challenge to living the Christian life.

“I am convinced,” he added, “that if each one of us would purposely avoid gossip, at the end, we would become a saint!”

With Lent upon us we could do worse than give up gossip. We’ll know we’re having success when we bite our tongues rather than share our ‘bags of news’.

Great minds, it’s said, discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.