Over the past forty-eight hours a great many people on social media reacted to my thoughts on this subject with a great deal of anger and frustration. Many of those who replied to me were perfectly sincere, believing that what I had done endangered the rights of ‘real women.’ Others were more extreme; many of whom branded me a misogynist, as a man who supported violence against women, as someone who would subject women and girls to ‘rapists,’ ‘predators,’ ‘perverts,’ ‘peeping Toms,’ ‘men in dresses,’ and ‘abusers’ in ladies’ toilets and other female-only spaces.
Now, we cannot say why in this case it so happens only Catholics have been singled out. Plenty of non-Catholics and non-Christians are gender critical. We can’t know the motives of the people who have singled them out or why in the more recent furores over SNP election candidates the targets have been Catholic, but Christopher McEleny makes a valid observation – one myself and others have noted. We are right to be suspicious of a creeping anti-Catholicism in the current culture war being waged in the SNP. Now, we must be careful: We are not talking about sectarianism here...
But how does one go about translating the theological equivalent of Donne’s “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” to an angsty teenager in 2019? How is this shared with a youngster, the product of capitalistic and atomised personal nihilism and pervasive cultural pessimism? Nothing makes me fear for the future of faith more than the thought that an uncrossable chasm has opened between the generations of our grandparents and that of their grandchildren.
After sharing his latest opinion piece in The Times on social media, Massie added an afterthought, suggesting that “we might ponder how the decline of Presbyterian Scotland both made Scotland a warmer house for Catholics and independence.” Given his unhidden political bias against Scottish nationalism and independence, it could only be assumed that his linking of independence with Scotland becoming less hostile to Catholicism assumed his negative opinion of the latter. Sure, the last thing we need, we take from this, is Scotland becoming a more welcoming place for Catholics.
Sectarianism is a serious social problem in our country, for sure, but there is little we can do about it when it happens outside institutions. We can’t police people’s homes to stop parents poisoning the minds of their children. The best we can do here is improve diversity awareness and education in schools and hope some of it sticks. But racism, prejudice, bigotry, and sectarianism thrive in institutions where such cultures have gone unchallenged and allowed to fester.
What is evident is that no apology or action on the part of the Church will be accepted by this secularist protest movement. It is apparent from much of the discussion on Irish social media over the weekend that what many within this movement demand is nothing short of the complete destruction of the Catholic Church. Many are quite explicit in this demand, and it is not limited to the clerical institution of the Church but extends to la Comunidad Católica in its widest sense; evinced in the wholesale targeting and abuse of “ordinary Catholics” online.
This living on the threshold has taken a toll on us. Since the late 1990s, when the scales were first taken from our eyes, we have had to come to terms with new realities and battle for our faith in new and unfamiliar territories. My own journey, like that of many other Catholics, was one that made it impossible for me to consider myself a 'Roman' Catholic. The hierarchy had been – perhaps forever – tainted. It no longer held the moral authority, no matter what the Church taught, to hold my allegiance. The papacy was no longer the infallible and unassailable Rock it had once been.
We can’t defend the indefensible. The Church in Ireland and all around the world failed children and vulnerable people. There was – and to a great extent remains – a culture of abuse within the structures of the Church. The sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children in the care of Church authorities was a terrible wrong, but the scandal was far worse; it was the abuse of power on the part of an ecclesiastical hierarchy that protected abusers and covered up their abuse – often shielding them, by the use of canon law among other things, from civil justice.