Clearly this is a subject the internet has opinions about. Since 25 October 2020, when I first engaged in this discussion, I have lost somewhere in the region of two thousand Twitter followers, been on the receiving end of a handful of stressful dog-piles, and have experienced a shunning (where online followers are either too nervous or too angry to like or retweet anything posted by the shunned) — all indications of the internet’s displeasure. Lots of people in every corner of this furious argument have suffered similar, and sometimes worse, experiences.
Now, perhaps some reading this will see a clear cut example of the Austrian legal system and the ECHR giving undue protection to a religion. After all, the default age of consent set by the European Union is sixteen. It is sixteen in Scotland. On the surface, then, this may look open-and-shut; this is an example of and adult having sex with a minor. It is difficult today to separate this from the neo-orientalist anxiety surrounding child brides, and so it is at least understandable why some people arrive at the conclusion that this was paedophilia.
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...
Blessings are conditional. However we think of them, and wherever we think they originate, blessings are gifts – special graces – which we can accept and discard. That is in our gift. We have the right of refusal. Blessed with love, we cannot take our lovers and loved ones for granted. We cannot take without giving in return. The gift of love is not a certificate of ownership. Likewise, the blessing and gift of life is conditional. Its continuation and renewal always and everywhere depend on our generous acceptance of the gift and our loving care for the blessing.
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.
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.