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Archbishop examines relationship between Catholic Church and Irish society

| Thursday, January 15, 2015

Speaking to a large crowd in the Mendoza College of Business’s Jordan Auditorium on Thursday, Archbishop Charles J. Brown reflected on his mission in serving as the apostolic nuncio to Ireland and the intersection between modern Ireland and the Catholic Church. Titled, “The Catholic Church in Ireland and Pope Francis: Legacy and Transformation,” the lecture was part of the annual Keeley Vatican Lecture series sponsored by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.

Brown, a 1981 Notre Dame graduate, addressed the cultural and spiritual challenges in the Vatican’s relationship with Ireland and his job as the Holy See’s official diplomat to Ireland.

“The apostolic nuncio has two roles: to be the pope’s representative to the local Catholic community and to be the pope’s representative to the sovereign government,” he said.

Brown said when he arrived in Ireland and assumed his official position in January 2012, he made it his mission to be involved in Ireland’s Catholic community, accepting as many invitations as possible to visit local churches, schools and other important community institutions.

“I made it my priority to be open and accessible so that I could learn about the needs of the Church in Ireland,” he said.

Brown said the Church’s historical role in Ireland is “daunting in its complexity.”

He noted the dichotomy among Christendom, the cultural and social dominance of Christian values and Christianity itself, which he defined as faith in the person of Jesus Christ and his Church. He referenced a famous homily by Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, which bemoaned the death of Christendom in modern-day secular Ireland.

Brown said the collapse of Christendom, however, is distinct from the state of Christianity in 20th-century Ireland. From the 1930s to the 1960s, he said Mass attendance was high, large numbers of men and women entered religious life and “a Catholic ethos dominated Ireland.”

“Ireland’s traditionally rural and agrarian culture with a conservative outlook and widespread opposition to British dominance were both major factors in this,” Brown said.

Brown said by the the 1970s, Irish society became more secular. Causes of this transformation included immigration of American-born Irish back to Ireland and the introduction of their more secular lifestyles, as well as the advent of increased electrical usage, which brought the secular values of the media industry to the entire nation.

Brown said that the emergence of abuses among the clergy, particularly pedophilia, damaged the Church’s cultural influence.

“No matter what the issue is, when a Catholic voice is raised, the inevitable response is that they’re trying to bring back the era of clerical dominance,” he said.

Brown said Pope Francis’s messages of freedom and humility in Christ has a broad appeal. He said he has hope for the future of the Church, particularly in Ireland.

“There is a palpable desire in the Irish people for meaning beyond the merely material and the physical,” he said

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