Catholic shifts at meeting

Many seats were empty in the opening Mass of the Catholic Church's Eucharistic Congress in Dublin on Sunday.
Many seats were empty in the opening Mass of the Catholic Church's Eucharistic Congress in Dublin on Sunday. (AP)

The Dublin conference opened with anger at child abuse and a decline in core beliefs.

Posted: June 12, 2012

DUBLIN - An international conference celebrating Roman Catholicism opened Sunday in Ireland against a backdrop of anger over child abuse cover-ups and evidence of declining faith in core church beliefs.

About 12,000 Catholics, many from overseas, gathered for an open-air Mass in a half-full Dublin stadium at the start of the Eucharistic Congress, a weeklong event organized by the Vatican every four years in a different part of the world. The global gathering, begun in the 19th century and last held in Quebec in 2008, highlights the Catholic Church's belief in transubstantiation, the idea that bread and wine transforms during Mass into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

An opinion poll of Irish Catholics found that two-thirds of Irish Catholics don't believe this, nor do they attend Mass weekly. The survey, published in the Irish Times with an error margin of 3 points, also found that just 38 percent believe Ireland today would be in worse shape without its dominant church. And just three-fifths even knew the Eucharistic Congress was coming to Ireland.

Such views reflect rapid secularization and alienation with the church in Ireland, where church and state once were tightly intertwined. The last time Ireland hosted the Eucharistic Congress in 1932, more than one million - a quarter of Ireland's population - packed Dublin's Phoenix Park for Mass with nary a dissenting voice.

This time, Ireland's opening soccer match Sunday in the European Championship is dominating public attention and excitement. So much so that the congress blog had to point out to visitors that all the Irish flags on display on buildings, shops and taxis represented excitement about the football, not the faith.

And as Catholic pilgrims entered the opening Mass, they passed protesters from Survivors of Child Abuse, an Irish pressure group that has spent more than a decade demanding that church leaders in Ireland and Rome admit their full culpability for the protection of pedophile priests. Other protest groups highlighted the church's opposition to homosexuality and its role in running most Irish elementary schools and many hospitals today.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, president of the Eucharistic Congress and the Irish church's leading voice calling for greater openness on past abuse, led a moment of silence inside the Royal Dublin Society Arena dedicated to those unknown tens of thousands of children molested or raped by priests.

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