Give me the Catholic Church any day….

Is there nothing sacred? The Church of Scientology is allegedly taking over a former Catholic Church building in South Dublin. My granny would turn in her grave. The reported sale of the former Victory Christian Fellowship in Firhouse- a 1200 seater venue suggests that the Scientologists have big plans for us.

Some might say it doesn’t matter which mumbo-jumbo cult owns the building- be it Catholics, Islamists, or a bunch of new age goat worshipping eunuchs, because all ‘religions’ or sects are as bad as each other, but I think they could be very wrong. While we have been spewing vitriol over the Catholic church in every which way for the past 25 years and rightly so in many cases, but I think if we’re going to bash our own, why not bash them all?

Are other religions better than ours? I’m not Catholic, nor am I a great church goer, but I’m with the Catholic church apologist GK Chesterton on this one. ‘When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

These days we don’t want gluten according to hipsters and left wing fascists, the Angelus, our kids to be christened. We want a separation between church and state and we want a ‘no religion’ box. We’ve even gotten rid of my favourite drinking day of the year- Good Friday. Nice one by the way. The number of priests being ordained is in decline, and according to the last census in 2016, only 78 per cent of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholics, 6 per cent less than five years previous. Meanwhile the number of Hindus and Muslims has increased steadily. Islam has an ongoing bad PR issue, but I don’t see Muslims turning their backs. The Church of Scientology even have a ‘national affairs office’ here the second in the world after Washington DC, which many fear may try to influence politicians and other public figures.

Its no secret that Irish people endured oppression and abuse at the hands of the church for generations, and we are still collectively dealing with the mental health issues that ensued, but should we throw the Catholic Church out with the bathwater?

I asked my close friend and poster child of 1990s Catholic Church hypocrisy Ross Hamilton, son of famous singing Priest Father Michael Cleary, what he thought of our relationship with the church and what kind of PR it needs to do to get people behind it again. “Humans need some kind of codified structures of morality. Western society is built on Christian values,” he said. “We are capable of the worst of the worst, so we need guidelines on how to live. The funny thing is that even atheists follow these values and the assumption that we will be moral people without it is erroneous.”

Vladimir Putin agrees with Ross, or the other way round- he said in 2013, that he thought the The Euro Atlantic States were rejecting ‘the christian roots’ which form the basis of western civilisation. “National, religious, cultural, and even gender identities are being denied or relativised. The people in many European states are actually ashamed of their religious affiliations,” he insisted.

I asked Ross, would he- now a non church goer rejoin a transparently fair and trustworthy reforming church? “You mean go to mass? I don’t know. I have a core Christian belief system, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to go to worship somewhere?” he said emphasising ‘Christian’ rather than ‘Catholic.’ “If I had a private audience with the Pope when he comes to Ireland and have words, but I won’t sing a duet with Johnny Logan for him or anything.”

Maybe priests getting married would plot a course back into people’s hearts despite continually shooting themselves in both feet? “Yes and no?” Priests hide behind a vow of poverty, of not being having the land to look after a family. If they marry, it affects the entire issue of land ownership,” Ross said.

As a protestant, I’ve seen priests marrying and having families work out just fine, so perhaps it could be a start. However, no one really likes change, especially religious people so it could still take a long time for them to get their head around the idea of a married Catholic priest.

If the Church wants to win over disenfranchised Irish punters, I would suggest offering an alternative to technology and reintroducing more traditional values. The idea of Artificial Intelligence, microchips and the many other technological advances, which lie ahead scare the shit out of me and no doubt countless others, so anyone trying to stop the uncontrollable force trying to ruin our lives could potentially be welcomed.

Unfortunately the Vatican is like the Titanic and keeps hitting self made icebergs. Yet more peadophilia claims and the glorious story of the recent drug fuelled orgy, which took place in the holy city make a farce out the whole thing and gives gluten free naysayers endless anti Catholic clout.

But lets look at the good stuff and there is lots of it. I asked a friend who goes to mass regularly and he said: ‘What five star secular palace offers an oasis of peace, hope, candles, incense, art in the heart of our cities? And its free?”

When I travelled to Sierra Leone, Zambia and across South America photographing projects for the Christian Brothers, I couldn’t have been more impressed by the selflessness, good humour and the extraordinary work they do, which is often undervalued. Church leaders do so much for local communities around the world, while not trying to indoctrinate, but simply just to help.

I’m not sure how I feel about the Ireland where Catholicism is but an afterthought. We’ve changed since the church has lost its grip on us, but not necessarily for the better. We have notions of grandeur and no style- we’re trying to be like Californians for some reason. Plus our collective humor has suffered terminally. The Irish wit, born out of oppression, Catholic guilt and rebellion is all but gone. RIP.  Instead of going to Mass, people go to cross fit and early morning Madonna and Alanis Morissette singalongs and we worship our bodies, which have become temples of gluten free products. How boring. Give me 80s and early 90s Catholic repression any day.

Trendy Catholic bashing, is to a certain extent fair enough, and I get it, but I always think how lucky we are to be able to openly critique the church and drag it through the mud like we do. Because no matter how bad it is, things could be so much worse.