Ireland’s intellectual inheritance of “mental reservation”…

I really enjoyed (if enjoyed is actually the word) Gael gan Naire’s post on the crisis of belief in the Catholic Church this morning. Actually enjoyed is definitely not the word, it’s just that I think he nailed something that if Anne Maire Hourihan is right that plagues all forms of belief in Catholic Ireland, beginning, but sadly, not ending with religious belief as she riffs on a term gifted her by her estimable colleague Breda O’Brien:

…the whole slippery genius of mental reservation just goes to show you the endless creativity of the Catholic Church. It is astounding that it can come up with this sort of thing pretty well ad infinitum. The more we learn about the church’s contortions around the issue of sexual assault of children, the more it seems to resemble something founded not so much by St Peter as by Lewis Carroll.

Mental reservation could be something that Carroll’s Queen came up with in a world where words mean what you want them to mean, and the aristocracy sometimes believes six impossible things before breakfast. The writhing arguments of the church authorities are something to see. It is all quite Alice In Wonderland , and the bishops, up until very recently, had the clothes for it.

And, whisper it quietly, (‘Carson and Craig were right’):

It is the Ryan and Murphy reports on crimes against children, and how that issue was dealt with by church and State, that have finally proved the poor Northern Loyalists right: Home Rule always was Rome Rule. You were right, lads. We couldn’t run the country on our own. We’re going to have to import civic virtue on a massive scale for the foreseeable future.

Not only are we unfamiliar with the truth, we also seem to have a problem when it comes to institutions. We are too loyal to them. We seem to like the tribal aspects of belonging to an institution – us against them – and this obsessive love is not confined to members of religious organisations. There is a certain Irish love for circling the wagons, no matter what rot lies inside the circle, or how many decent and distressed people are left outside it.

And her last line would fit a hundred land disputes from the borderlands to the upper reaches of the Lagan Valley to the Castlereagh/Holywood Hills, only updated to fit the institutions of a modern state with the responsibility to respond to the demands for probity in an international marketplace…

It doesn’t matter who gets the job, as long as it is one of ours. That is how our mansion of mediocrity has been built. Let’s be honest about it: it’s only the phrase mental reservation that is new to us.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty