At this stage I'm beginning to think that the Catholic Church is having a laugh. They have to be. Yesterday's report that Cardinal Sean Brady had written to a number of GAA county boards appealing for them to consider moving the times of matches and training sessions so as to avoid clashing with local Masses sounded like a joke. Except it wasn't a joke. And when you think about it, given all that has been revealed about the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past few months, it isn't even all that funny.
Could it really be that despite all the controversy surrounding the church and paedophilia, a controversy that Sean Brady himself was personally embroiled in, the leadership has reached the utterly absurd conclusion that the primary cause of falling Mass attendances on the island should be put down to Gaelic football and hurling matches being scheduled for the same time as the weekly act of worship? If so they are even more detached from reality than I considered them to be. Indeed, on reading the report of this affair on the RTE website yesterday afternoon I had an image of the Primate of All Ireland holed up Hitler-style in a bunker somewhere beneath Armagh Cathedral dictating this bizarre letter to his equally deluded fellow bishops, all of them still convinced that they can turn around the decline in their beloved church.
Of course, as a very kind spokesperson for the GAA in Ulster pointed out, "we don't have Sunday morning games." In other words, matches never actually clash with Mass times. Even if there were Sunday morning games that still would not prevent any good Catholic GAA lad or lassie attending Saturday night Mass in their area – and if a match is being played on a Saturday evening then those supporters attending that are thereby freed to praise their lord on a Sunday. Simple, no? Mr Brady does not seem to have thought this one through.
What this whole pathetic episode proves is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is still not aware that the Irish people have moved on while it remains lagging behind. What its followers have moved on to is a 21st century secular Ireland; what it remains stuck in is an Ireland where it called the shots on everything from the constitution right down to the throw-in times for Gaelic games. Sadly for them, and thankfully for the rest of us, that era is well and truly over, though Brady and his bunch still appears to be in denial. That denial cannot persist for much longer. In recent days the organisation has been lambasted in the Dail by the Taoiseach. Its appeal to the Gaelic Athletic Association to move its fixtures has been rebuffed. The pews have never been emptier than they are at present. If I were one of the top dogs in the One True Church I would be taking a good long look at myself and asking whether the poor turnouts for Mass might possibly have something to do with the church and those bothersome paedophile scandals rather than the GAA.
I just hope Sean Brady hasn't given Rowan Williams an idea. With the English footie season kicking off next Saturday and the CofE getting less relevant by the hour perhaps now would be a good time for the Archbishop of Canterbury to blame Manchester United and Chelsea for those declining church attendances in Albion. Just a thought.