Religion in UCD

THERE have only been two significant surveys on the beliefs and cultic practices of Catholics in Dublin initiated in the last decade. The first was commissioned by Dr. John Charles McQuaid in a working-class housing estate. The findings of this report were repressed, it is said, because of the gloomy picture it painted of current religious practice among young working-class Dubliners. The second report was conceived and drawn up by Brian Power, C.C., who until mid-1968, was a highly popular Chaplain in U.C.D. Father Power believes that the religious beliefs of the student differ from the rest of the laity only slightly in form and very little indeed in content.

His survey which was carried out among twenty percent of second year students in 1968 is accordingly a highly valuable guide to the present power of the Catholic Church in Dublin. Indeed it is probable that the conclusions it draws would be less startling to the Conservative Churchman than the Archbishop's report since over half the students in U.C.D. come from a rural, middle class background which is a conservative class politically and religiously.

Lay and Religious
The report is higWy valuable for two reasons, apart from its data on cultic practice. Throughout the report, a distinction is drawn between lay and religious. The resulting comparison between the two groups gives anDr. McQuaid-Catholic Archbishop of Dublin important pointer to the future of the Church as the attitudes of the next generation of clergy will either be the vanguard of change or a bulwark of reaction. Secondly the report also demonstrates the depth which the Vatican II aggiornamento has permeated the religious consciousness of the student who is more likely than any other group to understand the complex mixture of theological traditions which makes up the liberals' case.

Conclusions one can draw from each of these spheres give little comfort. Eighty-three per cent of the students went to Mass every Sunday. Among male students, the percentage was just below eighty, while among female students, it was just above ninety. Most of the rest went to Mass when they went home, either due to fear, or respect for, their parents. Two percent never went at all in any circumstances. Fifty-three per cent were absolutely convinced in their Faith, while thirty-eight per cent were convinced with reservations. The reservations varied from a small percentage who doubted the existence of God, to a larger percentage who doubted the validity of various ecclesiological claims regarding authority. The remaining nine per cent were absolutely unconvinced.

Reading habits
The view of religious which the report carries is not comforting, judged by any yardstick. Naturally, religious registered almost 100 per cent Faith in their Church's claims and they registered a similar adherence to Sunday observance. But in other matters, religious demonstrated some disturbing results. Most students read the Irish Times (over 70 per cent), but only half as many religious read this paper. A smaller percentage of students read the two other Dublin morning papers. But twice as many religious read the Irish Independent than did lay students. Thus religious inclined to more conservative newspapers.

All students showed a marked disinterest in theological journals and a strong preference for easier religious reading. Despite the fact that theology should have had a more conscious significance for religious, their reading habits did not vary greatly from the laity. The most popular magazine was the missionary monthly The Word, which was followed by Reality, the Redemptorists monthly. Themost popular religious production was the conservative weekly The Universe. The survey divided reading material into four categories, (a) intellectual, theological journals, (b) popular religious magazines, (c) newspapers, and (d) fund raising missionary magazines. The first category was ignored by eighty per cent of religious and was less popular than either of the other three sections.

In religious books religious showed a big preference for devotional reading such as Prayers of Life by Michel Quoist and old popular theological works such as Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton. Theologians like Rahner, Kung and Schillebeecx scored only a few per cent. The clerical students, male and female, emerge as an intellectually sterile group. Their attitudes to Church affairs was largely uncritical and marked predominantly by a desire for a greater degree of autonomy from abuses in ecclesiastical authority. A fundamental failure to integrate any new theological insights into their religious beliefs was exhibited by the students. An amazing number of attitudes were distinctly similar to Catechism answers. Only fifty-one per cent of students manages to find some personal significance in the Mass, despite the fact that eighty per cent attended regularly. Those who did find a significance, talked of it as a Sacrifice or a re-enactment of Calvary. Very few showed any acquaintance with new thinking on such matters. Few students communicated at Mass or felt any need to do so. For fifty-three per cent of male students and sixtynine per cent of female students, the most important religious problem was birth control. Fifty-one per cent had no moral or religious problem. Many justified their attitudes by lapsing back on pseudo-mystical, " feelings of awe" or " I know it has a deep significance, although I am not quite sure what it is."

The clergy
Some traditional beliefs about the Irish Catholic are laid to rest by the survey. Few students considered Mortal Sin to be of great significance. Similarly, most students wd not exhibit any profound anti-clericalism. Eleven per cent considered the clergy to be too rich, the minority which was dissatisfied with the clergy cited vague complaints of the priest being divorced from real life and not understanding the needs of the people. Most students were in favour of Church Unity and seventeen per cent considered it to be the most important issue facing the Church today.

The report shows that religious thought in U.C.D. is highly muddled and confused. So called cataclysms in the Church have not disturbed the intellectual inertia of the majority of the students. A factor which must be borne in mind from this evidence is that any findings must be only temporary in their applicability. Most students have little intellectual backing to their beliefs and are weak in its practice. Thus they are open to even grea~er change, as must be the general urban populace.

Furthermore, even those students who are consistently and intelligently loyal to the Church, a significant pointer to future Church influence emerges. About fifty per cent asked for either "a greater spirit of tolerance" or "increased efforts towards Church Unity" or "less authoritarianism in the Church" or "greater participation in Church matters." Vatican II appears to have permeated people's tl10ught in its most political and least theological aspect. There is a great demand for a lessening of hierarchical power and a diminution of the most repugnant aspects of the misuse of this power. Any suggestion of further unthinking acquiescence in the dictates of ecclesiastical dignitaries which has had a powerful political effect, must seem unlikely in the light of this report.

Reactionary reaction
The reaction of the Irish Independent on October 7, the day after the report was published, gives some intimation of the reaction of conservative Catholics to this report.In an editorial, it expressed a good deal of shock and horror at the report. After a facile effort to insinuate that this was a purely student phenomenon, it called for efforts to right this disturbing state of affairs. It is very doubtful if this state of affairs could be reversed. It is also extremely difficult to find a base for any such revival of religious practice. The clergy do not appear in a favourable light, the lay student is not interested enough.

Such interest could only be aroused if the Church in Ireland were to take a political stand on some of the matters affecting Irish youth, or if local clerical endeavour were encouraged, rather than hindered, by a recalcitrant hierarchy. There is a long way to go yet before the Irish Church will feel the pinch as badly as some other Churches have. It can afford to allow a continued lay theological illiteracy and an endemic indifference to religious problems. It may regret such toleration before very long.

Theology in the Universities
THEOLOGY has never been properly integrated into the Irish university system. The failure to effect such an integration can be understood easily in the light of the role the priest used to play in Irish society. The priest fulfilled many important roles such as teacher, administrator, preacher and counsellor. But for all these unrelated tasks he studied the same course, a mixture of theology and theological philosophy, at Maynooth or in one of a series of minor seminaries dotted around the country. The priesthood performed many middle class functions but all of
these were carried on separately from the laity and his training reflected this. Its functions and the laity's were different because of form of education we inherited from the British.

Religion was excluded from the curricula in the National education we inherited from the British. Religion was officially excluded from the curricula but unofficially remained the most important subject. It was taught outside official timetables and was a subject which the ordinary lay teacher was not expected to possess.

About the same time as the National Education system was formed in the mid-nineteenth century, the Catholic middle class began to develop its own secondary education. Foreign religious orders were imported and native orders such as the Christian Brothers were founded. Such Orders made secondary education economically feasible but the whole system reamined privately owned by the Church. Very little changed when the era of state subsidy arrived. The subsidy helped many privately owned religious schools survive but, even today, the state is not rich enough even to contemplate taking over Catholic schools or consider setting up lay alternatives. Indeed it is doubtful if it has ever wanted to.

In secondary schools religion is, and has been, almost a complete monopoly of priests and nuns. In most schools it is the subject which academically unqualified religious can teach because, just as in primary schools, it is not part of the curricula for examination. This status accorded to religion meant that religious orders could suitably employ its unqualified and least qualified members in a worthy pursuit.
There has never been any conceivable incentive for a layman to study theology. He has never been financially encouraged to study it and any possible religious or intellectual im petus has been strangled by an autocratic Church which imported countless pieties and cults to mystify the laity but kept it from studying the Word of God. Even thousands of lapsed clerics who could have profitably continued their studies in theology did not do so.

Theology in pre-Conciliar Ireland was a strange, esoteric thing and not really a University discipline. In the seminaries, it was carried on in Latin until the last decade. The old Royal University and the Catholic University did show some interest in theology. But the National University, set up before the First World War and representing a typical British compromise, Ihad little similar interest.In this University, the Catholic hierarchy was allowed considerable influence although the University was technically non sectarian. The key to the compromise was that theology was left out of the University, which did not worry the hierarchy, while the Church held a good deal of influence in key faculties. This solved an old conflict between the imperial British government which could not be seen to tolerate the subsidisation of Catholic higher education and the Catholic hierarchy which wanted a University as the natural summit of an already established Catholic secondary school system. The National University completed the formation of two, not necessarily inimicable, middle classes in Ireland. One was clerical and worked its way up through the seminaries; the other came from the universities.

An Interminable Division
This total division might have seemed interminable ten years ago. At that time the Church was flourishing as it always had been. It was moving into new fields of special service to the State such as the treatment of the disabled and the operating of the general health service. Any problems created by an excess of vocations were solved by the financial buoyancy of the Church and the unparalleled expansion of the Irish missionary endeavour.


This situation has changed more rapidly than anyone could have expected and, concomitant with this, new possibilities emerged for the introduction of theology into Irish universities. With the growth of new and more critical attitudes towards the Church, vocations dropped-in some areas by almost half. The Church was affected by industrial expansion in Ireland. The universities became vital centres for the training and equipping of technologists and directly affected vocations by offering an increase in educational opportunities.

About the same time theology suffered a revolution in its nature as an academic discipline. It was affected by the thinking of continental theologians such as Bultmann and, on a different level, de Lubac. Such men had, since the 1930's used the new sciences of philology, linguistics, archaeology, anthropology, and sociology to reinterpret radically and demythologise the hitherto inviolate and impregnable sources of Christian theology. Exegetes demonstrated that interpretations of the bible and of the history of the early Church upon which denominations had based their creeds were, in fact, not fundamentally irreconcilable. This new departure made it patently dishonest for any intelligent young theologian to insist that theology was totally different from other intellectual pursuits or that theology was not an ecumenical subject.

Increased Costs
As vocations dwindled and theology changed, the cost of higher education rose enormously. Increased costs had to be met in library servicing, lecturing staff, and in buildings. This made it difficult for smaller Orders to pay for all their higher education exclusively. Some minor seminaries reached a position where they had a staff student ratio of one to two, or one to three. Even some of the bigger diocesan seminaries found it difficult to make ends meet.
Dr. McQuaid, the archbishop of Dublin, met this problem head on and spent enormous sums of money on a new theological complex in Clonliffe which included facilities for the theological training of nuns and priests and for refresher courses for already ordained priests. This solution put great pressure on the diocesan purse and resulted in the controversial plannedgiving campaign. It was, furthermore, a decision taken with complete disregard for a different policy which the Catholic hierarchy had embarked on: the hierarchy had decided to change Maynooth into a major clerical university. Nuns and a few selected lay people were to be incorporated into this university and religious orders were to be encouraged to send their members there for training in theology. Another solution, supported in private by a section of the professors in Maynooth, was the introduction of theology into the National University. They argued that this would have the benefits of a larger State subsidy and of an enhanced status for theological degrees. A further argument in favour
of this course was a growing need for lay theologians. This had been encouraged by the Vatican Council and there was an increasing shortage of priests to teach catechetics in vocational schools and in some secondary schools. The main obstacles to this plan were the fervent opposition of the hierarchy and the charter of the National University.

Such conjecture, however, became a possibility when the proposed merger of T.C.D. and U.C.D. was proposed by Donogh O'Malley. Trinity already had a faculty of theology. An ecumenical School was not infeasible and the problem of the Charter had been eliminated by the Minister.

The debate about a possible new faculty continued as other faculties in both universities squabbled over the spoils which the merger offered. Problems cropped up immediately. The dean of the School of Divinity in Trinity, Professor Woodhouse, was not very enthusiastic and wanted Chairs of Anglican Theology. His School was in reality only a very small seminary and it lacked the brilliant theologians which both the Catholic and Presbyterian Churches had in people such as Professors MacDonagh, Mackey and Berkeley. Its significance in a new faculty would be considerably diminished.

Catholic theologians faced the problem of how far a new faculty could be ecumenical. Some advocated that Biblical studies should be ecumenical as should Church History and Patristics. All agreed that some subjects would be specifically Catholic such as Natural Law and Dogmatics. The more conservative theologians claimed that there should be two separate lecturing staffs operating jointly and controlled by the two different Churches. All of these different attitudes were to be incorporated into the Irish Theological Association's final proposals which showed how hopelessly split the Irish clergy was on this matter.

The main problem the theologians faced was the huge difficulty of fulfilling the demands of academic freedom while placating the hierarchy. A frequently mooted compromise was that the hierarchy be consulted on the appointment of staff and that it be allowed order its seminarians not to attend the lectures of members of staff of whom they disapproved. This alone would have been an intolerable intrusion into the university but it would at least have been an improvement on the situation in seminaries. But even this solution would have provoked a crisis of authority at frequent intervals for some members of the staff.