Being a Catholic these days can feel like being stuck in an episode of 'Father Ted'
Whatever his aim in writing the book, the result is an impression of an organisation that only occasionally pokes its head out of its ivory tower to deliver increasingly irrelevant edicts to its ever-shrinking audience.
The church is currently experiencing what some of its members believe is the most disruptive and transformative series of events it has undergone since the Reformation. The handling of the various child sex abuse scandals has rocked it to its foundations. The issue of reproductive choice has left many women feeling uncertain about their place in an organisation that wants to deny them control over what happens to their own bodies. Gay people say they feel disenfranchised by its teachings on sexuality.
According to the Ipsos/MRBI 50th anniversary poll published in this newspaper last week, 90 per cent of Irish people still call themselves Catholics, but just over one third go to Mass once a week. One in five does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or that God created the universe. Three quarters would opt to trust their own conscience, rather than turn to the church when making major decisions.
Instead of addressing the factors within the church that have led to this drift, the hierarchy seems to have turned inwards, opting to blame its members for a lack of moral fortitude.
Its overriding preoccupation seems to be with what it refers to as the “secularisation and spiritual desertification” of its own flock.
And yet when it has the opportunity to reach out to a group that may be feeling disenfranchised, it bypasses women, and gay people, and those in families that fall outside the church-approved norm – and invites a bunch of circus performers to the Vatican instead. (I didn’t just make that up – that’s what it did last weekend. Meanwhile, Irish survivors of institutional abuse are still waiting for their invitation.)
The church could take solace from the remarkable statistic that 90 per cent of Irish people still count themselves as belonging to it, in name at least, and it could start looking at ways to make them feel more invested in its future.
But I suspect this is not going to happen any time soon, even despite the promise of its latest venture, a foray into social media.
The news that Pope Benedict XVI is about to launch himself into the Twitterverse – his representatives will be tweeting from @pontifex from next Wednesday – is unlikely to persuade many that the organisation he leads is ready to embrace the modern world.