Ireland’s Empire: The long reach of the Hiberno-Catholic faith

Book review: Colin Barr examines the ‘Hiberno-Roman’ takeover of seven other national churches

Cardinal Timothy Dolan makes his way up 5th Avenue during New York City’s St Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17th, 2015. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Cardinal Timothy Dolan makes his way up 5th Avenue during New York City’s St Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17th, 2015. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In 2002, at the height of the clerical abuse scandal, Michael McDowell, then minister of justice, said canon law had no more legal status than the rules of a golf club. To develop an analogy, even historians of religion sometimes find ecclesiastical history akin to being cornered by the club bore.

Its preeminent concerns are bishops and bureaucracies, not belief and believers; it is about the administration of the club, how different factions got their men on to the officer board, their improvement of facilities – but seldom about the game itself. Women barely feature and scandals are not laid bare. Too often, the club appears in splendid isolation from society and there is little serious reflection on its institutional culture.

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