Christianity and marginalised people


Sir, – John Scally writes that, “if our Christianity is to regain its credibility it must forge a new alliance with the deprived and marginalised” (“Christianity must forge a new alliance with deprived and marginalised people”, Rite & Reason, September 25th). Of course the greatest cruelties imposed by the church were on the poor and the marginalised in residential institutions, Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes, so it is setting itself a hard task.

Dr Scally writes that, “talk is cheap. The real litmus test of the success or otherwise of the (papal) visit will be if there any practical steps taken to address the atrocities perpetrated on vulnerable people, generally women, and innocent children.”

Of course the wealthy orders that ran the residential institutions have yet to pay many millions in compensation, as they had promised to do. The religious orders that ran the Magdalene laundries, where the first act was often to strip the women of their identity – and some women in an excavated mass grave were never identified – maintain to this day that they were simply providing a service to the State. They took the decision not to pay one cent in compensation to their former inmates.

I am still waiting for one of our bishops in their rich medieval garb to publicly encourage them to do the decent thing by their victims. I could be waiting a long time. But even worse, many of those religious orders are still imparting the moral values on our children in publicly funded schools under their control. But what goes around comes around. People in deprived areas soon realised they did not have to go to Mass, so they stopped going. Sure, they still follow the social culture of baptism and first communion for their children but when it comes to funerals, the congregation are so unfamiliar with Mass that the priest must tell them when to stand, kneel and sit. Some middle-class areas are not all that far behind them.

The images of Pope Francis with Br Kevin were indeed heart-warming but were overshadowed by many other images of contented men in medieval garb of red and purple, silk and satin and lace, all supposedly representing the church of the poor, but all looking as powerful and wealthy as Renaissance princes. Had they been Martians, it is doubtful if they would have made any less connection with most of Br Kevin’s clientele.

That is the scale of the church’s challenge in connection with the poor. So good luck, Dr Scally, in trying to win back the poor and the marginalised back to the church. But, for our men in red and purple Renaissance garb, this task will run a very poor second to their principal objectives, which are retaining control and influence over education, health and Irish society in general. It is a battle they are losing, of course, but one they will never give up – especially to concentrate on serving the poor. – Yours, etc,


Portmarnock, Co Dublin.