There’s a little book published in association with RTE (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) in 1986, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl. It started as a series of radio interviews with writers, who then lived up to their job titles by writing up what they’d said. Polly Devlin included in her account a look at the grip the church had on Ireland in the 1950s.
As a social system our Catholic religion constituted a tyranny – not within the confines of our family but certainly outside it. We as a family were brought up in a dispensation that was different from that heavily medieval Catholic one that obtained in the parish…My father had been brought up in an enlightened way so that not only was there no bigotry in our house, there was a real tolerance. The parish, however, was run as a great many Irish parishes were run at that time, by priests who brooked no opposition of any kind. The men were mixed with the office to an intolerable degree, so that if you had any quarrel with the man, as it were, you then had a quarrel with the whole church. Quite often at church on Sunday priests would denounce from the altar things that they had no business denouncing; secular affairs, the parishioners’ own private business. There were of course good priests and there were bad priests; there were priests who did their best and priests who did their worst. For me, it constituted a tyranny, because there was no escape, no court of appeal. They were the people to whom you confessed, but they were also the people who judged you. There was no other tribunal.
It sounds suffocating and horrible beyond endurance. One of the things I hate most about the harassment-abuse is the constant prurient watching and peering and monitoring, the relentless gathering of material for new denunciations from the altar – the pack of slavering strangers with their noses all up in my business. How much worse it must be to have it coming from all-powerful priests.