Had Rooney made these comments about Muslims, or Jews, she would be denounced by consensus as a far-right extremist. As it is, all she has done is to articulate the acceptable, and accepted, bigotry of her own caste. Say whatever you like about catholics, and the most people will do is maintain a slightly embarrassed, but studied, silence:
Rooney said that hostile culture of Catholic Ireland had “suddenly vanished”. A majority in Ireland now support marriage equality and abortion and view the Catholic church as an “irrelevant” institution that should stay out of discussions about political and civil life….
……Rooney was asked by Der Spiegel magazine if she had endured pushback against her books from Ireland’s “Catholic milieu” similar to that endured in the past by Sinéad O’Connor.
In 1992 the singer was blacklisted after she tore up picture of Pope John Paul II on live US television in protest at clerical sexual abuse, and Catholic institutional structures she said enabled religious prey on children.
Rooney recalled how, as a result, O’Connor was “ostracised in the cultural and social life of Ireland” in the 1990s.
“She was seen as dangerous, at the same time she was very brave and right!” she told Der Spiegel. “People portrayed her as some kind of madwoman for saying things that we now all know are true.”
If you listen really quietly, you can almost hear Mary McAleese nodding along and murmuring “well said”, even as she styles herself as the country’s only true Catholic.
Should the Catholic Church “stay out of political and civil life”? Well, it’s not as if, when taking a priestly vow, a person voluntarily gives up their right to an opinion about legislation, or their vote, or their rights as a citizen. Priests, religious, and lay catholics are citizens with as much right to a say in our democracy as anybody else. Rooney’s complaint, if she (and the many others who share her beliefs) were honest, is that for many decades the public shared the views of the church. Fewer people share those views today. But that is not only true of the church: It is also true, for example, of the Irish Labour Party.
In any democracy, the opinions of the majority will shift, often dramatically, over time. Many ideas which are popular today would have been inconceivable a decade ago, and heretical two decades ago. The issue here is not that Rooney disagrees with the Church on a range of issues, it is that she believes that those views should not even be aired. When she says “stay out of political life”, she means, “shut up”.
But why should a church shut up? Why should any religion shut up? The whole purpose of organised religion, after all, is to provide a moral framework for our lives, and to inform and guide our consciences. That does not entitle a religion to make decisions for a country, but their voice is as legitimate in any democracy as that of any other campaigning group.
As for the rest of her comments, well. Sinead O’Connor was indeed criticised for tearing up a photograph of the Pope on American television, because voters at the time found it to be incredibly disrespectful. Rooney asserts that she was “brave and right” to do so, which is a lot of claptrap. To the extent that Ireland has changed, it was not because Sinead O’Connor tore up a photograph of the Pope on television. But that does sort of sum up the general thrust of Rooney’s belief system, which is that Catholicism is worthy of little other than outright contempt.
The real story here is not what Rooney thinks. It is that these remarks were published without any quibble or criticism by the Irish Times, and other Irish media outlets, because Rooney’s contempt for Catholicism is not remotely controversial, or seen as remotely offensive, by members of her class. It is an entirely acceptable, widely shared, and quietly endorsed prejudice. Similar comments about muslims, as mentioned above, would be considered repulsive even though, of course, the principles involved would be identical. Religious people are either entitled to respect for their views, and full participation in our democracy, or they are not.
So why, then, are such views not considered extremist when expressed about Catholicism? Why is it acceptable to tell catholics to shut up, and to praise the defilement of images of Catholic leaders? Why is this bigotry – and that is what it is – acceptable, when the exact same bigotry about any other group would see you cancelled faster than you could say “normal people”?
The answer is, in short, that Sally Rooney speaks for the Irish Governing Class. She expresses a bigotry which is widely, and openly, held. In this new, “tolerant and compassionate”, Ireland, hatred is just as acceptable as it has ever been, provided it is expressed against the correct people. We all know it. At some stage in the future, our children will condemn it, and disown it. And by then, they themselves will be hating some other group. Perhaps it is the human condition. It would be more tolerable, certainly, if the country was not so relentlessly, self-indulgently, sanctimonious about how it has changed.