Not for the first time in its history, Ireland is going to extremes. After centuries in which the island was synonymous with staunch Catholic piety, the republic seems to be undergoing a process of secularization as rapid as any in recorded history. If the Catholic Church’s worst fears are realized, Ireland could soon be one of Europe’s least religious countries.
Clergy abuse scandals have done much to drive religious change. Over the past two decades, repeated investigations have revealed extensive and systematic sexual abuse in the church as a whole and in particular dioceses, such as in Tuam, Cloyne and Dublin itself. The diocese of Ferns, the subject of a scathing 2005 report, earned the media label of “the devil’s diocese.” In 2009 the national Child Abuse Commission exposed decades of molestation and violence in Catholic-run schools and institutions.