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John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland

Journal of Church and State, Winter, 2001 by Kevin B. Fagan

John Charles McQuaid. Ruler of Catholic Ireland. By John Cooney. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000. 526 pp. $34.95 cloth.

Imagine the "moral majority" in power. Even grant a democratic society. Observe how they elect politicians, enact laws, and abuse the constitution in its text, amendments, and interpretation. Include "moral" always with "majority." Watch how the minority logically becomes defined as "immoral." Their "evils" and "errors" stand little chance of cherishing human, and thence civil, rights. To enhance their authority, allow the "moral majority" a religious, eternal justification, reward, and punishment. Finally, find a leader willing to personify such a moral, religious majority, and you have John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland from 1940 through 1972.

John Cooney's biography is thus a case study in church-state relations where the above hypothesis becomes flesh and blood. McQuaid's lifelong dedication to achieve a "Catholic Ireland," therefore, offers readers a paradigm far beyond the pale of twentieth-century "Dublin's Fair City."

Here, the newly independent Irish Free State had a historical and geographically defined Catholic majority. Prelates, politicians, and people duly enacted laws in accord with their moral principles. Abortion, divorce, contraception, and pornography were all strictly prohibited. Close personal and institutional cooperation between church and state ensured that the constitution, educational system, health benefits, adoption laws, and penal code were all written in accord with "the established beliefs of the majority." The evil enemies of Communism and Liberalism were kept at bay from Erin's shores. Even the Yugoslav soccer team and the performer Jayne Mansfield were not spared the forceful intervention of the moral monopolist McQuaid.

Cooney offers a detailed account of John Charles's--so commonly known in Dublin, by friend and foe--method of government. An extensive spy network assured him of constant confidential reports on all matters of society. A conception of pastors as an aloof, untouchable, otherworldly elite assured them, and him, of pedestal power, prestige, and fear. Scandal was silenced. Divine truth and morality had no need for either public debate or press scrutiny. Woe to the dissenting cleric! Intimidation or demotion waited. The laity's role was simple: pray, pay, and obey.

Nonetheless, this book remains mainly journalistic, with an odd touch of partisan overkill. A deeper theological, legal, and moral perspective looks longer. A historical theologian sees McQuaid as heir to Pio Nono's view of Catholic ghetto integralism: one unchangeable church with sole teachers of faith and morality, the hierarchy. In the realm of law, the archbishop's monarchical arrogance was merely a scrupulous application of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Finally, serious questions linger over John Charles's probable knowledge, coverup, and lack of civil redress in several cases of clerical abuse of adolescents and sisters' mistreatment of infants, especially in church orphanages either founded or supervised by McQuaid. Why was the law of the land not used to defend vulnerable children, the first in the Kingdom of God?

KEVIN B. FAGAN Texas Tech University Lubbock, Texas;col1