By SARAH LYALL
Published: September 17, 2011
DUBLIN — Even as it remains preoccupied with its struggling economy, Ireland is in the midst of a profound transformation, as rapid as it is revolutionary: it is recalibrating its relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that has permeated almost every aspect of life here for generations.
This is still a country where abortion is against the law, where divorce became legal only in 1995, where the church runs more than 90 percent of the primary schools and where 87 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic. But the awe, respect and fear the Vatican once commanded have given way to something new — rage, disgust and defiance — after a long series of horrific revelations about decades of abuse of children entrusted to the church’s care by a reverential populace.
While similar disclosures have tarnished the Vatican’s image in other countries, perhaps nowhere have they shaken a whole society so thoroughly or so intensely as in Ireland. And so when the normally mild-mannered prime minister, Enda Kenny, unexpectedly took the floor in Parliament this summer to criticize the church, he was giving voice not just to his own pent-up feelings, but to those of a nation.
His remarks were a ringing declaration of the supremacy of state over church, in words of outrage and indignation that had never before been used publicly by an Irish leader.
“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposed an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry into a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago,” Mr. Kenny said, referring to the Cloyne Report, which detailed abuse and cover-ups by church officials in southern Ireland through 2009.