After the Irish debacle

George Weigel

I wasn’t surprised by the result of Ireland’s May 25 referendum, which opened a path to legal abortion in the Emerald Isle by striking down a pro-life amendment to the Irish Constitution. Nor was I all that surprised by the large margin of victory racked up by those for whom an unborn child isn’t “one of us;” both the government and the virulently anti-Catholic Irish media put heavy thumbs onto the scales as the debate over the referendum unfolded. So with Ireland having joined the Gadarene rush into legalizing the dictatorship of relativism, what next?

Amend the Irish Constitution again. Ireland’s constitution begins with a preamble that now seems, at the very least, ironic: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred…” Having long ago jettisoned in practice the bit about God’s judgment on “men and States,” Ireland has now made it clear, by a 66 percent supermajority, that it does not recognize the “authority” of “the Most Holy Trinity” in terms of either divine law (see Exodus 20:13) or the natural moral law God inscribed in creation, which teaches us that innocent human life is not to be willfully taken and deserves cultural and legal protection.

Ireland has been a post-Christian society for decades. The effects of de-Christianization and ecclesiophobia were painfully evident in the aggressive tone of pro-abortion advocates during the pre-referendum debate and by the referendum’s results. So why not stop the charade and delete from the Constitution an affirmation belied by both contemporary custom and Irish law?

Protect the dissenters. Before and immediately after the referendum, the totalitarian passions of some of the pro-abortion forces were on display in TwitterWorld. Their target was the Iona Institute, a think-tank led by one of Ireland’s leading Catholic layman, David Quinn. Anticipating victory on May 25, columnist Barbara Scully tweeted the day before, “Once we’re done repealing the 8th [i.e., the pro-life amendment to the Constitution], can we repeal The Iona Institute? They serve no useful purpose. Any why do we need to listen to their views every time we need to make a social change. Why do they have such an amplified voice?” The morning after her side won, another columnist, Alison O’Connor, gnawed the same rotten bone, tweeting, “Is it too soon to ask just who are the Iona Institute? Where do they get their cash? Who appointed them guardians of our nether region morals? Did we hear far too much from one small (& we now know hugely unrepresentative) group over the last months?”

Thus speaketh the thought police. So the friends of democracy in Ireland had better think quickly about providing robust legal protection for heroes like David Quinn and other pro-life stalwarts who fought the good fight, lost, and will now try through persuasion to limit the damage that will follow the repeal of the pro-life amendment. If their voices are squelched by thuggish cultural pressures, or even by law, Irish democracy will become a pathetic joke.

Take bold steps to rebuild Irish Catholicism. Whatever polling data tells us about the percentage of the pro-abortion vote being an anti-Church vote, it’s been obvious for over a decade that, with a few exceptions, the Irish bishops are incapable of leading the re-evangelization of the country. Their credibility has been shattered by abuse cover-ups. The strategy of kowtowing to political correctness and bending to cultural pressure, which too many Irish bishops have adopted, has been a complete failure.

In December 2011, after meeting in Dublin with legislators of both major political parties, journalists, serious lay Catholics, and the country’s most accomplished theologian, I sent a memo to friends in Rome, arguing that radical measures were needed to turn things around in Irish Catholicism: retiring most of the then-sitting bishops; shrinking the number of Irish dioceses by at least half; and appointing new bishops for Ireland from throughout the Anglosphere – the principal criterion for selection being a man’s demonstrated capacity as an evangelist. Ireland, I wrote, was mission territory. It needed missionary bishops. And if native-born Irishmen could once become bishops in the U.S., why couldn’t American bishops known to be effective evangelists be sent to Ireland today?

My analysis, I fear, was correct. The drastic measures needed to rebuild Irish Catholicism remain to be implemented.

Featured Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

COMING UP: Swole.Catholic helps people strengthen body and soul

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

St. Augustine once said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

Humans are both body and soul and both must be strengthened. This is the reason for the existence of Swole.Catholic, a group of people who dedicate themselves to nurturing their soul while strengthening their body, and through their ministry, motivate others to do the same.

According to Paul McDonald, founder of Swole.Catholic, they focus on encouraging faithful fitness. “We must take care of our temple of the Holy Spirit, because our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” he said.

McDonald solidified the idea of faith and fitness when he was a sophomore in college. While “going through a huge moment in my life, at the same time I was really learning about the gym and learning ethical statements on my own. Both things clicked together,” he told the Denver Catholic. As a young guy, he started bible studies, and in those studies, he always had an analogy back to the gym.

He decided to make shirts for him and the guys in the bible study during his senior year. The shirts ended up becoming good conversation starters, and he decided he needed to do something with it — evangelize and motivate others to take care of their body and soul.

Thus Swole.Catholic was born. “Swole” is a slang term for bulking one’s muscles up from going to the gym, and of course, the Catholic part is self-explanatory — not only because of the Church but also for our faith and how it defines us in all we do. Swole.Catholic launched officially in Jan 2017.

The ministry consists of a website which provides resources to helps people with Catholic gyms, Catholic workouts, Catholic trainers, podcasts as well as workout wear.

The workout wear works as an evangelization tool. The word “Catholic” is printed on the front of the shirts and a bible verse is placed on the back.

“This raises questions or interest in others. It also works as a reminder of the purpose of the workout,” McDonald said. He added, “Most of the gyms we are going to have mirrors and all that, making you focus into yourself.” But the real purpose of the workout, as the members of Swole.Catholic say, is to strengthen your body and soul to live a healthy life.

Swole.Catholic also has rosary bands, a simple decade wrist band that people can wear while they workout and be flipped off at any time to pray a quick decade.

“Because everyone’s faith journey is different and everyone’s fitness journey is different, what we are trying to do is connect people with people [for them] to be able to have the correct support with their faith and fitness,” McDonald said.

That is why Swole.Catholic now has outposts around the country, with passionate Catholic members who love to help and inspire others in the fitness world while pursuing God in everything they do.

“Each one has its own flavor,” McDonald said. “In Florida we have a rosary run group where a bunch of girls meet up and pray rosary while they go for a run.” Among the outposts, there is also a group of guys in North Dakota who do a bible study and lift together. Similar to these two groups, members from other states have formed their own Catholic fitness groups and are now part of Swole.Catholic, including in Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and Wyoming and more.

“We encourage faithful fitness,” McDonald concluded. “We think your fitness fits in your faith as much as faith fits in your fitness. We are body and soul and we need to be building both.”

To join a group or a workout, visit swolecatholic.com or find them on Facebook.