Forbidden Fruit: Life and Catholicism in Contemporary Ireland

by Declan Henry

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


The author brings to us his excellent skills in the area of sociology. He has been a sociologist since 1993 and in this book uses that wisdom to present to the reader the clarification of what it means to be a Catholic Irishman. The book has as its purpose “the coming to terms with our historically tortured Irish identity”. There are two ideas to investigate: the first idea is acceptance. The acceptance, totally without rancor of the fact that Father Lynch (forward) was and millions like him were, for most of their lives sexual outlaws in the land of their birth. No change in legislation could erase this indelible mark of alienation. In light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is commonplace. But this does not mean that we can ever or have ever been complacent. The second idea is of equal power; that one must never, in one’s own life accept injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. The fight begins in the heart and is laid to our charge that as soon as we set out on the road of seeking justice of any kind that we are duty-bound to keep our own hearts free of hatred and despair. Declan Henry knows from history that we need to question everything. He notes that it is really quite impossible to be affirmative about anything which one refuses to question, one is doomed to remain inarticulate about anything which one hasn’t by the act of imagination, made one’s own with the people in which people may exchange their views and experiences, in which uncertainties may be voiced. A Church was questions may remain unanswered, a Church that does not dodge the issues. A Church that is strengthened by faith in the Lord. “Why are you afraid, you people of little faith?” Before the sharing of Bread, comes the sharing of life, a sharing of time, patience, knowing and serving. The book is called “Forbidden Fruit” as it all started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they had forbidden sex. Ever since then the world has quibbled about sex but none more so than the Irish Catholic Church. The fruit that grew in isolation from all others was found in the LGBTQ community—a group of unrecognized beings who lived in a world that greeted them with little welcome. When sex stopped being a sin in Ireland, sex outside of marriage became normal behavior, unmarried motherhood lost its stigma, decriminalization resulted in the LGBTQ community becoming fully visible. In the meantime, the secular society is seeing the fruits of the Church as somewhat sour. In fact, the apathy toward the Church is at a boiling point. The Church has failed to see how irrelevant it has become. Likewise, there has been a shift in the school system as parents don’t need to bring the Baptismal certificate in order to register their children for school which again reiterates the lack of power of religion. As has been reported in the popular press teachers often misused their power and the profession contained its share of psychopaths who seemingly liked inflicting pain on young people, but this too began to get challenged and discussed in wider society. Corporal punishment was banned in Irish schools in 1982 and in 1996 it became a criminal offense to hit children. The author tells us many stories of being gay and in the clergy. He states: “What angers me the most is how the Catholic Church denounces homosexuality as if it is a problem outside of itself. The damage the Church has done and continues to do to gay people is shocking. This denial and hypocrisy are absurd”. In the next chapter, the author tells us the story of men who wanted to become a priest. He states: “In past times the reasons for joining the priesthood include spiritual motives for young males who were pious and felt a calling.” It had status and social standing. It was also good to avoid marriage if you were gay or if you wanted to receive a good education. The author continues with stories of clergy who were devoted to their vocation and their Church. He also tells the stories of gay priests who struggle to be good at their vocation as well as those who don’t. There are stories of pedophile priests and how they ruined the lives of those they molested. The author presents in a fair and sociological manner so that the readers can figure out for themselves how the story impacts them. In the last chapter on the future Church, the author reports from priests in the diocese. He states that the agenda needs to have an ethos of power and control handed back to the people, more volunteers need to be recruited, priests and bishops need to be community elected, compulsory celibacy needs to be discussed, women deacons need to be encouraged, more emphasis on divine revelation through the Scriptures. The book has some recommended reading and understanding of what needs to be the direction of those following the Holy Spirit. This is a book that is well written and documented with stories of importance to all followers.

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