Saturday, April 27, 2013
How Return to Confession & Catholic Values Made The Irish Good American Citizens and Christians ( Dagger John )
I have even discovered this excellent piece Archbishop John Hughes of New York even later than Elektratig but I am glad I did. This is a fascinating piece and gosh does it have various lessons that can be applied to groups and problems today.
What I found interesting was while the Archbishop understood that past persecution and treatment by the English by have left the Irish in a horrific situation that was not enough. Neither was just speaking out and working out against anti Catholicism.
Here is a part :
In 1845 Hughes began to face his greatest challenge. That year the potato crop failed completely in Ireland, and the Great Famine struck, lasting until 1849. The worst famine in the history of Western Europe, it brought complete social collapse to Ireland and caused some 2 million Irish to flee to the United States between 1845 and 1860, not primarily for religious freedom and economic opportunity but to reach a place where they might eat. Most arrived at the port of New York after crossing the Atlantic on what they called “the coffin ships.” As Thomas Sowell so vividly describes this journey in Ethnic America, the Irish packed into the holds of cargo ships, with no toilet facilities; filth and disease were rampant. They slept on narrow, closely stacked shelves. Women were so vulnerable to molestation that they slept sitting up. In 1847 about 40,000 died making the voyage, a mortality rate much higher than that of slaves transported from Africa in British vessels of the same period.
In New York they took up residence in homes intended for single families, which were subdivided into tiny apartments. Cellars became dwell-ings, as did attics three feet high, without sunlight or ventilation, where whole families slept in one bed. Shanties sprang up in alleys. Without running water, cleanliness was impossible; sewage piled up in backyard privies, and rats abounded. Cholera broke out constantly in Irish wards. Observers have noted that no Americans before or since have lived in worse conditions than the New York Irish of the mid-nineteenth century.
Hughes harbored no illusions about the newcomers. “Most move on across the country—those who have some means, those who have industrious habits,” he observed; “on the other hand, the destitute, the disabled, the broken down, the very young, and the very old, having reached New York, stay. Those who stay are predominantly the scattered debris of the Irish nation.” Lost in a land where many didn’t want them, violent, without skills, the Irish were in need of rescue. This was Hughes’s flock, and he was prepared to be their rescuer.
New York’s Irish truly formed an underclass; every variety of social pathology flourished luxuriantly among them. Family life had disintegrated. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, an exiled Irish political radical, wrote in The Nation in 1850: “In Ireland every son was a boy and a daughter a girl till he or she was married. They were considered subjects to their parents till they became parents themselves. In America boys are men at sixteen. . . . If [the] family tie is snapped, our children become our opponents and sometimes our worst enemies.” McGee saw that the lack of stable family relationships was fatally undermining the Irish community.
The immigrants crowded into neighborhoods like Sweeney’s Shambles in the city’s fourth ward and Five Points in the sixth ward (called the “bloody sixth” for its violence), which Charles Dickens toured in the forties and pronounced “loathsome, drooping, and decayed.” In The New York Irish, Ronald Bayor and Timothy Meagher report that besides rampant alcoholism, addiction to opium and laudanum was epidemic in these neighborhoods in the 1840s and 1850s. Many Irish immigrants communicated in their own profanity-filled street slang called “flash talk”: a multi-day drinking spree was “going on a bender,” “cracking a can” was robbing a house. Literate English practically disappeared from ordinary conversation.
An estimated 50,000 Irish prostitutes, known in flash talk as “nymphs of the pave,” worked the city in 1850, and Five Points alone had as many as 17 brothels. Illegitimacy reached strato-spheric heights—and tens of thousands of abandoned Irish kids roamed, or prowled, the city’s streets. Violent Irish gangs, with names like the Forty Thieves, the B’boys, the Roach Guards, and the Chichesters, brought havoc to their neighborhoods. The gangs fought one another and the nativists—but primarily they robbed houses and small businesses, and trafficked in stolen property. Over half the people arrested in New York in the 1840s and 1850s were Irish, so that police vans were dubbed “paddy wagons” and episodes of mob violence in the streets were called “donnybrooks,” after a town in Ireland.
Death was everywhere. In 1854 one out of every 17 people in the sixth ward died. In Sweeney’s Shambles the rate was one out of five in a 22-month period. The death rate among Irish families in New York in the 1850s was 21 percent, while among non-Irish it was 3 percent. Life expectancy for New York’s Irish averaged under 40 years. Tuberculosis, which Bishop Hughes called the “natural death of the Irish immigrants,” was the leading cause of death, along with drink and violence.
Inflamed by this spectacle of social ruin, nativist sentiment grew and took a nastier, racist turn, no longer attacking primarily the superstition and priestcraft of the Catholic religion but rather the genetic inferiority of the Irish people. Gifted diarist and former mayor George Templeton Strong, for example, wrote that “the gorilla is superior to the Celtic in muscle and hardly their inferior in a moral sense.” In the same vein, Harper’s in 1851 described the “Celtic physiognomy” as “simian-like, with protruding teeth and short upturned noses.” Cel-ebrated cartoonist Thomas Nast constantly depicted the Irish as closely related to apes, while Orson and Lorenzo Fowler’s New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and James Redfield’s Outline of a New System of Physiognomy gave such ideas the color of science.
By 1850 the New York City lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) was filled with Irish, most of them probably hallucinating alcoholics. Doctors of the day had a different view, speculating that insanity grew from degeneracy and violation of the moral law. Compounding the problem, according to Ralph Parsons, superintendent of the asylum, the Irish were people of exceptionally bad habits. They were, he said, of “a low order of intelligence, and very many of them have imperfectly developed brains. When such persons become insane, the prognosis is unfavorable.”
Hughes’s solution for his flock’s social ills was to re-spiritualize them. He wanted to bring about an inner, moral transformation in them, which he believed would solve their social problems in the end. He put the ultimate blame for their condition squarely on the historical oppression they had suffered at the hands of the English, which he said had caused them “to pass away from the faith of their ancestors,” robbing them of the cultural heritage that should have guided their behavior. But that was in the past: now it was time for them to regain what they had lost. So he bought abandoned Protestant church buildings in Irish wards, formed parish churches, and sent in parish priests on a mission of urban evangelization aimed at giving the immigrants a faith-based system of values.
With unerring psychological insight, Hughes had his priests emphasize religious teachings perfectly attuned to re-socializing the Irish and helping them succeed in their new lives. It was a religion of personal responsibility that they taught, stressing the importance of confession, a sacrament not widely popular today—and unknown to many of the Irish who emigrated during the famine, most of whom had never received any religious education. The practice had powerful psychological consequences. You cannot send a friend to confess for you, nor can you bring an advocate into the confessional. Once inside the confessional, you cannot discuss what others have done to you but must clearly state what you yourself have done wrong. It is the ultimate taking of responsibility for one’s actions; and it taught the Irish to focus on their own role in creating their misfortune.
Hughes once remarked that “the Catholic Church is a church of discipline,” and Father Richard Shaw, Hughes’s most recent biographer, believes that the comment gives a glimpse into the inner core of his beliefs. Self-control and high personal standards were the key—and Hughes’s own disciplined labors to improve himself and all those around him, despite constant ill health, embodied this ethic monumentally. Hughes proclaimed the need to avoid sin. His clergy stated clearly that certain conduct was right and other conduct was wrong. People must not govern their lives according to momentary feelings or the desire for instant gratification: they had to live up to a code of behavior that had been developed over thousands of years. This teaching produced communities where ethical standards mattered and severe stigma attached to those who misbehaved.
The priests stressed the virtue of purity, loudly and unambiguously, to both young and old. Sex was sinful outside marriage, no exceptions. Packed together in apartments with sometimes two or three families in a single room, the Irish lived in conditions that did not encourage chastity or even basic modesty. Women working in the low-paid drudgery of domestic service were tempted to work instead in the saloons of Five Points, which often led to a life of promiscuity or prostitution. The Church’s fierce exhortations against promiscuity, with its accompanying evils of out-of-wedlock births and venereal disease, took hold. In time, most Irish began to understand that personal responsibility was an important component of sexual conduct.
Since alcohol was such a major problem for his flock, Hughes—though no teetotaler himself—promoted the formation of a Catholic abstinence society. In 1849 he accompanied the famous Irish Capuchin priest, Father Theobald Mathew, the “apostle of temperance,” all around the city as he gave the abstinence pledge to 20,000 New Yorkers.
A religion of discipline, stressing conduct and the avoidance of sin, can be a pinched and gloomy affair, but Hughes’s teaching had a very different inflection. His priests mitigated the harshness with the encouraging Doctrine of the Sacred Heart, which declares that if you keep the commandments, God will be your protector, healer, advisor, and perfect personal friend. To a people despised by many, living in desperate circumstances, with narrow economic possibilities, such a teaching was a bulwark against anger, despair, and fear. Hughes’s Catholicism was upbeat and encouraging: if God Almighty was your personal friend, you could overcome.
Of course much of this is out of fashion today and is the talk of "recovering Catholics " Though one can make an argument I think the "recovery " is not all that grand.