St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day this year is in Holy Week, and the Catholic church is reminding the faithful, Irish and otherwise, that the commemoration of St. Patrick has therefore been moved to a different date. Bishops are reminding them that Holy Week is an inappropriate time for parties. Some places are going ahead with parades and festivities on March 17 regardless, with Boston insisting on having its parade on Palm Sunday. Anthony Esolen comments at Touchstone.

But this begs the question–are they not missing the forest for the trees? The bishops are focusing on whether or not it’s appropriate to have a drunken festival during Holy Week, and not engaging the bigger question of whether it is appropriate to have any drunken festival. The Catholic liturgical calendar is a human invention; its observance is a matter of obedience to human law, not divine. The bigger question is, should Christians be drinking?

Now there’s a topic no one wants to touch today.


And its prominence among Catholics.

And its prominence among priests.

It’s a major problem.

Its use is assumed to be as normal as drinking water.

Whenever I would attend campus ministry gatherings or the Texas Catholic Conference, we’d always end the day at a bar; there would always be a cash bar available before banquets. Ever conference would announce the time and place of AA groups that would meet during the session.

When there would be a Catholic event in Houston that would draw bishops from around the state or the country (such as the ordination of a bishop), a hospitality room would be set up (at diocesan expense) in a hotel with an open bar–seminarians would be asked to serve as bartenders for the bishops.

As court records show, and as we see again and again in Lee Podles’ book, Sacrilege, abusive priests often won the confidence of their victims by plying them with alcohol and cigarettes.

I supervised priests and deacons for nine years and became acquainted first hand with the problem of clerical alcoholism. A high percentage of the priests with whom I worked were either active alcoholics or were in 12 step groups or had periods of residential treatment in the past.

Returning to the topic of St. Patrick’s Day, I cannot help but recall that the greatest advocate for abstinence from alcohol in the 19th century, perhaps in history, was an Irish priest, Fr. Theobald Mathew, O.F.M.Cap. (1790-1856)–it is said that he administered the pledge to 7,000,000 people in his lifetime.

Where are the Fr. Mathews of our day?

9 thoughts on “St. Patrick’s Day

  1. It would be difficult, I think, for a religion that uses wine in sacred ritual to advocate abstinence. Even if the consecrated wine is not distributed to the people at Communion, the priest must partake of it. An alcoholic priest may use mustum, which is non-alcoholic, but still meets the criteria as a fermented grape product.

    But, your point is an interesting one. Anecdotally, I recognize the seemingly high incidence of alcoholism in priests. I have not noted a higher incidence in the Catholic population as a whole, however. I wonder if there are studies that would prove or disprove that contention.

    Alcoholism is, of course, a disease of addiction. The use of alcohol is the mechanism for the addiction. Since using alcohol is more socially acceptable than, say, heroin use, alcoholism is more frequently seems than heroin addiction. The underlying issue in either case is addiction.

    Additional questions to ask might be-why are so many Catholic clergy suffering from addiction? Why? Are those who are not alcoholics perhaps suffering from another form of addiction? Is addiction, whether to alcohol or something else, a problem among clergy in general, and not just Catholics?

  2. Fr. Matthew’s legacy is alive.
    Celebrations of St. Patrick’s day grew more for nationalistic reasons than religious ones. However St. Patrick is very relevany and remains one of my favourite saints. The shamrocks and just about every story we know about Patrick is hagiography. Patrick’s own writings are the perfectly orthodox words of an early Christian missionary. There are plenty of translations out there. Patrick lived a life of hardship and penance.

  3. Some sociological studies have shown those denominations with the most stringent anti-alcohol rules also have the highest rates of alcoholism…the so-called ‘Forbidden Fruit’ phenomenon. Mormons, I believe, have the highest, and Jews and Catholics are the lowest. There’s an article in the Sociological Quarterly, but I’d have to pay $29.00 to see it and be sure.

    Now, as for alcoholism in the priesthood, that’s more likely a matter of being an escape from various stressful parts of the job, and perhaps, a psychological disposition towards it among those who enter the priesthood. Which is not a good thing at all. And the fact that seminaries don’t watch for it or discuss it is a crime.

  4. Library? What”s that?

    It might be…I’ll have to go check. But we apparently don’t have an online subscription, which makes me wonder if we have it back to 1987 (when the article was published).

  5. Okay, I did some looking an article databases, and the statistic I cited is correct but flawed. Religions and denominations that proscribe drinking have lower rates of alcohol use than those without proscriptions. However, of those in a given denomination who do use alcohol, those who belong to denominations with proscriptions against alcohol have higher rates than those whose denomination gives no proscription.

    So, this is not to say that there is a higher rate of drunk Baptists than drunk Catholics, but rather a higher rate of drunk Baptists who drink than drunk Catholics who drink. But as many more Catholics drink than Baptists, there is a higher rate of alcoholism among the total Catholic population than Baptist population.

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