John Waters’s career in Irish journalism lasted for more than 30 highly successful years before he quit what he thinks has become an “ideological cesspit”. Waters is now one of the country’s “last men standing” in defending the Catholic faith, though he is unsparing in his criticism of the Irish Church. His new book Give Us Back the Bad Roads will be published this month.

With the dust settling on the referendums that took a wrecking ball to Catholic Ireland, I wanted to ask Waters to survey the ruins. We had the following exchange over email.

Chesterton once wrote that a religion is dead “when it has ceased to dwell on the positive and happy side of its visions, and thinks only of the stern or punitive side”. Does this description fit the fate of Irish Catholicism, at least in part?

JOHN WATERS In part, yes. In the post-famine period, the Church was forced into the role of moral government and required to restore order in what had become a deeply chaotic situation. One of the legacies of this is that the moralistic note became dominant in Irish Catholicism. In truth, we were told very little about the joyousness of the Christian proposal. We were never taught to connect Christianity with the wonder and mystery and glory of life. We just assumed that reality was some dark and forbidding state that was ameliorated by the prospect of the next life. Nobody told us that eternity had actually begun.

Do you see any figures emerging from the clergy and hierarchy in Ireland who might explain Catholicism better, who might take the fight back to the people in that way?

JW There are a couple of bishops now who offer some hope, but they appear to be oppressed by the collegiality of mediocrity that defines the episcopal whole. They are thoughtful and intelligent and wise, but they need to take their courage in their hands and help us to wrest the Church from the grasp of the mediocrities.

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