The Best Catholics in the World

The Best Catholics in the World

The Irish, the Church and the End of a Special Relationship


The Number One Bestseller

Shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards 2021

'A great achievement . . . Brilliant, engaging and essential' Colm Tóibín

'At once intimate and epic, this is a landmark book' Fintan O'Toole

When Dubliner Derek Scally goes to Christmas Eve Mass on a visit home from Berlin, he finds more memories than congregants in the church where he was once an altar boy. Not for the first time, the collapse of the Catholic Church in Ireland brings to mind the fall of another powerful ideology - East German communism. While Germans are engaging earnestly with their past, Scally sees nothing comparable going on in his native land. So he embarks on a quest to unravel the tight hold the Church had on the Irish.

He travels the length and breadth of Ireland and across Europe, going to Masses, novenas, shrines and seminaries, talking to those who have abandoned the Church and those who have held on, to survivors and campaigners, to writers, historians, psychologists and many more. And he has probing and revealing encounters with Vatican officials, priests and religious along the way.

The Best Catholics in the World is the remarkable result of his three-year journey. With wit, wisdom and compassion Scally gives voice and definition to the murky and difficult questions that face a society coming to terms with its troubling past. It is both a lively personal odyssey and a resonant and gripping work of reporting that is a major contribution to the story of Ireland.

'Reflective, textured, insightful and original ... rich with history, interrogation and emotional intelligence' Diarmaid Ferriter, Irish Times

'An unblinking look at the collapse of the Church and Catholic deference in Ireland. Excellent and timely' John Banville, The Sunday Times

'Engaging and incisive' Caelainn Hogan, author of Republic of Shame

'Remarkable ... Essential reading for anyone concerned about history and forgetting' Michael Harding

'Fair-minded ... thoughtful' Melanie McDonagh, The Times

'Very pacey and entertaining ... and it changed how I regard Ireland and our history for good. Fantastic' Oliver Callan

'Original, thought-provoking and very engaging' Marie Collins

'A provocative insight into a time that many would rather forget' John Boyne

Mary McAleese

'Explores this subject in a way that I've never seen before' Hugh Linehan, Irish Times


  • An extraordinary story ... At once intimate and epic, this is a landmark book
    Fintan O'Toole

About the author

Derek Scally

Derek Scally has written for the Irish Times since 2000. He is based in Berlin. His first book, The Best Catholics in the World, was a number one bestseller and was shortlisted for Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2021.
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