Irish bishops have history of disunity, says Martin

Sat, Aug 28, 2010, 01:00

IRELAND’S CATHOLIC bishops have “a long history of a lack of unity” the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said, according to an English translation of the address he delivered in Italian at Rimini last Tuesday.

He was speaking there to the annual gathering of lay group Comunione E Liberazione (Communion and Liberation). A translation of his address is now available on the Dublin archdiocese website,

Titled John Henry Newman: Faith and Reason – the Ireland of Newman, the Ireland of Today, it is an approximately 3,000-word reflection “not only on the period and the work of Newman in Dublin, but also on the lessons which we can learn for Irish Catholicism today from Newman’s thought and activity”.

The topic was also chosen in light of the planned beatification of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19th next.

“Newman was invited to be rector of the Catholic University of Ireland by my predecessor Cardinal Paul Cullen,” Dr Martin said, but observed that this “was not exactly a success”.

The Catholic bishops at the time were divided about the feasibility of the university. When it was established and Newman was installed in November 1851 “the Irish bishops were even more divided,” he said.

He commented how it was “interesting to note that the Irish bishops have a long history of a lack of unity, despite Rome’s attempts to impose it. On the question of the Catholic university, Archbishop Murray of Dublin, recognised by all as a saintly person, had no difficulty in publicly disagreeing with the decisions of Rome or, at least, in interpreting the decisions of Rome in a very personalised manner”.

Many parallels could be found “between Newman’s reflections then and those of Pope Benedict XVI today, just as one can find parallels between the cultural context in which Newman found himself and the cultural context in which Ireland lives today,” he said.

Ireland, he said “is undergoing a veritable revolution of its religious culture”. But “many in Ireland and in the church in Ireland have not yet understood the full extent of the cultural change taking place and continue to act as if we were still simply living in a culture with a Catholic majority”.

However “the commitment of priests, such as those in Dublin, must not be overlooked. They are generous, close to the people, respected, supported, and loved by the faithful. They exercise their ministry in a climate in which the debate on the role of faith in Irish society too often tends to be polemical or ideological,” he said.

“The media in general – with some notable exceptions – focus insistently on the sins of the church and the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests.”

Ireland had become “a laicised society”. Some expressions of Irish secularism “have features which are still adolescent”, he said.

This was particularly evident in the debate on education where, despite the role Catholic schools had played “in social integration on a vast scale” and “in the integration of social classes [and] a vast number of immigrants”, there were people who said “these schools are a factor of separation in society and should be abolished or deprived of public funds”.

Ireland needed “both mature secularists and atheists and mature Christians with a solid intellectual formation”, he said.

He was also critical of those “Catholic commentators” who underestimated “the depth of the crisis of faith” and thought “that everything can be solved by simple media strategies”. If this was so “then it would be enough to turn to some guru or other”, he said.

“If, however, the crisis of the church in Ireland is a crisis of faith, it is necessary to turn to the word of God and to persons of true and mature faith,” he said.