Archbishop queries lack of progress on Church-State covenant

Diarmuid Martin warns against ‘cultural warriors of certainty’ becoming a source of division

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.


A lack of progress on developing a new covenant between Church and State, as spoken of by the Taoiseach in his address to Pope Francis last August, has been raised by Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.

He recalled how last August Leo Varadkar “expressed the belief that ‘that the time has now come for us to build a new relationship between Church and State in Ireland - a new covenant for the 21st Century’”.

“He spoke about an Ireland ‘in which religion is no longer at the centre of our society, but in which it still has an important place’,” the Archbishop said.

However, he added that “so far no progress has been made by the Government” in developing the idea.

While Brexit was taking up a lot of politicians’ time, the Archbishop said “this does not mean that this dialogue is not important not just for the interests of churches and Government, but rather for the good of Irish society”.

He said such dialogue would “involve a change in the attitude of our churches. I do not believe that people have a true sense of the crisis of faith that exists in Ireland”.

The Archbishop was speaking in a wide-ranging address on ‘The Church of the Future’ on Tuesday which marked the 175th anniversary of St Michael’s Church of Ireland Church at Pery Square in Limerick.

Dr Martin said a reduction in the number of Catholic dioceses in Ireland was “necessary, as is the revision of the arcane workings of the Irish Episcopal Conference”. Currently there are 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland.

Comfort zones

The Archbishop said one of his own fears about the future of the church in Ireland was that “in the fear of change some people will seek to find comfort zones where they can feel the support of the likeminded and not open themselves to the challenge of change,” he said.

“Hiding fearfully in what can appear to be tradition is a great temptation. It is not necessarily the message of Jesus Christ, ” he said.

“Cultural warriors of certainty” can become “a source of division and partiality and polarisation and can in their own way manipulate church leadership into a certain sympathy with them and into taking wrong decisions,” he said.

Where the Catholic Church was concerned “a major challenge for the future...lies in the area women’s issues and of sexual morality where the church’s teaching is either not understood or is simply rejected as out of tune with contemporary culture,” he said.

In Ireland the Catholic Church was “coming out of one of its most difficult moments in its history and the light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off,” he said.

It would “have to live with the fruits of its actions and is inaction and with the grief of its past, which can and should never be forgotten or overlooked. There is no simple way of wiping the slate of the past clean, just to ease our feelings. Yet the Catholic Church in Ireland cannot be imprisoned in its past,” he said.