Decades of service by countless nuns and priests in education and healthcare are being "almost obliterated by a revised and narrow narrative that religious ethos cannot be good for democracy", Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has said.
He said there was a view that religious ethos stands “against the progress and flourishing of society and the rights of citizens” and that there was a tendency in some public discussion to give the impression that things related to faith were “unconnected with reason”.
“In fact every Catholic position on concrete morals is argued from reason even when there exists a biblical warrant for that position.”
Archbishop Martin was speaking at the University of East Anglia in England on Monday night where he delivered the Newman lecture on The Church in the Public Sphere – a perspective from Ireland.
His comments come after major controversy over the Sisters of Charity being given ownership of the planned new national maternity hospital, prompting calls for a total separation between the Catholic Church and the State.
There has also been a long-running debate over the church’s patronage of more than 90 per cent of the State’s 3,200 primary schools with many parents calling for more options as to where their children are educated.
Archbishop Martin said it was “simply not true that the Catholic Church has a desire to create a theocracy in Ireland, North or South.
“However, the church does expect that in a true pluralist democracy or republic, religion and faith will continue to have an important part to play in the national conversation.”
He was convinced “that the failures of the past must not be allowed to define us, but should instead help all of us in the public sphere learn lessons for the present about where church and society might today be similarly marginalising the poor, stigmatising the unwanted or failing to protect the most vulnerable”.
The role of religion and faith in Irish society, North and South, had been “hugely impacted by secularisation and is evidenced by a steady decline in church attendance and in vocations to the priesthood and religious life,” he said.
"What began as a gradual drift of people away from Mass and the sacraments became a stronger current. . . Like other parts of Europe and the western world, more people in Ireland are living their lives without reference to God or to religious belief," he said.
Archbishop Martin cited the State’s most recent census (2016), which showed the numbers identifying as Catholic had fallen by 132,220 since 2011 and that the numbers declaring no religion had risen by 198,610 in the same period.
The figures, he said, confirmed “that we have moved, or at least are rapidly moving, from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith is one human possibility among others”.