Catholic sectarianism frustrated 1916 ideals, says Diarmuid Martin
Dominance of sectarian ethos ‘had negative effects on realisation of ideas of Proclamation’
Marking the anniversary of 1916 outside the GPO: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said: “Michael D Higgins... has noted that the dominance of a sectarian ethos had negative effects on the realisation of the ideas of the Proclamation. That cannot be denied.” File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
“After Independence in the 1920s, the new Irish Free State became more Catholic than the Proclamation had intended. The protectionist Catholic closed culture took roots in broader society and assumed a dominant position in the politics and social policy of the new Irish State,” Archbishop Martin said.
Delivering the St Kilian lecture in Bavaria’s diocese of Wurzburg, Germany, at the weekend, he said “Michael D Higgins, the current President of Ireland, has noted that the dominance of a sectarian ethos had negative effects on the realisation of the ideas of the Proclamation. That cannot be denied.”
Noting how the situation had been “a complex one”, Archbishop Martin recalled how “Catholics began for first time to have access to public office and to important positions in the public administration from which until then they had been largely excluded.
“The mainstream of Irish society at the time was innately socially conservative and such social conservatism took root in society.”
It was also the case that “Catholic institutions that at their original foundation aimed at providing necessary help for the poor, began to assume a monopoly of services in education and health care and social provision. The Church dominated the educational situation of the country.”
The Catholic Church “became increasingly clerical, and the influence of that clerical Church became a prevailing dimension of the Irish State. That closeness produced, inevitably, some very unhealthy results.”
In Ireland “the authoritarian Church seemed to flourish right up to the moment of the Second Vatican Council” in the 1960s. Things “then began to change dramatically” as the “authoritarian monopoly of the Church in the social sphere began to give way to its opposite: a widespread desire to remove the Church from such a position of influence.”
It has remained the case in Ireland that “separation of Church and State is not a hostile one, but it could turn into one and there is a growing number of vocal supporters of a much more hostile relationship”. There were also “elements within the Church who see a Christian presence in a pluralist culture purely in terms of a negative culture war”, he said.
The “good old days of traditional mid-20th century Irish Catholicism may in reality not have (been) so good and healthy after all”, he said. “The sexual abuse scandals have affected the faith of many and at the same time they were an indication of an underlying crisis of faith where the self-protective institution had become in many ways decoupled from the horror which ordinary people rightly felt.
It was also the case that “the emerging post Vatican II new religious culture, with its stress on the role of the laity, found itself once again betrayed by a culture of clerical self-protection”.
Even in the Irish Catholic Church today, “many of the reform movements are still clerically led and still fundamentally clerical in their vision of the Church. They represent an older generation.”
The Church would “have to learn a new manner of being present in society”. It had “to become less narrowly institutional and allow other forms of charismatic presence to animate the Church”.
Attempts to address falling priest numbers were “still priest-centred, rather then focusing on the role of the wider believing community in different forms of leadership”.
This “cannot be inspired by trying to replace priests through laymen and lay women becoming substitute priests”. It required “new ways of ensuring that every member of the Church becomes a missionary disciple of Jesus”, he said.
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