Church of Ireland sectarianism row ‘no bad thing’ says former judge

Catherine McGuinness says controversy sparked by Archbishop Michael Jackson will combat complacency, but that she has never heard term ‘polyester Protestants’

Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness has welcomed recent criticism of sectarianism within the Church of Ireland by Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough Michael Jackson.

However, she said she had never heard the term “polyester Protestants” to describe those who were members of the church by conviction.

Ms Justice McGuinness, who is chancellor of the Church of Ireland dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, said the controversy which had followed Archbishop Jackson’s recent sectarianism remarks was “no bad thing” as it was “likely to disturb comfort and complacency among the members of the Church of Ireland”.

Speaking in Dublin on Saturday at the agm of Changing Attitude Ireland, a Church of Ireland pro-gay group of which she is patron, she said the main theme of Archbishop Jackson’s message “is that Church of Ireland people are unwilling to fully accept outsiders into their flock”.


While there were “many notable exceptions it is not rare for gays, lesbians and transgender people to find the Church of Ireland a cold enough house”, she said.

She noted how Archbishop Jackson, in his presidential address to the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan synods on October 15th, used "human sexuality as a metaphor in his discussion of diversity" and lamented "the arrogance and triumphalism which dominated [same-sex] discussions in the General Synod of 2012".

She quoted from that address: "In many ways, the trench warfare of human sexuality has become the place where we have both contrived and fed 'the clash of civilisations' among ourselves. Incredibly, we have become content to dechristianise one another in the cause of truth as we obsessively define and refine it. Time after time, we neither listen nor learn."

'Encouragingly reasoned'
She pointed out that "contemporaneously with this controversy in the media concerning sectarianism in all its forms, a discussion document called Living Diversity had been published in Dublin and Glendalough". She said the document, subtitled A Dublin and Glendalough Contribution to Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief, was "encouragingly reasoned and thoughtful . . . There was little to be seen of rejection or sectarianism".

Speaking to The Irish Times Ms Justice McGuinness said she had never heard the term polyester Protestants. "I don't know where that phrase came from, I never heard it." she said.

Archbishop Jackson had said the term was being used “in a prestigious institution in Dublin suburbia . . . by cradle members of the Church of Ireland to describe those who became members of the Church of Ireland through conviction”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times