Constitutional blasphemy clause ‘largely obsolete’, Bishops decide

Rights of religious communities to engage in public debate must be respected, conference states

The Bishops acknowledged the “anger and dismay” of people in response to reports of widespread clerical sex abuse of children. Photograph: iStock

The Bishops acknowledged the “anger and dismay” of people in response to reports of widespread clerical sex abuse of children. Photograph: iStock

 

The provision against blasphemy in the Irish Constitution is “largely obsolete”, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has said ahead of a referendum to remove it later this month.

The Bishops’ Autumn Conference, which concluded on Wednesday, stated the reference to blasphemy in 40.6.1 (i) of the Constitution may give rise to concern “because of the way such measures have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world”.

The Conference stated the promotion of religious freedom and freedom of conscience “greatly increases the social fabric of a country.”

However, it added the right of religious communities to contribute to public debate without been attacked or ridiculed “needs to be acknowledged and respected”.

“Bishops stressed that it is vital to ensure that the rights of individuals and communities to practice and live out their faith openly are protected by our law,” a statement from the Conference read.

“In this context bishops, once again, expressed their solidarity with Christians and all those throughout the world who are currently experiencing persecution, and human rights abuses, because of their faith or beliefs.”

The conference also acknowledged the “anger and dismay” of people in response to reports of widespread clerical sex abuse of children in several countries and the subsequent cover-ups.

In August, as Pope Francis made his first visit to Ireland, a US grand jury found that more than 1,000 children in six American dioceses had been molested by 300 Catholic priests over the past 70 years while senior church officials took steps to cover it up.

The grand jury said it believed the “real number” of abused children there might be “in the thousands”.

“Despite the many reports and serious findings on this subject here in Ireland in recent years, these overseas reports were nonetheless shocking,” the Bishops said.

The Conference welcomed the decision of Pope Francis to call the presidents of Bishops’ Conferences to a meeting in Rome next February to review the safeguarding of children in the Church.

The Bishops also thanked the “thousands of parish-based volunteers” in Ireland who operate child safe-guarding systems at local level. This “commitment and vigilance to safeguarding children greatly underpins public confidence in the Church’s role in this area,” the Conference said.

The Conference also thanked those involved in the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland during the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) this summer.

“Feedback to bishops from pilgrims who attended - from home and abroad - was that their experience was faith-filled and that families greatly enjoyed the WMOF celebrations which started at local diocesan level and continued over five days at a national level,” the conference statement read.