Sectarianism 'alive and well' in Dublin, says Church of Ireland archbishop

Archbishop Michael Jackson says he is slow to agree 'the bad old days' are behind us

Sectarianism is "alive and well" in Dublin, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, has said.

Speaking at a colloquium in Trinity College Dublin at the weekend, he said: "My own experience since returning to work in Dublin is that sectarianism, although polite in speech and smile, is alive and well in instinct and in prejudice. It is for this reason that I am particularly slow to agree that 'the bad old days' are behind us."

Dr Jackson was elected Archbishop of Dublin in February 2011.

He told the colloquium on Remembering Vatican II – Some Anglican Perspectives that he was cautious about "too ready criticism of the Irish reception of Vatican II" as he was "well aware of a deep-running psychological trait in the Church of Ireland of my youth which overlapped with Vatican II".

'Self-granted status'
In the Church of Ireland "many were content to see the Roman Catholic Church as holding a moral monopoly right across Ireland and many in the Roman Catholic Church and in society were happy to be beneficiaries of this self-granted status.

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“With a degree of self-indulgent cynicism, sections of the Church of Ireland were happy to use this as a moral backdrop while rejoicing to trumpet their difference . . .”

He added: “I simply ask the question of those from the Republic of Ireland: How different really was it in those days?”

Developments in Ireland following Vatican II were “hard won” and “there have been many tragedies of innocent expectation along the way. There are landmines of trust betrayed, roadblocks of prejudices strengthened,” he said.

Genuine achievements “must never be swept out on the tide of anxiety and revulsion which has been engendered by child sex abuse. It is not a creation of the post-Vatican II era.”

The downside of any moral monopoly “is always societal and professional collusion at all levels, not only the clerical one”, he said.

"However, when theocracy is added to monopoly there are very specific opportunities for clericalism to flourish to the detriment of the church and the society."

'Patience of lay people'
Referring to Vatican II's broad vision of the people of God, he said: "To an Anglican such as myself, I marvel at the patience of lay people in the Roman Catholic tradition."

He found himself asking similar questions of his own tradition. Theologically he was “left pondering the depth of influence of both Calvinism and Jansenism to this very day on the traditions of Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism in Ireland, those twins of the Reformation and post-Reformation era, so attractive in cold theological climates”.

Speaking at the same event, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he believed the time was ripe in Ireland for a review “of where we are in our ecumenical relations. We need to do so in order to understand better the path forward.”

There was, he said, “a wide awareness of the fact that the relationship between the two archbishops here in Dublin is one of friendship”. He had been “greatly supported in difficult moments in my ministry” by two Anglican archbishops.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times