Church and State – positives and negatives

The first 100 years of the State

A chara, – Diarmaid Ferriter helpfully reminds us that this State formally came into existence on December 6th, 1922, and mentions some of the aspects of the past 100 years (“Were the first 100 years of the State a success or failure?”, Opinion & Analysis, December 2nd).

He concludes: “Reaching the stage of wisdom remains the challenge for the next century of statehood, but that must also involve grasping the reality of the first century, in all its guises.” Amen to that!

His article included the seemingly almost mandatory swipe: “the power of the Catholic Church and rigid class divisions were suffocating.”

I have no illusions that the Catholic Church was (nor is) without fault. I have personal experience of this.


Apart from individual positive references, like the Creeslough tragedy, the most frequent allusion to the Catholic Church particularly in Ireland speaks of an organisation of overwhelmingly malign influence.

As an historian, Diarmaid Ferriter is aware that power can be used for both good and ill. While any one article cannot cover every aspect, surely “the reality of the first century, in all its guises” must include the realities to which the then-taoiseach Leo Varadkar, welcoming Pope Francis on August 24th, 2018, referred: “People of profound Christian faith . . . founded our oldest hospitals, staffed them, and provided welfare for so many of our people . . . It is easy to forget that the Irish State, founded in 1922, did not set up a Department of Health or a Department of Social Welfare until 1947 . . . Providing healthcare, education and welfare is now considered a core function of our State. When the State was founded, it was not. The Catholic Church filled that gap to the benefit of many generations of our people. We remain profoundly grateful for that contribution.”

The positive of reality, of course, does not cancel the negative; but neither must the negative cancel the positive. – Is mise,


Dublin 16.