Church and State – a tangled history


Sir, – I was dismayed to read the comments made recently at a conference in Germany by Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin (News, July 10th). Archbishop Martin told the conference that Catholic sectarianism frustrated the realisation of the new Ireland envisaged by the 1916 Proclamation and that there is now “a stubborn reluctance within the church” about handing over schools to the State. I believe the Archbishop’s assessment of these matters is distorted and his public utterances are unhelpful to Irish Catholics and to church and State relations at this time.

Of course, no serious commentator could deny that an unhealthy entanglement developed in Ireland between the Catholic Church and the Irish State over the course of the 20th century. But this was a two-way interaction in which the State was equally as complicit as the church. Why is the role the State played in church/State relations so rarely commented upon?

Entanglement between Church and State is far from unique to Ireland. For example, England has an established state religion, the Church of England, with the monarch as Supreme Governor. Indeed, Archbishop Martin came home to his episcopal See in Dublin in 2003 from the Vatican State where God and Caesar are one and the same. In fact, if he wished, Archbishop Martin could draw a very long bow indeed on the subject of church and State entanglement. In the case of Christianity, it began in 380 AD when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Irish Catholics, who constitute almost 80 per cent of the Irish population, do not want their church leaders to deny that there are, and have been, problems in church/State relations in Ireland or to deny abuses perpetrated by sections of the church in the past. Irish Catholics want their leaders to provide wise, fair and courageous leadership, calling for public acknowledgement of the good done by the Irish church and for public acceptance that the way Irish church/State relations developed over the 20th century was an organic interaction between the two. The way things developed simply reflects the way we were as a whole society.

Irish Catholics also want their leaders, when negotiating with the State about schools, to lobby for overall provision of increased numbers of school places and to take due account of the deep affection and loyalty that so many members of the laity feel for their Catholic schools.

I am sure Archbishop Martin is sincere in his views but I ask him to reflect more deeply before making further public pronouncements. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.