Church, State and society


Sir, – Breda O’Brien’s suggestion that “Ireland is not quite as secular as it pretends to be” has a ring of truth to it but falls squarely short of the point (Opinion & Analysis, September 7th).

It is undeniable that any secular credentials Ireland has are undermined by the fact that, as your columnist indicates, the Catholic Church was brought in to act as a surrogate welfare state. While she appears to take this as a sign of duplicity or hypocrisy on the part of the Irish State in trying to rely on the church to fulfil its responsibilities when it suited and subsequently changing its mind, it is surely the case that at every stage where the State has tried to take responsibility for and control over these tasks and do anything more than offer generous funding to institutions run along religious lines, the church has ardently opposed such reforms, albeit with varying degrees of success.

This point is highlighted by the recent and timely contribution of Senator Ivana Bacik to this newspaper (“Catholic Church has overshadowed Irish society for far too long”, Opinion & Analysis, September 11th).

It is not simply that the State today is happy to delegate to religious orders when it suits it, but that quite often, when it seeks to do otherwise, it faces trenchant opposition from those orders.

Furthermore, it is probably worth questioning exactly how secular the Irish State “pretends to be” given that the Constitution insists that the “State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God” and that it “shall hold His Name in reverence”.

If, as Breda O’Brien suggests, Ireland falls short of even this feeble degree of secularism, we should all be worried. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 15.

Sir, – Ivana Bacik’s statement in her article that “legislators make laws without reference to the doctrines of any religion” is open to challenge.

The basic religious ethic of love of neighbour underlies the ideals of all legal, political and social institutions in our democracies. The fact that the ethic of love of neighbour is not always lived up to in what are human institutions does not undermine its validity. The ideal that we are all equal citizens and should be treated as such may not always be observed in our democracies but it is still the ideal.

The alternative is the totalitarian abuse of power by those in a position to do so.

We ignore the religious ethic of love of neighbour at our peril. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.

Sir, – Ivana Bacik labels the Catholic Church’s influence on Irish society as undesirable, dismissing Archbishop Eamon Martin’s vision for Catholic politicians and society as problematic. She acknowledges that approximately 80 per cent of the population identify as Catholic, but cheerfully proposes disregarding them because their worldview does not suit her tastes.

Ms Bacik bemoans the fact that divorce and abortion arrived later in Ireland than elsewhere in the western world, disregarding the agency of the majority of the population who voted against them in referendums in the 1980s.

It is not a self-evident truth that the model of a secular republic is intrinsically superior to any other model; it may well be worth debating, but it is a debate in which Catholic leaders such as Eamon Martin have both the right and the duty to guide their flock, including Catholic politicians. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.