The Catholic Church and Irish life


Sir, – Niamh Sammon poses the question, “If we want to live in a real Republic, is it right that an institution that presided over the abuse of children should maintain control over most of our schools?” (Opinion & Analysis, April 4th).

While agreeing that divestment of Catholic patronage of schools is urgently required to more accurately reflect the changing demographics of Irish society, surely a “real Republic” also respects the plurality of its citizens and the role of parents as the primary and natural educators of their children? If parents choose to delegate this responsibility to a religious trust or institution in accordance with their beliefs then this must be respected. In addition, as taxpayers, parents are entitled to have this education provided for by the State. – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

A chara, – Where to begin with Niamh Sammon’s simplistic history of the Catholic Church in Ireland?

The church did not support the crushing of the 1798 rebellion, which was in any case not simply a republican one inspired by Wolfe Tone. Just think of Fr Murphy in Wexford and the sectarian nature of much of the violence.

The start of major Catholic church building in the 19th century long preceded the Famine. It was due to the gradual repeal of the Penal Laws culminating in the Emancipation Act of 1832.

Despite the scarcity of churches prior to that, the bulk of the Irish population remained devoted to their faith despite fierce persecution, attending Mass regularly in the open air, as attested by Mass rocks all over the country.

Priests continued to be educated, but on the continent in Irish colleges in Rome, Louvain, Salamanca and others.

They returned home imbued very often with ideas that the British authorities considered dangerous. This was the motivation of the latter in setting up Maynooth, thereby hoping to gain more influence over what they had failed to suppress. The church authorities were happy to acquiesce since it created a safer and more favourable environment.

But there continued to be a strongly nationalist streak in the bulk of the clergy ordained there.

Putting Niamh Sammon’s concluding question in a different way: should a system paid for by the taxpayers of Ireland, the overwhelming majority of whom are Catholics, be subject to the anti-religious dictates of a small minority of atheists? – Is mise,



Co Louth.