Sir, – Archbishop Michael Neary is quoted as saying, "It is not uncommon to find the coverage of religion per se and religious affairs generally viewed through a political prism and treated in political terms" ("Archbishop accuses media of distorted coverage of religion", News, July 26th).
Of course the Catholic Church was, and is, extremely adroit in ensuring religion was treated in political terms, from the very foundation of the State, through its influence, for example, on the 1937 Constitution, its successful opposition to the Mother and Child scheme in 1950 and its unfailing support to ensure the passing of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting abortion in almost all circumstances in 1983.
Archbishop Neary says: “For people to whom faith is important and who have a great love for and appreciation of the church – in spite of its shortcomings – this is a very challenging time.”
Of course it is. Rather than demanding that religion be treated as something special, Archbishop Neary and his fellow bishops should now accept that the majority of the population, Catholic or otherwise, have long since parted company with the Catholic Church on many issues, most notably on human reproduction and marriage, and they should now accept that the belief in, and practice of, all religion should be a voluntary activity.
While the right to practise any religion is morally inviolable, equally the enforcement of a moral position through property rights (as, for instance, in compelling children who attend publicly funded schools owned by the Catholic Church, but who are not Catholic, to attend Catholic faith formation classes) is morally reprehensible.
Similarly, it is morally reprehensible that Catholic religious orders controlling public hospitals use public funds to impose Catholic medical ethics on those who do not share those beliefs and who have no choice in determining their place of treatment.
If the Catholic Church is to survive in any meaningful way it needs to forget the continued success of the “conveyor belt” of baptism, first communion and confirmation and just look at the numbers signing up to the religious life, not quite zero, but heading that way.
Above all, it needs to treat all of those who come into its care – in schools (through parents) or hospitals particularly – as being entitled to their own moral choices. Otherwise, talk of moral choices and freedom to make those choices is pure humbug.
The bishops need to go back to where it all began, 2,000 years ago – not by property rights, not by law – but by persuasion. – Yours, etc,