Christendom is over – in Ireland too, thank God?

Jun 18, 2018 | 36 comments


The ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ – an Ypres memorial of World War I, linking the Christian cross and the sword – the symbol of state power.  Some historians now regard World War I (1914-1918) as the death knell of Christendom, the long alliance of European Christian churches with the state which began in the 4th Christian century.

The Church’s mission is not to compel the unwilling, but to invite the willing.’ – Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore – Knock, June 17th 2018.

ACI does not usually publish here the complete homilies or other statements of Irish bishops.  As these are available at another click on the website of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, we tend to highlight especially newsworthy passages, and provide that link for those who wish to find the full text.

In this case Bishop O’Reilly’s entire homily is worth quoting – because it poses a question. It may also mark an historic turning point for the Irish Catholic church – a deliberate turn away from reliance upon the state and its laws to promote and preserve Christian values in Ireland.

“A state is a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain geographical territory.”

So declares the Wikipedia article on ‘State (polity).’

As the usual meaning of ‘to compel’ is to use at least the threat of force, it follows that church reliance upon the Irish constitution to prevent the legalisation of abortion was church reliance upon the state’s potential use of force to achieve that objective.  So, if an Irish bishop now declares that the church’s role is not to compel the unwilling, is he marking a profound shift in the Irish Catholic church’s attitude towards the state, a shift which marks effectively the end of a centuries-long historical era on the island – the era of Christendom?

Already, in 2014, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam had remarked that ‘On the very edge of Europe, we are hearing the last vestiges of Christendom in their death-rattle.’  He emphasised immediately that he was not speaking of the end of Christianity in Europe, and that discernment on the distinction between these two terms was already ongoing in Ireland.

Christendom was essentially the arrangement whereby state and Christian church were in partnership – an arrangement which began in the 4th century CE and continued in most of Europe until the 20th.  As Christianity grew rapidly in the Roman empire in the first three centuries, and is doing the same today in, for example, China, Africa and India, it does not follow that Christianity cannot thrive in separation from the state.  And as secularism grows by exploiting the scandals of Christendom (e.g. the persecution of ‘heretics’ and the ongoing Irish church-state scandals of the 20th century) it is not difficult to make a case for what Bishop O’Reilly seems now to be suggesting.

If it is true that Irish bishops are now discussing the end of Christendom in Ireland also – and discerning together a different way forward for the church – this process of discernment must surely be widened to encompass the entire Irish church – especially in the wake of the referendum on abortion.  The missionary endeavour commended by Bishop O’Reilly in the same homily on Sunday June 17th was the campaign to retain the 8th amendment – an endeavour which ironically focused upon supporting state compulsion to prevent abortion. There is the danger that disappointment over the referendum result on the part of the ‘No’ campaigners could cause bitterness, anger and polarisation in the Irish church rather than calm reflection.

Perhaps, in attempting to counteract that, Bishop O’Reilly, while welcoming the fervour of all those who struggled for that objective, is also inviting them to think no longer in terms of state compulsion?

All of this provides impetus towards a discussion that the entire Irish people of God needs to have.  Quite obviously different members of that community took radically different positions on the 8th Amendment, and some voices are calling for the banishing from the sacraments of those who voted ‘Yes’  (as if this was even feasible).

Bishop O’Reilly’s fascinating homily poses the strong possibility of a different ‘way of going’ – towards a realisation that state compulsion and the ‘Good News’ were never truly compatible, that Christendom is indeed over in Ireland also, and that all of us need to listen to one another in discerning a missionary way forward in a different era.

Already here we have provided a link to an article by Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese – arguing that the pro-life movement in the USA needs now to turn the main focus of its campaign to the cause of greater social support for women who become pregnant. This is in line with the core principle of solidarity that grounds so much of Catholic social teaching.

Thomas Reese’s argument has relevance now in Ireland also.  And there are many other critical social problems that need addressing by all men and women of goodwill on the island.  If the ‘closed book’ of Catholic Social Teaching is ever to be opened here, surely now is the time?

And as the many scandals of Christendom remain the wellspring of European and Irish secularism, is there not indeed good reason to welcome a new post-Christendom era in Ireland as well?

Bishop O’Reilly’s homily carries echoes of the message of not only Fr Thomas Reese SJ but of Fr Richard Rohr OFM, who was in turn echoing Rev. Martin Luther King:

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”


Sean O’Conaill, June 2018



  1. Aidan Hart

    Do Christians not need to make the important distinction between “relying on the state and its laws to promote and preserve Christian values in Ireland” and the duty of Christians to create a just and loving society, always seeking the common good? It cannot do the latter if it doesn’t seek to influence politics and the law to move in that direction, alongside Christians living lives which mirror that ethos of justice, love and the common good.

    Are religions to be denigrated to just teaching and preaching in favour or against certain moral trends in society to their own members and not trying to influence wider society?

    Was it wrong for John Wesley and fellow Methodists to preach strongly and publically against slavery (cf. ‘Thoughts on Slavery’; 1774) and the awful conditions within British prisons at that time? Should he instead have confined himself to asking only Methodists to refuse to own slaves or engage in the trading of slaves and said nothing about the right or wrong of wider society (i.e. non-Methodists) being engaged in the slave trade?

    I don’t think Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition would support that position of privatised religion (“You are to be salt for the earth…. and light for the world”-Matthew 5:13 and 14) wherein Christianity is to help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, a Kingdom of justice, peace and love for everyone, and not just for Christians.

    • soconaill

      You ask good questions here, Aidan – and to the first – (‘Do Christians not need to make the important distinction between “relying on the state and its laws to promote and preserve Christian values in Ireland” and the duty of Christians to create a just and loving society, always seeking the common good?’) I would answer an emphatic ‘yes’.

      To the ameliorative effect of Christian witness in the past on our imperfect society you could have added the ‘welfare state’ and the principle of state medical care for all.

      Does the principle of ‘consensus’ apply here – in that the general support given in the UK to the principle of taxation-supported health care for all means that no significant portion of the population cries ‘breach of rights’ in opposition to it?

      My understanding is that even the sovereign papal governments of the papal states in Italy drew a distinction between the moral and the civil law – turning down, for example, the option of making adultery a capital crime when that was introduced in Calvin’s Geneva. It could be said that those popes were relying on the positive witness of faithful couples, rather than the criminal law, to support the Christian principle of marital fidelity.

      Does it follow therefore that a witness that is ‘private’ (in the sense that it does not have state support) will be ineffectual in changing society for the better? Breda O’Brien has pointed out that the SVP spends twice as much annually as the papal visit for the WMOF will cost the Irish state – a very effective answer to the complaints being made.

      Similarly in the case of abortion it could be the sacrifices that Christians would choose to make (privately) to support women facing unexpected pregnancy that would do most to change minds and hearts on that issue.

      If we adopt a minimalist approach to the criminal law, and a maximalist approach to the principle of voluntary and state support for those who are most socially challenged, do we address the questions you raise?

  2. desgilroy41

    Hopefully what Bishop Leo O’Reilly has said will open up a debate on the place of the Church in Irish society. For too long the Irish Church relied on the State’s laws to uphold it’s vision of morality. As a result, complacency set in, there was no need for Catholics to develop a Christian conviction, so when State support was withdrawn, the foot-soldiers did not have the weaponry to fight for the cause, a cause they were never adequately taught to believe in.

    We are in a whole new ballgame and a new realistic strategy is called for. That involves a return to the Gospel. Pope Francis is very much aware of this but unfortunately some of the strongest forces opposing him are within the Church’s own ranks. There is some hope though with some of the new people he is introducing quietly into influential positions.

    There are a number of very interesting quotes from Cardinal Kevin Farrell in an interview in the July-August issue of Intercom. To take just one of them, when he says “I think we do an awful lot of preaching and an awful lot of speaking against things, and we don’t do what we should do, which is to educate people’s consciences. We want the easy way out, as it were. We’ve got to drop the idea of living in Christendom and we’ve got to live in the reality of the world. If the government makes a law, we acknowledge that is what the government has chosen to do. But I don’t have to live according to that. That’s a choice you have to make, you’re the one who has to make the choice. That is what we talk abut when we speak of forming consciences to live the Christian faith. “

  3. Aidan Hart

    Sean, I think your point about providing practical and effective support to women in difficulty because of their pregnancy is a moral and Christian duty. I doubt however if that, of itself, will stop the onward march of abortion around the world being seen as increasingly acceptable and a much less embarrassing way out of the problem. Would ‘being supportive to slaves’ by Methodists have been sufficient to lead eventually to the abolition of slavery? I doubt it.

    As to your second point about ‘private witness’; would Methodists believing in private that slavery was morally wrong and being ‘private witnesses’ to that moral belief by not owning slaves themselves or taking any part in the slave business, have brought about the eventual change in public thinking and a change in the law to make it illegal, accompanied by sanctions, which are present in all laws.

    I think your other point about influencing public opinion by valid means, is vital in a democracy. It would be undemocratic and wrong to introduce a law which the majority of people don’t support. The Catholic Church and Catholic schools seem to have done an inadequate job in helping their people and pupils to be fully informed about the issues around abortion (and about their religion in general) and relied instead on the law of the land. Public opinion in the debate on abortion in the Republic was also much influenced by the terrible treatment of pregnant girls and women and their new-born babies by Religious Orders of nuns, with the connivance of parents and many Catholic clergy. I suspect that public opinion was also strongly influenced by the widespread negative response to the Catholic Church’s total ban on contraception. That, and sexual abuse by some clergy covered up by Bishops, lost the Irish Catholic Church its moral authority for many Catholics.

  4. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    “Already here we have provided a link to an article by Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese – arguing that the pro-life movement in the USA needs now to turn the main focus of its campaign to the cause of greater social support for women who become pregnant. This is in line with the core principle of solidarity that grounds so much of Catholic social teaching.”

    Wouldn’t that be nice. I think if we look at Francis the last month or two, he seems to be lining everyone up from oil executives to key economic players. When we look at the historic (Hopi prophetic) combination McDonagh and Francis (with Benedict as third wheel) have made, you can’t help but think that this is the true Spirit at work.

    People may call for a return to the Gospel. I ask you to seek out those who are doing these small acts – I’ve been searching far and wide. I’ve assisted Magulu Issa in obtaining his non-profit ministry in Uganda (orphanage). I’m helping Blaze Nissi start an eco-village in Nigeria. Rime Turnbull will be aided in his attempt at creating a free-food plantation in Kenya.

    Direct to developer support is needed at this time while we figure things out on this planet. We don’t have time to educate people’s consciences. We need to support small acts wherever they can be found – those small acts create a new reality. This is one way we can promote and protect Christian values – by recognising them in others, believers and non, and supporting them in any way we can.

  5. soconaill

    You make an excellent case for political campaigning to accompany social activism, Aidan. And you rightly point out the negative impact of what could the called the ‘Irish Catholic context’ on the ‘No’ campaign for the abortion referendum. Was there not also the fact that retaining amendment 8 was seen as an effective vote for a 14-year prison term for those who broke the existing Irish laws on abortion, even in relation to a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest?

    All of that speaks for an awareness of context and sensitivities when it comes to political campaigning – something that was not always present in the ‘No’ campaign. And for a balance between political and social activism.

    This is exactly the discussion we all need to have in the wake of what has happened. Exactly when will our Irish church leaders put a final end to the Irish Catholic culture of discussing nothing until it is far too late for frank discussion to be helpful?

    • Aidan Hart

      Yes Sean, I agree with you that voting for retaining Amendment 8 was seen as voting for an extreme position, a black and white or all or nothing position dealing with a very complex issue.
      The majority of the Irish people obviously felt that it was unacceptable and grossly uncaring to insist on an absolute ban on abortion in the cases of incest, rape and fatal foetal abnormality, especially if, in the first two of these cases, the innocent victims sought treatment with the appropriate medication right away or as soon as possible after the awful event. A 14 year prison sentence was seen as totally unjust in all three cases.
      The debate may have been unconsciously influenced by the fact that the Catholic Church, insisting that what was present in the womb from the moment of conception was a human being, yet had no funeral rite or prayer service for that ‘human being’ when it was miscarried. It was not even allowed to be buried in blessed ground! Worse still, Catholic Church teaching taught that, since the miscarried human being was unbaptised, it would have to spend eternity outside the loving presence of God.
      The debate may also have been influenced by the knowledge that the American Catholic Church seems to have failed to argue strongly against the death penalty in many American states and the killings linked to American military action around the world. Respect and compassion for human life cannot be restricted to life in the womb. It must encompass life at all stages, including old age, where care and compassion are sometimes in short supply, as seen in the 456 deaths in Gosport War Memorial Hospital caused by the regular over -prescription of powerful, and often totally unnecessary, opiate drugs.

  6. Mary Vallely

    Aidan, I cheered inwardly when I read your comment as it echoes exactly how I feel myself. I have always wondered at the seemingly dismissive attitude from the official Church to those of us who suffered early miscarriages. There was never any mention of the preciousness of the life miscarried nor any thought given to comforting the parents with the reassurance that that life was now at peace in the arms of a loving God. Sometimes I wonder at how women accepted this appallingly dismissive attitude down the ages. May God forgive us for not speaking out before!

    I also take your point about how any Catholic Cardinal or Bishop could ever agree with the death penalty. I don’t remember much reference to this in all the debates leading up to the Referendum. I firmly believe that misogyny is so deeply inbuilt into Catholic priestly formation and teaching that it cannot even be seen and will need a great deal of calm reflection and time to debate and discuss.

    There is a Rally for Life taking place in Belfast on 7 July, the same day as our Armagh Justice and Peace Commission have organised a calm conversation in the Carrickdale Hotel. ( notice kindly posted here on this website). They are not in conflict I hope and it is possible to attend both as ours ends at 1pm and the Rally begins at 2pm. However, our Carrickdale event is not a Rally for pro life march but a conversation which includes all those who are still in turmoil over the Referendum vote and who need to discuss how they feel with others in a calm, safe environment. It is such a hugely emotional issue and people- good people of faith and charity- have been unfairly condemned by many of the No voters for voting Yes. Although I admire Mary McAleese a great deal and usually agree with her I believe she went a step too far when she proclaimed that she had voted Yes with ‘ a heart and a half.’ I cannot see how anyone could feel any sense of triumph or joy over the result. It cannot have been an easy decision to have made. We are all anti- abortion in theory but we need to listen to all those in turmoil and in distress and to try to promote an ethos where every single human being is valued, respected, cared for, embraced, and loved from womb to tomb because we are all trying to imitate Christ. God help us.

  7. Aidan Hart

    Thank you Mary.

    I became aware of the terrible suffering of both husband and wife when their longed-for baby miscarries when a close friend told me of her experience in another part of the UK. Back in the 70s she felt the child in her womb beginning to miscarry. Her husband called their Irish GP. He examined the woman and then called downstairs to her husband to bring him some newspaper. He wrapped the foetus roughly in the newspaper and handed the scrunched up ball of paper to her husband with the instruction “Throw that in the bin!”. The woman cried out in horror and in tears begged her husband to bury it in the back garden, which he did with great reverence and floods of tears. Later he erected a small cross at the place of burial and prayed for their child that he had buried there, had never seen but greatly loved and hoped to see one day in Heaven.

    To then realise that their Catholic Church taught that their miscarried baby, whose death had caused them both great sorrow, was denied entrance for all eternity to Heaven and to the loving presence of God was to add life-long pain to that caused by an uncaring, insensitive and disrespectful GP and a liturgically silent Church when the spiritual and human comfort of her liturgy, and the support of her local Catholic community, were most needed, a Church that taught about the sanctity of all human life, especially life in the womb.

    I’m holding back my own tears as I think of the awful pain that woman and her husband must have gone through and still suffer when they think back on it, which they said they often do.

    On the other matter you mention Mary, I pray that the forthcoming Armagh Justice and Peace Commission conversation goes well. Perhaps you could post some of what is shared on the ACI website.

  8. Anthony Neville

    Thank you Mary and Aidan for giving voice to things we did not hear during the Referendum debate.The ‘Yes or No’ only option made the decision difficult and there appears to be little room to influence the awaited leglislation.

    Sean, with the decline of Christendom we need to be, as the bishop says, ‘in missionary mode’. We must proclaim Catholic social teaching and be the conscience of the nation. Through the example of our private and public lives we must give life to the Good News of the Gospel. I have been influenced by many through their Christian lifestyles. I long to hear someone repeat the quotation of Tertullian (c160 CE) “How the Christians love one another”.

    Des repeats Pope Francis’ call to return to the Gospel. Faith and Reason are the two wings with which we fly. We cannot truly believe without knowing the reason why. The Church has failed us by insisting we believe but not nourishing us with the Good News. While trying to provide opportunity for adult faith development locally, it is depressing the number of Irish Catholics who believe that Adam and Eve started the human race because that is what they were told.

  9. soconaill

    Yes indeed, Anthony. The era of one-eyed clerical hectoring from above is definitely over – and the time for Catholic Social Teaching and example is now.

    Here in Derry diocese I am hearing negative noises about the prospects of most parishes rising to the challenge of a new diocesan pastoral plan. ‘Most parishes don’t have the resources!’ say the naysayers – forgetting that the Irish church grew from just one resource: a lonely kidnapped teenager on a northern hillside.

    I have a strong feeling that for too many of our clergy there is a complete lack of insight into the challenge we are being set: not the restoration of the two-tier clerically-controlled Christendom church (which always mirrored in its structure a hierarchical society) but the transformation of our society by the involvement of all of the baptised as equals in living the Gospel call to simplicity, service and committed respect for all.

    Perhaps it is ACI’s role to find ways of detailing and discussing that counter-cultural society as part of a refocused adult education programme? To think of the latter just in terms of Catechesis is a complete mistake.

  10. Mary Vallely

    … “the transformation of our society by the involvement of all of the baptised as equals in living the Gospel call to simplicity, service and committed respect for all.”

    Exactly, Sean. Doesn’t that sound so simple and logical?! Vatican II emphasised that by virtue of our baptism we are entitled to speak out, not just entitled of course, we have the duty to speak out, on any matters pertaining to the good of the Church.
    The Church- we must get it into our heads – is ALL of us. We may feel powerless, useless, unworthy… Irish women of my age have a store of adjectives to choose from in describing our inadequacy but we must throw all that aside, swallow our fears and our pride and start by meeting together in small gatherings online and in person, build up our confidence and then take the next steps.

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

    The more I hear about the cover up of child abuse, the exorbitant amounts of money spent on episcopal palaces, entertaining etc; the more I see of ridiculous clerical OTT garb, embarrassing titles bestowed like Your Grace, Your Eminence, Your Reverence, the more certain I feel that all this has to stop. It is the Jesus in the Gospels we are meant to be following and He is such a perfect example of how to treat each other with love and kindness, equality and with such compassion. How could the two-tier clerically-controlled Christendom church have got it so wrong and were we/ are we a little bit guilty of enabling this to go on for so long, I wonder?

  11. Noel McCann

    The contributions above have identified many of the symptoms of a church completely out of touch with reality – at least reality as many define it in this part of the world. The way forward, perhaps the only way out of the decline trajectory the church is on, has also been highlighted. Back to basics – the teachings of Jesus. How many times in recent years have you encountered people who have moved away from the institutional church but yet express an affinity with the ‘core message’ of Jesus – love God and love your neighbour? Is the gap between the teaching and example of Jesus and the behaviour of the institutional church actually widening?

    I am having serious doubts about attending the WMOF events in Croke Park or the Phoenix Park as they are very likely to involve a parade of church ‘dignitaries’ in their “OTT clerical garb” [to quote Mary].These symbols of office with their various colour schemes and other adornments just serve to highlight the chasm between the ‘foot soldiers’ in the pews and the uniformed ‘men’ on the altar who really count in the church.

    Is there any point in approaching the likes of Archbishop D.Martin and suggesting that the church take the radical step of presenting a ‘new’ and more humble image during the WMOF events – dispense with the outdated symbols of power and authority and dress in plain vestments. Surely such symbolism would send a badly needed message that the church ‘gets it’ and acknowledges the need for urgent change. It might be a ‘token gesture’ but at least it would be a start which might give people some hope for the future. Hasn’t Pope Francis set an example with his plain vestments? Why can’t the others ‘take the hint’!!

    • soconaill

      ‘Why not?’ to that, Noel – given Cardinal Farrell’s exhortation to forget about living in Christendom. My understanding is that Vatican hierarchical formal attire – red and purple cummerbunds etc – is still echoing Constantinian court dress after seventeen centuries. Given the original Francis’s deliberate rejection of 13th century finery too you would think they would all ‘get it’ – and opt for something reflective of poverty: sober sports wear and trainers maybe 🙂 !

      • Patricia Fitzsimons

        Aidan thank you for presenting the Catholic Churches attitude to stillbirth and the impact it may have had on the Repeal the 8th Referendum. When my mother died 3 years ago she was still impacted by a child she had stillborn. I believe she felt it as a failure on her part that the child would suffer outside the Church and the love of God.
        Mary your quote on “the transformation of our society by the involvement of all of the baptised as equals in living the Gospel call to simplicity, service and committed respect for all.” is profound.
        I couldn’t agree more. It’s only recently that I have seen the importance of the role of all baptised. I’m afraid up to this I have been willing to stand on the side line, however now I feel as women we need to be heard and agree with Noel that I’m almost certainly not going to the Phoenix Park or Croagh Park to see only the ordained males on the altar (with red and purple cummerbunds). I think the Franciscan brown robes would be more appropriate.

  12. Anthony Neville

    Sean, To think just in terms of Catechesis for an adult education/faith development programme would be wrong, but you have to start by getting them to understand that there is more to their religion than just liturgy and ritual. Programmes to introduce and develop spirituality are an important element. I have seen the engagement and nourishment of adults in such a course over the last two years.

    Would it be too much to hope that the structure of the clerically-controlled Christendom Church might receive attention? I read that Cardinal Kevin Farrell has said ” the ordination of women is truly not a solution for the church because if you just ordain women you will just isolate them, if you continue the system, if you don’t change the structures”.

  13. soconaill

    You are entirely right about the power of church structure to either facilitate of prevent faith development, Anthony. Our vertical church structure encourages clerical elitism and aloofness – effectively a denial of the equal dignity of all. That is the very hypocrisy that Jesus sought to overcome in his church by his example of the washing of the feet of the apostles.

    Pope Francis clearly gets this. Too many of our Irish clergy simply don’t. They defend the structures we have – using canon law – to preserve their power. It is this more than secularism that has undermined the faith in Ireland.

    • Aidan Hart

      Anthony and Sean, I totally agree with the vitally important point you are both making.

      The difference, as I have posted previously, is between religion and faith, between head-knowledge coupled with various religious practices and rituals and a deep inner experience of God’s compassionate, forgiving and unconditional love. It was such an experience, through their liberation from slavery in Egypt and being brought to the liberation of their own land, repeated a second time in their release from Babylon, that deeply convinced the Israelites of being God’s Chosen People, a conviction that has continued to exist and influence observant Jews through terrible persecution and suffering to this day.

      Obviously both religion and faith are necessary but too often home and school-based Religious Education and what is preached at Sunday Mass and offered through various parish programmes and activities remain at the level of outward head/intellect/ritual/obedience based religion and lack providing a range of deep spiritual/faith experiences through which God’s love can be experienced by the individual and allowed to bring about transformation of one’s whole life.

  14. John Kelly

    Now that the discussion and vote on the 8th Amendment has put the care of womb babies in our consciences it is time we started to address some of the issues that this focus on the care of the unborn and born has raised. There are important issues that need to be addresssed if our Christian care is to be meaningful..
    We could start with the care afforded by fathers to the born and their mothers. Children feel the need and benefit greatly from a father”s caring presence and participation in their lives. It is extraordinary the focus that is placed on the challenge for single mothers without appropriate reference to the responsibility fathers have. When in our discussions do we hear reference to this fundamental human need and ,dare I say it, right. Our society for far too long has facilitated and tolerated the non involvement of fathers in the offsprings life. There is a need to highlight this shameful reality if we are to follow through with our concern for the born.
    When has this aspect been given prominence by our leaders of church and state, by our media and by ourselves. The abortion discussion raised sensitive issues for many but it was very healthy that the consideration took place . The father issue is also a sensitive one as it involves many issues. What can the relationship be between the two parents for the benefit of the child. What about the grandparents ? If the Christian community ( Church?) is to address these issues can we at least begin to face the reality of our failure to nurture the paternal aspect of the child’s life.

    • Sean O’Conaill

      You get me thinking, John. Richard Rohr is strong on the same theme. And here again the dialogue deficit between married men and celibate clergy in Ireland – over half-a-century – has been devastating surely. David Quinn also noted the absence of the male dimension from the referendum debate. We need to follow this up.

  15. Pádraig McCarthy

    “A state is a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain geographical territory.”
    This definition/description from Wikipedia is a very inadequate understanding of what a State is.
    Surely a State is first of all for the service of the people, and the enabling and facilitating of community life for all the different varieties of people? If the State “compels” its people to drive on the left hand side or the right hand side of the road, it is for the protection of people travelling.
    Part of the responsibility of a State is to ensure that those in a position of power, whether physical or economic or political, do not act oppressively towards those who are less powerful or perhaps even powerless. Legislation concerning childbirth and abortion are part of the responsibility of the State. In relation to abortion, the question is whether the State has a responsibility to support those in crisis pregnancy so that they do not need to feel that their only option is to terminate the pregnancy, and to address the reasons for seeking abortion. The State has a keen interest in the welfare of unborn children. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits the execution of pregnant women.
    The Eighth Amendment made a specific commitment that the State “guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right [to life].” Whatever one may think of the Eighth Amendment, it is clear that the State never honoured that guarantee to enact legislation to protect m0ther and child.
    “Church reliance upon the Irish constitution to prevent the legalisation of abortion was church reliance upon the state’s potential use of force to achieve that objective” is one possible interpretation of the situation, but it could also be seen as the church acting not as “master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

    • Aidan Hart

      The old adage “The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens” did not originate in the American constitution, as many believe, but rather in the much earlier traditions of the English legal system. Within that evolving tradition every citizen was entitled to the king’s protection from exterior violence, later seen as operating through the laws of the land and encompassing even protection from excesses of the sovereign and of the state governing bodies. Sir Edward Coke expanded this concept into a ’mutual bond and obligation’ from which the king promised protection of his people and the people promised obedience, first to the king and later to the parliamentary laws of the land. The ideal of ‘mutual bond’ avoided the extremes of absolute power of the sovereign or state and absolute or blind obedience on the part of the general population. The concept was born of ‘the freedom, right and duty to disobey’ unjust or oppressive laws or misuse of power by sovereign or parliament.

      This duality and complementarity of ‘bond’ and ‘obligation’ could be applied on a human level to the relationship within the Church between hierarchical/clerical leadership and laity. The obedience of laity to the hierarchy, never to be blind or absolute, is due when the hierarchy is seen to fulfil their duty of moral, compassionate and effective leadership, leadership for the good of the people. When the mutual bond is broken, which it has been in Ireland and many other parts of the world, by the major moral failings of some clergy and Church-run institutions and covered-up by some bishops and the Vatican itself for generations, then it is inevitable that the duty of obedience by the laity will be seen by many as no longer due or appropriate. Always present within the concept of ‘mutual bond’ is the freedom, right and duty of the laity to disobey the edicts of an out-of-touch, at times oppressive, partly corrupt, mostly unaccountable or uncompassionate clerical leadership, when the clergy/hierarchy thus break their part of the mutual bond.

      On a divine level that bond and obligation are between God and humanity, but, of necessity, the bond is mostly mediated through the Church for its members. At that level the human situation kicks in and the above situation of the broken bond often results. It will only be truly repaired when a new and mutual bond is agreed and firmly established. That mutual bond will have to be built on an genuine and effective partnership between clergy/hierarchy and male and female laity in the running of the Church at all levels – from parish to diocese to the Vatican. It will involve reflective and informed obedience and compassionate, servant leadership which invites rather than cajoles,…… to get back to Bishop O’Reilly’s opening statement that ‘The Church’s mission is not to compel the unwilling, but to invite the willing.’

  16. soconaill

    Were not the Roman and all other empires of the past, including that of Genghis Khan, STATES, Pádraig – and is not that also true of North Korea today? Surely what defines something is not what ideally it might become but what is diagnostic of it – i.e. what it shares distinctively with all other entities that share its title? An airliner can also feed its passengers but that is not what makes it an airliner.

    I cannot find any reference by Jesus to the essential role of the state in the realisation of the kingdom of God – while he clearly rejected the option of the use of force to establish his own kingdom.

    Do you know of any state that did not arise from the use of force? And do we not find here an essential nuance of the directive ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’?

    Interestingly, some political scientists trace the principle of the separation of church and state to precisely that saying, which is apparently unique in the literature of that and earlier epochs.

    Do you regard the sanction of the 14 year prison term for abortion in any circumstances in the ROI as an asset to the ‘No’ cause in the 8th amendment referendum, or as a liability to it?

    • Pádraig McCarthy

      Seán –
      My comment was to point to an inadequacy in the definition of “State.” The same Wikipedia page says there is no consensus on such a definition. It does, however, offer an alternative definition: “an organized political community under one government.” Here, of course, the word “community” could be subject to a variety of definitions. A totalitarian state and a democratic state (with the limitations of democracies in different forms) may be regarded as states with a wide area of difference.

      But whatever the state, its relationship with other organisations of people (voluntary associations, trades unions, religious communities, etc) may vary. For much of human history there has been a very close association of state and religion – for example, the UK head of state is head of the Church of England. The realisation of the kingdom of God does not involve a direct essential role of the state. But since human beings may be members of both communities, and since Christianity is an incarnate faith, there must be some relationship. When a religious body acts as the conscience of the state, there is bound to be tension. If the state acts unjustly towards its members, or fails to protect the weak, the religious group can play a constructive role in promoting justice. To stay silent in such a situation would be a serious failure. Think of Bishop von Galen of Münster intervening in Nazi Germany to protest at the killing of disabled people. This was not the church looking to the state to uphold its teachings; it was the church calling the state to act justly.

      • soconaill

        Can any state function if it does NOT set out to maintain a monopoly of the use of force within its territory? Does not ‘government’ imply this need? This is the question you appear to be unwilling to face when you quite rightly say that there must be some relationship between Christians living in a democracy and the state – that apparatus of power that must surely be ready to deploy force (albeit restrainedly and in accordance with law) to maintain order within it.

        For the Christian the question must then arise ‘can I support the deployment of that force in support of law X or measure Y’, where X is any statute that declares a certain sanction to be enforceable in the case of a breach of it, and Y is any measure taken, say in a supposed emergency, to protect the state and its citizens.

        Presuming that Bishop Van Galen was exercising conscience in one or other of these cases, and agreeing that Christians do indeed have a conscientious obligation so to do, I am still wondering what you would say to an Irish Christian who would claim that he / she could not in conscience vote ‘No’ to the Irish referendum proposal to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution – an amendment that required of the state that it use the forcible sanction of a fourteen-year prison term for abortion in any circumstances, including rape, incest or the non-viability of a foetus.

        Although living in NI I found myself seriously conflicted on this question. Compounding this conflict was the experience of living for half-a-century as an Irish Catholic under an effective clerical embargo on the discussion of any such question within the Irish church itself. Our clergy during that time were essentially ‘coasting on Christendom’ – the expectation that the mere magisterial assertion of a ‘teaching’ should be sufficient to ensure the conscientious compliance of all of those excluded from such discussion, in ‘Catholic Ireland’.

        Can you see why so many of the Catholic Irish might seize that opportunity to say ‘enough already’ to Christendom – in this case the Irish state’s compliance with our clerical church’s absolutism on abortion? And why I now have to say that although horrified by the triumphalism over the ‘Yes’ vote, I believe I understand fully why that vote happened?

        • Aidan Hart

          Sean, many, including myself, would readily concur with all that you say as we have been equally conflicted. My wife and I drove the length of England to take part in anti-abortion rallies in London in the previous century and I have written newspaper articles against it. However, the current absolute and extreme prohibitions of the Catholic Church, which you list, were never part of my thinking. Like all extreme positions, the Catholic Church risked losing everything rather than develop a more nuanced and compassionate interpretation – and lose everything in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in that battle is what happened in the referendum. The celebrations afterwards were totally inappropriate and nauseating, ignoring some faulty arguments, especially by those supporting unlimited abortion.

          • soconaill

            “Most of us need to have the status quo shaken now and then, leaving us off balance and askew, feeling alienated for a while from our usual unquestioned loyalties. In this uncomfortable space, we can finally recognize the much larger kingdom of God. Many churches don’t seem to understand this, even flying the national flag in sanctuaries while daring to talk about “one God before us” in the same space. After authentic conversion, our old “country” no longer holds any ultimate position. We can’t worship it any longer as we were once trained to do. Our national identity is okay, probably necessary, but very limited in its capacity for truth, much less universal truth.” (Richard Rohr, Meditation, July 11th, 2018)

            Richard is clearly making there a strong case against ‘establishment’ – any kind of pact between a particular church and the state, in which that church would acquire a privileged position in return for its support for that state. Richard is therefore certainly not advocating a return to Christendom, in which the state did often use unjust force on behalf of an established church. I fear that many in our Irish Catholic Church have not yet come to his position, and would want to turn back the clock. Who among our bishops will lead as Richard would advocate?

            • Lloyd Allan MacPherson

              You’ve been reading Rohr these days? Seems like he is wailing away against the powers-that-shouldn’t-be, just like Francis has been since 2015 – it’s a calculated risk with an eco-logical conversion at the heart of its movement.

              There are too many distractions from that movement these days. I’d say let’s have another nuclear crisis to serve as a reminder to what path we are all on. Is that what it’s going to take? September is fast approaching.

              Ireland from worst to first is possible within little time. To get everyone on board, it will take careful strategy but even the most “in-tune” of minds are still scattered about in ways beneficial to the status quo.

  17. Pádraig McCarthy

    “Church’s absolutism on abortion.”
    The church, and probably most people, have an absolutist position on rape, and torture, and racial discrimination, and on many other matters.
    On the right to life of mother and unborn child, many have argued that we must balance those two rights, and that the Eighth Amendment prevented this. This is not correct.
    We do not balance the rights of one against the other. We do our utmost to safeguard both, while recognising the reality that there are situations where both cannot be saved.
    I have discussed the questions related to this more extensively in “Whistle-Blower”, released March 2018. It’s available (€5) from Veritas.

    • Aidan Hart

      Padraig, I would suggest that the problem is one of definition and complexity.

      To take your three examples: at what point does changing one’s mind to what was formerly and freely agreed turn intercourse into rape and should mutual, excessive and freely ingested alcohol or drugs be taken into account; when does police repeated and prolonged questioning over a ‘major incident’ become mental torture and when does sacking a person from a ‘minority’ community for repeated lateness etc. become racial discrimination? What seems obvious at first can, in complex issues such as those above and in abortion, soon become less obvious and more complex, requiring a more nuanced and less absolute response. That is why we have courts to delve into the complexities of these situations to enable juries, after prolonged evaluation and discussion of all the issues involved, to come to an agreed and just conclusion.

      I accept that none of this is perfect but would suggest that making complex issues into over-simplified ‘black and white’ issues is even less perfect and often lacking in justice.

      • Pádraig McCarthy

        Aidan –
        That is the point.
        It may, for example, be difficult to discern in a particular case whether an incident is rape or torture.
        But we do not, on that account, legalise rape or torture.

        • Aidan

          Padraig, you may have missed my point about the issue of ‘definition’ or, more likely, I explained it badly.

          If all killing is defined as murder and murder is defined as always unlawful in all circumstances, then there is no possibility allowed for the mitigatory defence of justifiable killing as in the case of self-defence through use of appropriate force, killing in war etc.; one is always guilty of murder by definition. No legal system that I am aware of follows that path as it leads to great injustice.

          And yet that is what seems to be happening with the term ‘abortion’, particularly as defined in the current legal situation in the ROI, which is why I think so many voted for change in the recent referendum. It is used so widely to cover so many circumstances and situations and allowing of no exceptions, that it automatically became ‘Abortion is always legally wrong in all circumstances and situations’ (with the one exception for when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk and that exception was only accepted fairly recently and begrudgingly by the Irish government but never accepted by the Catholic Church) – hence, the raped or incestuously violated child was always guilty of breaking the law against abortion when seeking a prevention of fertilisation pill, even when requested within 24 hrs or so of the terrible experience, because of the broad way in which abortion was defined – hence, always legally guilty by definition. That is why I would argue strongly that a term other than ‘abortion’ be used in such cases (e.g. justified termination).

          Padraig, I would prefer not to reply any further to posts on the issue of abortion as I don’t want this to become a rerun of the referendum, to the detriment of those wanting to comment further on the main article and the comments of others. I trust you will understand. But don’t let that stop you replying to this response.

          • Pádraig McCarthy

            Okay, Aidan: Final comment! My initial comment was on the topic of the main article.
            I too argue that a term other than abortion be used in certain cases. The proposed legislation defines “termination of pregnancy” as “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus.” The intention is to end the life. There are cases where the intention is to safeguard the life of the mother, not to end the life of the child, although that is a likely or certain outcome, but not the intention of the exercise. In such cases, the term “abortion” is not appropriate.
            It is not the case that treatment to save the life of the mother, which would result in loss of the child, was never accepted by the Catholic Church. It has been the position of the church for a long time that the mother, in consultation with her, should receive whatever treatment was necessary to safeguard her life, even when, as an undesired consequence, the unborn child could not survive. There have been cases where the mother (and father where relevant), fully informed of the situation, has chosen knowingly not to undergo the suggested treatment so as to give the child the best chance of life, even though almost certainly it would result in the death of the mother.
            “Abortion is always legally wrong in all circumstances and situations” would be the case if we were to use a term other than “abortion” for situations where the death of the unborn child is not the “intended” purpose, but an undesired and tragic consequence of safeguarding the mother.
            Unfortunately the proposed legislation means that abortion will be legally accepted in all circumstances and situations up to 12 weeks; and without any time restriction where “there is present a condition affecting the foetus that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before birth or shortly after birth. “Shortly after birth” is not at present defined in the proposed legislation.

  18. Frank Gregg

    I have waded as best I could through all the contributors pieces.
    What I say may not be new.
    1. Clericalism has been an evil mechanism in our church
    2. No high ranking beneficiary , including popes have admitted this truism.
    3. The hiding of clerical abuse was centralised .
    4 resignation of bishops is canonical
    5. Civil law is what governs all our countries in democratic states.
    6 The “royal priesthood “of the laity .is never mentioned.
    7. Civil laws govern our secular states to which we are subject ” give to Caesar” etc but we are called to a higher standard while complying with civil law.
    8 Our Hierarchical church tried to over ride civil law.
    9.All Irish Bishops who complied with the cove r up policy need to offer their resignations forthwith – instead of being reinstated as before .
    10. We need a Synod of church officials and laity ( ma le/ female of equal standing to move on from here .
    11.The policy of local silence throughout the country will have to change if our church of Christians is not to atrophy like in France,
    12. The errors since Constantine are so clear that my optimism for our mode of church is bleak.
    13. Always remember that the Holy Spirit is active and alive and nothing comes forth from the Spirit unanswered.

    • soconaill

      “There is something I have understood with great clarity… This drama of abuse, especially when it is widespread and gives great scandal – think of Chile, here in Ireland or in the United States – has behind it a Church that is elitist and clericalist, an inability to be near to the people of God.”

      This was Pope Francis, Frank, speaking to Irish Jesuits on his recent visit to Ireland. You will find it by googling ‘pope francis clericalism’ – and other such references by him.

      Perhaps it would take an encyclical from him on this subject – clearly describing not only the disease of clericalism but the steps we all need to take if we are to eradicate it – to make Irish clergy pay proper attention. And perhaps it will take the disappearance of clergy altogether to do that.

      But elitism is the generic HUMAN problem, as illustrated by Trump and celebrity mania more generally. It is the pretence of superiority, the mask we tend to wear unless rescued by an experience of suffering, and then the realisation of what the cross is all about.

      Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison!


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