Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ireland: Catholic attacks on EU are misplaced

Was it God or Mammon that led to the "no" vote in Ireland's referendum on the EU Lisbon reform treaty?

The leader of the country's Catholics certainly seems to think Lisbon's rejection last June was down to the former ... or at least the fact that He wasn't around.

Cardinal Sean Brady this week presented the absence of God in a supposedly ever-increasingly secular Europe as a major factor in voters' disillusionment with the EU project.

The cardinal used a speech at a summer school to suggest in the strongest possible terms that the EU was promoting anti-family, anti-life and anti-Christian decisions.

He even went as far as to say that some normally Europhile Christian voters were prompted to vote "no" because they perceived the EU as hostile to religion.

The irony of the particular summer school Cardinal Brady chose to launch his broadside against European secularism appeared lost on him and many others this week.

The venue was the Humbert summer school in Killala, County Mayo, which was named after the French revolutionary general who commanded a doomed military operation to end British rule in the late 18th century.

General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert emerged from the seizures of 1789 and the French revolution, a movement that was as fiercely anti-clerical as it was anti-monarchical.

In the years running up to the general's invasion and attempted liberation of western Ireland, successive revolutionary regimes fought bloody battles against the power of the Catholic church.

Those struggles produced the secular French constitution of today with its strict separation of church and state.

Ireland doesn't have a French-style constitution, which among other things bans the display of religious symbols in schools.

Unlike France, the Irish Republic still maintains a special position in public life for the Roman Catholic faith: abortion remains banned, the tolling of the Angelus Bells (the Catholic call to prayer) still rings out at 6pm every night on the Irish public television broadcaster, the church controls the vast majority of schools in the state, where the crucifix and other religious images are common.

Even as late as 2001, just as Bertie Ahern's first administration was winding up and preparing for the general election, Irish ministers rushed through a law that gave the Catholic church immunity from paying compensation to the child victims of clerical sex abuse.

Instead, the first Ahern government ensured that the Irish taxpayer would be picking up the tab (running into tens of millions) for the church's crimes. The EU has never threatened or sought to overturn any of the above.

None the less, hardline Irish Catholics have never forgiven Europe over what they regard as interference in the republic's affairs.

The battle lines with Brussels were drawn back in the early 1990s, when the Irish authorities attempted to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim pregnant by her attacker travelling to Britain for an abortion.

The cack-handed way the government handled the affair created headlines around the world, with Dublin accused of reintroducing internment on the island – this time for young girls. What became known as the "X case" was followed by a series of scandals that rocked the church hierarchy, ranging from paedophile priests to bishops fathering children and using the collection plate funds to cover up their tracks.

In Cardinal Brady's universe there is a simple black/white distinction between the good religious world and the very bad, nasty secular one. In his and the minds of other senior figures in the Irish Catholic church the historic crimes of the 20th century – the Holocaust, the gulags, the Great Leap Forwards, Year Zero – are merely the toxic by-product of European secularism.

Of course, this ignores entirely the role of both Catholic and Protestant theology in the antisemitism preceding the Shoah or sectarian slaughter from the Balkans to Ulster.

None of the major Irish political parties in the early 21st century today seeks to portray themselves as the defenders of the faith of our fathers.

Despite fire-proofing the church from costly legal actions, political careers are no longer destroyed (as they were in the past) over accusations that someone in public life is irreligious or Godless or gay.

Unlike in Northern Ireland, where politicians such as Iris Robinson, the first minister's wife, can label homosexuality an "abomination" which can be cured by psychiatry, no party seeks to exploit personal moral issues or pick on sexual or religious minorities.

Nor is there an appetite in an increasingly multi-faith society for Ireland to turn the clock back to the days when condoms were illegal and no one dared say boo to a Catholic bishop.

The age of absolute reverence to Rome among Ireland's a la carte Catholics has passed.


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Sotto Voce

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1 comment:

David Gerard said...

Don Sarkozy explained, "You must understand. Europe is like a family."