Growing up in the North in the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see graffiti on walls proclaiming “F*** the Pope”.
seemed to have a pathological fear of all things Catholic and Roman and
the Pope was – in their minds – the visible manifestation of all they
feared and loathed.
Of course, it was fed to them by firebrand clerics
who regularly trotted out terms like ‘Popery’ and ‘Papist’.
The peace process has mellowed things…slightly. Now, it’s more common
to see acronymised versions like KAT (Kill all Taigs) or FAP (F*** All
Papists). It’s an improvement, perhaps, but sectarianism and
anti-Catholic sentiment remain as a cancer.
The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, provoked
controversy three years ago when he said that his experience in Dublin
has been that “sectarianism, although polite in speech and smile, is
alive and well”.
Dr Jackson went on to refer to the prevalence of “deeply pejorative
remarks” against the Catholic Church in Ireland because of its firm
stand on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
His remarks came to mind as I read exchanges in Leinster House last
week in response to the Taoiseach’s recent meeting with Pope Francis. I
was left with the deep impression that there’s more than a hint of truth
in Archbishop’s Jackson’s impression – particularly from some
Can it really be that the sectarianism and anti-Catholicism we
associated with the North has seeped in to political discourse south of
The Dáil has never really been known for the high standard of debate
in the chamber. Deputies regularly read from scripts – something frowned
upon in other legislatures.
But, debates around the Catholic Church are
usually worth watching for the level of ignorance and, sometimes,
Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) TD Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach
on Wednesday to “report on his visit to the Vatican City State and his
meeting with Pope Francis”.
Enda Kenny duly obliged and outlined the
nature of his discussions with both the Pope and senior officials in the
Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Deputy Coppinger appeared unimpressed by the Taoiseach’s answer which
included a reference to the fact that he had discussed the citizens’
assembly on abortion with the Vatican.
It’s worth publishing Ms Coppinger’s reply in full: “I have no problem with any religious leader visiting a country, but I
have a number of issues with the Taoiseach’s visit and the impending
visit by the Pope in 2018. The Taoiseach has reportedly said
Church-State relations are in better shape now than they were ever
before. However, we still have religious discrimination in schools and
the Church is still not teaching aspects of sex education. We still have
the church vetoing the teaching of religion, beliefs and ethics in
There is church teaching on abortion.
The Taoiseach has said he met
the Vatican Prime Minister and the Vatican Foreign Minister.
had an all-male state, there would be an outcry in this country. The
idea that they have titles such as “Prime Minister” and “Foreign
Minister” and their own state is something a lot more serious and merits
more serious discussion.
“I am amazed that the Taoiseach is reporting to the Dáil that he
discussed the Citizens’ Assembly with the Pope. Why? What does the
Citizens’ Assembly have to do with the Pope?
Is he going to discuss with
any other male leader of any other religion for what he is going to
legislate in relation to women’s bodies? The timing of this visit is the
subject of a lot of discussion on social media.
“A lot of people are saying it is very coincidentlal that the Pope’s
visit is being planned for 2018, the year in which a referendum on
repeal of the Eighth Amendment is expected to be held, albeit no one is
holding his or her breath waiting on the Taoiseach’s Government.
the Foreign Minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has told the Taoiseach
and the world that the result of the referendum on marriage equality
was a defeat for humanity.
“Are the Pope and the Church going to intervene in the referendum in
2018 because if they are, that is serious? That they would arrange a
visit to intervene in a referendum expected to take place in the same
year is something about which a lot of people have questions. If it is a
private visit to attend the world meeting of families, why was it
announced after the Taoiseach’s visit?
“Why would the Church not just announce it without the Taoiseach
having to go over and without having a ceremonial event? It was only
then that it was announced. I am very interested in hearing what the
Pope had to say about the Citizens’ Assembly. Did he welcome the
Taoiseach’s delaying tactic in dealing with the issue?”
Now, where to begin. Deputy Coppinger’s intervention is so filled
with ignorance and presuppositions, it’s hard to know which point to
Her opening remark seems to be directly contradictory. She first
claims she has “no problem with any religious leader” visiting Ireland.
But in her next sentence she admits to having “a number of issues” with
“the impending visit by the Pope in 2018”.
Ms Coppinger refers to what she describes as “religious
discrimination in schools”. I take it she is referring to the fact that
Catholic schools – when they are over-subscribed – have a policy of
admitting Catholic children first.
It hardly seems unreasonable that a Catholic school, set up to
provide a Catholic education would prioritise children of that religious
tradition when it is over-subscribed. Surely the deputy’s concern would
be better placed asking the Department of Education why it is unwilling
to provide more places where schools are over-subscribed.
Ms Coppinger goes on to say that in schools “the Church is still not
teaching aspects of sex education”. I assume what she really means is
that Catholic schools are teaching children about sexuality in line with
the Catholic ethos. Again, it’s hardly controversial that a Catholic
school is, frankly, Catholic.
Later in her remarks, Ms Coppinger also states: “There is Church
teaching on abortion”.
She doesn’t elaborate on what exactly she means
by this statement.
Presumably, since Ms Coppinger is a vocal supporter
of making unlimited abortion legal in Ireland, she is opposed to
Catholics’ views on abortion in principle. It’s hard to imagine another
parliament in the developed world where a legislator would see fit to
use parliamentary time to attack the religious beliefs of a large number
of Irish citizens.
The deputy’s firebrand speech then descends in to farce as Ms
Coppinger appears to revel in her ignorance rather than be embarrassed
She insists: “the Taoiseach has said he met the Vatican Prime
Minister and the Vatican Foreign Minister.”
The Taoiseach, of course,
said no such thing. The Vatican doesn’t have a prime minister or a
foreign minister. One can only assume that the deputy is referring to
the meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin
and Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul
But, if your face isn’t red for the deputy’s embarrassment at this
stage, it gets worse. She went on to say: “If Muslims had an all-male
state, there would be an outcry in this country.”
At this stage Ms
Coppinger has evidently entered a parallel universe where she is not so
much attacking the Vatican or the Holy See, but attacking a caricature
of it that she has constructed in her mind. As a matter of fact, Vatican
City is not an “all-male state” – many of the employees of the Vatican
Ms Coppinger then adds “the idea that they have titles such as ‘Prime
Minister’ and ‘Foreign Minister’ and their own state is something a lot
more serious and merits more serious discussion”.
The idea of a Dáil deputy calling for “serious discussion” about
things she is so clearly ignorant about would be funny if it wasn’t so
It would be lovely to see a day when discussions about the Catholic
Church and Church-State relations in Ireland would be characterised by
maturity, rather than the foaming-at-the-mouth so reminiscent of the bad
old days in the North.