Bishop accused of incitement to hatred in homily
Humanist says 'godless culture' sermon was hostile to those who do not share church's aims
Published 29/01/2012 | 05:00
A HOMILY delivered at Knock shrine by the Bishop of Raphoe, Philip Boyce, is being investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions following a formal complaint by a leading humanist who claims the sermon was an incitement to hatred.
The gardai have confirmed to former Fine Gael election candidate John Colgan that they have prepared and forwarded a file to the DPP after he made allegations that the address by Dr Boyce was in breach of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989.
The homily, entitled: "To Trust in God" was delivered to worshippers during a novena at the Marian shrine in Co Mayo last August and subsequently reported in the media, including The Irish Times, under the headline: "'Godless culture' attacking church, says bishop."
Mr Colgan, a retired chartered engineer and economist from Leixlip, Co Kildare, referred in his formal complaint to two key passages in Dr Boyce's homily which he believes broke the law.
One of the passages referred to the Catholic Church in Ireland being "attacked from outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture".
A second passage, which was included in the complaint, stated: "For the distinguishing mark of Christian believers is the fact they have a future; it is not that they know all the details that await them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness."
Mr Colgan, who was a leader in the 'Campaign to Separate Church and State' in the late 1990s, said in his complaint: "I believe statements of this kind are an incitement to hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists, within the meaning of the [Incitement to Hatred] Act, who are perfectly good citizens within the meaning of the civil law. The statements exemplify the chronic antipathy towards secularists, humanists etc, which has manifested itself in the ostracising of otherwise perfectly good Irish citizens, who do not share the aims of the Vatican's Irish Mission Church."
To back up his complaint, Mr Colgan referred to two statistical surveys carried out two decades apart by the Jesuit sociologist and academic Fr Michael MacGreil, entitled: 'Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland' and 'Prejudice in Ireland Revisited' which Mr Colgan claims showed "marked prejudice by Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations against agnostics and atheists" (humanist was not an option offered to respondents in either survey).
In his complaint, Mr Colgan said he attributed this prejudice to "hostile propaganda disseminated in school and chapel in the main by or for the institutional churches, for there is no rational or temporal reason". In a statement to the Sunday Independent, Martin Long of the Catholic Communications office said: "Bishop Boyce's homily 'To Trust in God' is available for anyone to read at catholicbishops.ie.
"I advise any person to read it and judge it for themselves. It is clearly a reasonable, balanced, honest -- and indeed self-critical from a church perspective -- analysis of the value of the Catholic faith. Bishop Boyce is a good and holy man and much loved by those who know him."
After the homily was delivered late last summer, Mr Colgan wrote personally to the cleric seeking a corrective statement.
Dr Boyce responded saying that in his homily he did "not wish to disparage in any way the sincere efforts of those with no religious beliefs, atheists, humanists etc.
"I have too much respect for each human person, since I believe all are created in the image of God. At Knock I wished to encourage and confirm the hope of believers, even in the present challenging times, since trust in God was the theme I was given."