The good service of nuns and priests is being 'obliterated', archbishop fears
The Catholic Church's most senior bishop has expressed concern that the good service of nuns and priests in healthcare and education is being "obliterated" by a "narrow narrative" that "religious ethos cannot be good for democracy".
Archbishop Eamon Martin's comments follow the weekend's protest against ownership of the National Maternity Hospital being given to the Order of the Sisters of Charity.
In his address at the University of East Anglia last night, Archbishop Martin paid tribute to the "decades of service" religious sisters and priests have given and regretted this was now being erased by a view which saw the Church's contribution as blocking progress and the rights of citizens.
His talk, titled 'The Church in the Public Sphere - a perspective from Ireland', acknowledged that the sins and crimes of child sexual abuse in the Church and "other shameful episodes" of the past had damaged the Church's credibility.
"When we attempt as a Church to speak in the public sphere about the right to life of the unborn, some are quick to point to the scandals and to shameful stories of the past," Dr Martin admitted.
What the Church in Ireland is experiencing today may be a reaction to its perceived paternalism or authoritarianism in the past, he said.
According to the Catholic Primate there is a tendency in some public discussion to caricature faith schools or faith hospitals or people of faith as "unmodern", "authoritarian", "hypocritical", "bigoted", "closed" to progress and personal rights and autonomy.
"It is simply not true that the Catholic Church has a desire to create a theocracy in Ireland, North or south," he said.
But the Archbishop of Armagh added that the Church does expect that in a true pluralist democracy or republic, religion and faith will continue to have an important part to play in the national conversation.
He also rebuked those in the Church who were defensive in the face of criticisms. He said they should be thankful the lid had been lifted on "a terrible and shameful chapter".