Wednesday 22 January 2020

David Quinn: Church needs to hold its nerve in face of hostility

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is a strong voice for Catholics in Ireland
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is a strong voice for Catholics in Ireland

David Quinn

This last month, and especially this past week, the Catholic Church showed that it has some small bit of life left in it after all, that it has not entirely left the public arena to the tender mercies of those who can't tell the difference between the common good and a bag of crisps.

A fortnight ago, the bishops issued a statement taking exception to the Civil Partnership Bill, as one would expect. That was the first sign of life.

In response, Green Party leader John Gormley did his best impersonation of a nightclub bouncer when he told Christians and other religious believers that they had no right to enter the public arena based simply on the fact that he doesn't agree with them.

Last weekend, he was ticked off by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. That was the second sign of life.

Archbishop Martin didn't name Gormley, but when he said that the right of Christians to express their opinion on matters of public importance was "non-negotiable", it was clear who he had in mind.

It was even clearer when he added: "Listening recently to some comments which seemed to express unease at the fact the Irish bishops would address the political community on a fundamental question affecting society, I was struck to find in my diary, just one year earlier, politicians complaining that the bishops had not been speaking publicly in support of a 'Yes' vote at the Lisbon Treaty. True pluralism respects constructive voices whether they are welcome or not."

Archbishop Martin was exactly the right man to say this. No other bishop enjoys anything like his level of credibility, something he has earned by his very tough response to the child abuse scandals.

Whatever about some of the other bishops, no one can say that the scandals have deprived him of the moral authority to speak out on public issues of the moment.

Hopefully he will now use some more of his personal moral capital to speak out more often on issues that people like Gormley, and much of the media, would no doubt prefer he stayed quiet about, the Civil Partnership Bill to name one, plans to allow embryo research to name another.

The third sign of life came on Monday, when the Catholic press office in Maynooth issued a tough-minded statement taking Eamon Gilmore to task for attacking the Pope in a completely unfair and inaccurate way.

Gilmore had given an interview to the 'Irish Examiner' and according to that newspaper, he instructed Pope Benedict XVI "to temper statements such as claiming that saving humanity from homosexuality was as important as protecting the rain forests".

He said: "We have many examples of where there is not only discrimination against gay people, but there has been nasty homophobic bullying and assaults on gay people and I think opinions like that give comfort to that."

The press office statement accused Gilmore of grossly misrepresenting the Pope.

For good measure it added: "It is a serious, unacceptable and unfounded distortion of the truth for anyone to suggest that support for Christian marriage is contributing to 'homophobic bullying and assaults on gay people'. Catholics and other Christians who uphold the Christian tradition of the scriptures on this matter deserve truth and accuracy from elected representatives and from the media."

And Gilmore did misrepresent the Pope, because the Pope has never compared homosexuality with the destruction of the rainforests. This was a total media distortion of a speech he delivered in December 2008.

In that speech Benedict cited the destruction of the rainforests as an example of an attack on the natural ecology, and said that 'gender theories' that pretend that the differences between men and women are purely the result of the way we are raised is an example of an attack on the social ecology.

Nowhere in his speech did he even mention homosexuality. But by attacking the Pope in the way he did, Gilmore has further confirmed that his party is becoming ever more aggressive towards religious belief and traditional morality.

The bishops -- Diarmuid Martin excepted -- obviously have to tread carefully and warily when making public pronouncements because of the scandals. But the scandals can't be an excuse to stay silent when politicians are planning something that is going to have a detrimental effect on the common good, such as the current plan to redefine the family via the Civil Partnership Bill.

When they do speak out, they can expect a hostile response. Much of Irish public opinion -- especially elite opinion -- resembles hard-line Protestantism in its opposition to Catholicism, although in this case we're dealing with hard-line secularism.

But the church -- and ordinary Catholics -- should no more allow themselves to be intimidated into silence by hard-line secularism than they did when confronted by hard-line Protestantism.

Events of the past couple of weeks show that the church just might be finding its voice once more. It should be careful not to lose its nerve again when the inevitable, and no doubt ferocious, counter attack comes.

Irish Independent

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