Is this the first step to Ireland becoming a secular Republic?

By Terry Sanderson

While Britain was distracted by the drama of the phone hacking revelations, in the Irish parliament something even more sensational was happening.

On Wednesday, as the parliament opened its debate on the Cloyne report into cover-up of child abuse by the Vatican, the Prime Minister Enda Kelly stood up and delivered a speech that could change Irish life forever.

The speech has pitted the state against the church in a way that would have been unimaginable only ten years ago.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil (the lower house of parliament): “Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, the narcissism, that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day... The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”

Mr Kenny sent an unequivocal message to the Vatican that its immunity from the law of the land was over. He said: “This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011.” He emphasised the word ‘republic’.

In the debate that followed there were even harsher words for the Vatican, and one deputy, Mick Wallace, said: “The Government must reassess the church-State relationship. The church has played too big a part in the fabric of the State. The sooner they are divided the better for both parties.”

It seems we now have a generation of politicians in Ireland who are prepared to do what is necessary to break the stranglehold of the Church: a rewriting of the constitution to make clear that Ireland is an independent, democratic state that does not look to a theocratic outside institution for its policies.

The press, too, is reflecting some of the fury felt by a population that feels completely betrayed by an institution to which it has been devoted for centuries, with headlines such as:

Canon lawyer in call to jail clerics who hide abuse” (Irish Times)

The crozier is no longer more powerful than the Dail” (Irish Independent)

We must destroy the nest of devils at the Vatican” (Irish Independent)

Time to stop bending the knee to the Vatican” (Irish Herald)

All roads, in the child abuse scandal, lead to Rome” (Irish Times)

The Vatican’s response to all this consisted of the usual arrogance and excuse-making. It’s incredible that these clerics can imagine that people will simply accept that “the Holy See’s response and considerations will be forthcoming in the most appropriate time and manner.” The “Holy See” has had adequate opportunities to respond and in each case it has failed in its duty to put things right. And who but the most deluded imagines that canon law can ever again trump the law of the land?

This arrogance is underlined by the treatment of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who has spoken out loudly and consistently about the Church’s failure to properly address the crisis inIrelandand to take effective steps to protect children.

For his stance, Cardinal Martin appears to have been completely isolated by his fellow clerics, but seems to be the only one among them that has a grain of genuine compassion.

See also:

Will Home Rule bring an end to Rome rule?

Irish political classes lose their fear of the Catholic Church

35 lies by the Catholic Church in the Cloyne report