There is need for reflection

Poor Ireland, it must be so disconcerting.

The phenomenal economic boom over the past two decades, and the secularization that came along with it, allowed Ireland to think it was no longer what it once was: a backward land dominated and shaped by the Roman Catholic Church. But as the economy has crashed, the Irish have come face to face with their earlier selves, and with a church-state relationship that was and in many ways still is, as quite a few people in the country see it, perversely antimodern.

It’s perhaps similar to being suddenly transported from a cosmopolitan liberal coastal city to a parochial conservative religious town in the hinterland.

Only worse.

As secularism advanced in other parts of the world, successive popes relied on Ireland as a bulwark and pushed Irish leaders to keep the church in the country’s structure. In 1977, Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald noted that in a private meeting, Pope Paul VI stressed to him “that Ireland was a Catholic country — perhaps the only one left — and that it should stay that way” and that he should not “change any of the laws that kept the republic a Catholic state.” That continues to this day, according to Ivana Bacik, a senator for the opposition Labor Party who has been a leader in the effort to extricate the church from the state. As she put it, “In no other European nation — with the obvious exception of Vatican City — does the church have this depth of doctrinal involvement in the affairs of state.”

By what right? In other European nations, laws are generally changed or not changed by the legislators or people of those nations, not by different ones. It’s odd that the nation of “Vatican City” thinks it gets to tell the Irish PM what laws to change or not change. Odd but not surprising.

Last summer, there was talk of a plan to divest the church of its control of state-financed schools, but when I asked a Department of Education and Skills spokeswoman last month what the department was doing, she gave me only the Catholic Church’s current position — that there is need for “reflection” on the issue — and actually referred me to the church for further information.

Or reflection.

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