Shattering ‘Catholic Ireland’: Some thoughts on the recent controversy over church and state

The relationship between church and state in Ireland is again in question as Alan Shatter, Ireland’s Jewish Defense Minister, has been accused of being ‘ant-Catholic’ because he refused to allow the Irish army to offer a guard of honour for a religious procession during the recent International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.  This ‘unprecedented move’, writes The Irish Catholic, ‘increases suspicion among people of faith that the Coalition is increasingly hostile towards Catholics’.

But does it really?  Is the Coalition ‘anti-Catholic’ because it does not blend church and state?

There are two issues at hand here.  One is whether Ireland is secularizing or reaffirming its older Catholic traditions, and the second is whether Catholic functions should receive preferential treatment from the state.

Here are a few important points to consider…

We would be wise to remember that Shatter symbolizes a 21st century Ireland that is composed of Jews (though they have been in Ireland for some time – see Leopold Bloom), Muslims, Hindus, non-Catholic and Protestant Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, and probably a few more religious groups.

Thanks largely to the Celtic Tiger, the demographic makeup of Ireland has changed and continues to change.  Migrants from various parts of the world, from Nigeria to Pakistan, have pushed the boundaries of what it means to be Irish and added much vitality to Ireland’s cultural identity.  Ireland is no longer the fairly homogenous country it was in 1916, or the early 1990s for that matter.  We would be wise to also recognize that and move forward openly with our new neighbours in the future.

When I asked a class of first-year Trinity College Dublin students the question ‘Who in here considers themselves a practicing Catholic?‘, only three out of about twenty students raised their hands.  Those three who did, did so reluctantly.

Those are indeed telling hands.

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