Government Ministers hypocritical on Church and politics

On Saturday, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin responded to recent statements by a couple of senior politicians, Ministers John Gormley and Dermot Ahern, Chuich and Statesuggesting that religion had no place in political debate.


Minister Gormley said that he “thought we had left the era of Church interference behind” and advised the Church to “concentrate its efforts on looking after the spiritual needs of its flock and not intrude on temporal or State matters.”


Minister Ahern had said in an Irish Times interview that that politicians must leave their religion to one side when legislating and not let it ‘cloud’ their judgement. Last July, in response to a sermon made by a priest in his constituency, Mr Ahern said that when he legislated “particularly as a Government Minister, I don’t bring whatever religion I have to the table.”


In response, Archbishop Martin said that the Church has “a right and an obligation to express concerns about the manner in which those who are called to exercise responsibility in politics” live out their mandate.


Pointedly, 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.”


His point is apposite. It seems that politicians have split personality disorder on this point. On the one hand, they are happy to have the Church on their side when they make statements with which they agree.


For example, last year, the Church came out with a document, Cry of the Earth, which focused on environmental issues. The Green Party, of which Mr Gormley is the leader, welcomed the statement. When Fr Sean Healy or Fr Peter McVerry comment on social justice, they are lauded as exemplars of compassion.


And, as Archbishop Martin points out, when the Government wants to get the vote out on a European referendum, the Church is not only welcome to speak out, it has a duty to be “interfering”, or to “intrude on temporal or State matters”.


Some time back, I mentioned that the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, had made two contradictory statements on Church involvement in politics. It seems that some Irish politicians wish to emulate her hypocrisy in this regard.