Senator Ivana Bacik (Irish Times 11/9) has taken serious issue with Archbishop Eamon Martin who recently said that Christians are obliged to bring their faith to their politics. Senator Bacik regards this as an unacceptable attack on the separation of Church and State and says that the Catholic Church still has too much influence in Ireland.
In defending the rights and obligations of conscience, Archbishop Martin is speaking for people of other ethical persuasions too. A secularist humanist or atheist point of view is also informed by values moderated by conscience. They may not be the same values but they are just as strongly held, just as resolutely pursued.
Referring to the abortion referendum, Bacik cites “the strident anti-choice campaign” that opposed repeal of the 8th Amendment. Mis-naming and denigrating your opponents like this is saying their campaign has no moral legitimacy. It expresses an undemocratic, intolerant dismissal of one third of the electorate.
Everybody is ‘anti-choice’ at some point. Most of the 66% of the electorate who supported repeal of the 8th Amendment would not support abortion up to birth as some US states do. Everybody is entitled to exercise their political choices according to their ethical and moral convictions. For Catholics, that includes the right to actively promote the idea of the family based on the marriage of a man and woman, the rights of parents to choose a faith-based education for their children and rights to conscientious objection. It is the State and not the Church that crosses a line when these rights are denied.
Ivana Bacik goes on to attack the lack of diversity in school patronage as if the Catholic Church was actively blocking divestment. It is the reluctance of parents to be won over by alternative models of patronage that is paralysing the process which the Church has fully endorsed and sees as appropriate in a culturally changing Ireland.
Dismissing the Church’s immense contribution to education and healthcare before the State was in a position to shoulder its responsibilities to its citizens is ideological revisionism. Yes, there were ‘appalling abuses’ but ‘unpaid redress’ should not deny due recognition to the selfless, unrewarded dedication of the orders founded by social revolutionaries like Edmund Rice, Nano Nagle and Catherine McAuley.
Senator Bacik cites the invocation of the Trinity in the preamble to the Irish Constitution as further evidence of insidious religious influence. It is surprising it troubles her so much when she apparently has no problem sitting on a Senate panel representing a university dedicated to the same Trinity.
Ivana Bacik has no reason to fear a Catholic ‘theocracy’, but it helps the secularist cause to keep such a fear alive. As Pope Benedict XVI said, the Church ‘does not impose but invites’ the world to consider its positions in the light of reason. This is primarily the task of the Church’s membership in the public square, as citizens, campaigners, politicians, people of every profession and social position. This is democracy at work and it is disingenuous and mischievous to characterise it as Church interference in the affairs of state.
In quoting President Kennedy’s Houston speech, delivered to a gathering of non-Catholic pastors not secularists, where he committed to upholding ‘the national interest’ even when it ran counter to his Catholicism, she omits to say that there was a point beyond which President Kennedy would not bend. That was the point where he had ‘to violate my conscience or violate the national interest ‘. In such a situation, he said he would ‘resign the office of president’. In other words, there were circumstances in which his moral convictions would come before his political career.
A mature, developed democracy should not force its citizens and those who represent them in parliament to violate their consciences. This is not about ceding power to any Church but honouring secular principles like inclusion and diversity. Inclusion and diversity are about empowering voices, not silencing them.