Catholic Church…On Wrong Side Of History…Again?

Some speculation that the Catholic Bishops in Norn Iron are angry about the Conscience Clause and a general anti-Religion atmosphere in Norn Iron.

I have always sought to seperate Religion from Politics. I do not like mentioning Religion (a personal matter) with Politics (a public matter).

In simple terms, I am a Catholic…specifically an Irish Catholic.

And as we all know, the Catholic Church is usually on the wrong side of History. Open a first History Text Book….aged 11…even a Catholic -orientated text book in an Irish Christian Brothers School and with three strands of History (English,European and Irish) in the same book beginning with Tudor Dynasty and its pretty clear. The Reformation and its effects dominate.

Of course the Reformation in Europe and in England are different. To an 11 year old Catholic boy, Martin Luther had a point. Priests selling Indulgences, charging cash for sight of the “True Cross” or the bones of a “saint”…..all a bit tacky and clearly in need of Reform. And of course Luther championed Education against Ignorance. Of course we were taught that Luther went too far…there cant be any compromise on the Great Issues of Transubstantiation and the rest….Or so we were told.

England was different. A king, Henry VIII, who believed himself to be Catholic, conflicting advice from Catholics like More and Protestants like Cranmer…conflicting continental influences…and courtiers trying to find a way thru Principle, the Demands of a male heir, greed (the confiscation of the monasteries etc). Remember that to us, Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher who did not sign up to Henry’s Act of Supremacy were martyrs and saints of our Church.

We sang hymns to celebrate them “Faith of our fathers living still in spite of dungeon fire and sword”.

Of course Ireland as always is different. The Anglo-Irish nobility descended from the Normans stayed Catholic and had common cause with the Gaelic Chieftains. The occupation of Ireland by the English …and English dominion over Ireland…is actually a Papal Decree, issued three hundred years before the Reformation. The validity of such a decree issued by the only English Pope is obviously nonsensical….but English Catholics, even today regard the Irish (Catholics) as lesser beings.

Of course 11 year old boys never really grasp the contradiction. Intelligent people “should” be Protestants. Certainly Protestant and Unionist orthodoxy in Norn Iron holds that Catholics are at best to be pitied because we are all under the influence of Superstition and at worst to be suspected as being Papists who owe allegiance to Rome.

And post-1648 and Westphalia, Europe settles down to good sensible Swedes and Danes and Prussians being Protestant. And those feckless, superstitious Italians and Spanish and French being Catholic. Protestantism perceived as intellectual and Catholicism perceived as anti-intellectual. Call Mr Gallileo as the first witness.

Take the Williamite-Jacobite Wars. Sensible Protestant William of Orange and King George and sensible Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverians and Stupid King James and Bonnie Prince Charlie and stupid French and savage Irish and Highland Scots. A Glorious Revolution and Divine Right of Kings. Again, the wrong side of History. But heres the thing….the blood spilled at Aughrim, Fontenoy, Culloden was OUR blood. Our ancestors made no logical choice, other than defence of what little we had.

Over the last fifteen years or so, I have encountered many and even met a few modern Jacobites (sic). I am persona non grata for despite being interested in Jacobite History, I am a Republican and a …..follower of Satan. You might think that depicting me as a Satanist is a bit harsh but there is a certain logic. Lucifer rebelled against GOD. He was the first Republican. Republicans rebelling against Kings appointed by GOD are bound for Hell….An alternative view is that modern Jacobites are mad.

But turn that History text book page.  The French Revolution. 1789.On the wrong side of History and even the Enlightenment. As bishops and priests went to the guillotine we might be forgiven for looking on them as martyrs but….overthrowing despots seems a legitimate Christian activity.

Of course the French Revolution was the point where the British panicked. Revolution across the Channel and having already happened in North America. And fearing Ireland, the British open a Seminary at Maynooth (1795) and relax anti-Catholic Laws. It doesnt stop the (republican) Rebellion of 1798. It doesnt stop the fact that the Wexford rebels were led by Catholic priests. But it does keep the Catholic Hierarchy allied to the British. The wrong side again..

And yet in the 19th century, Irish nationalism and the Irish Catholic Church joined together. An independent Ireland would necessarily be mostly Catholic. The Church was active in commemorating the centenary of the 1798 Rebellion. The Rebels had fought for their altar and their hearth. But it is the nature of The Catholic Church to distrust Republicanism and even Democracy. It is the nature of Nationalism to believe in the Sovreignty of the State. And the nature of Republicanism to believe in the primacy of the Republic.I was born into a Norn Iron where Catholics were discriminated against and the Church seen as a protector as well as a co-victim. Church attendance high at maybe 85 per cent.

Yet the Troubles that started in 1969 was a wedge between the Catholic Church and the people in the pews. Understandably the Church opposed violence…and whether in the general or the specific, condemning violence from the altar, often led to walk outs. In my experience, I never saw a “massive” walk out. It was usually pretty discrete. And I can only remember one really nasty shouting match. But it was evident that people were staying away.

Of course global Catholicism was having problems. I can find mitigation in the position of Pope Pius XII in his dealings with Nazi Germany but I can find no mitigation in Franco’s Spain. And of course moral issues like Contraception showed the Church behind the views of its own members.

I hate to see the Catholic Church being defined on the single issue of Abortion. It is more nuanced than  the combatants would have us believe. It is illegal in Ireland and the “Irish solution to an Irish problem” …..if you want an abortion, go to England … no longer tenable.

In May this year, the Republic will vote in a Referendum on same-sex marriage. The Church will ritually oppose it but its a generational argument that is already lost by the Church. Abortion will be introduced within another generation. It is more problematic.

But the Abortion Debate DID drive a wedge between the British Labour Party and BritishCatholics. The Church was of course on the wrong side of History and Feminism was on the right side of History.

I was made to feel very uncomfortable in 1983. It was the height of Thatcherism and some of her Catholic backbenchers were advocating reform of Englands liberal abortion laws. They styled themselves “Pro Life” but somehow that did not extend to protecting lives in West Belfast or Derry. Nor did it extend to standing up against nuclear weapons. Nor did their alleged “pro Life” stance extend to providing enough support for vulnerable families.

And perhaps fair to say that in a Party (Labour) committed to a “Pro-Choice” stance, Catholic Labour MPs in South Lancashire, West Scotland were not vocal enough in opposing the Party Line.

But in 1983, I was uncomfortable during a speech about Abortion at a meeting for Catholic couples, who had married the previous year. My wife was pregnant in 1983 and it was all a bit graphic. But frankly what made me most uncomfortable was my own cowardice. I wanted to talk about “nuance” about special cases such as Rape. I wanted to say that things can be OBJECTIVELY wrong (stealing) and SUBJECTIVELY right (stealing to feed a starving family). And most of all I wanted to say that I dont want anyone imposing a moral code on me. Nor do I wish to impose my moral code on anyone else.

Of course things have changed since 1983. Notably the Catholic Church has seen its influence wane. Sexual Abuse and Child Abuse Scandals and its handling of these issues have meant that Catholics no longer attend Church in the same numbers…except of course for Christenings, Marriages and Funerals (hatching, matching and despatching). And of course Catholics attend Catholic schools, which gives the Church SOME influence but significantly these schools turn out nationalists and republicans as much as they turn out Catholics.

But while Abortion wont be settled as an issue by THIS generation, the issue of Same Sex Marriage and Gay Rights is settled.

In political terms, the DUP (fundamentalist Protestant) are totally opposed to Same Sex Marriage. Sodomy, they claim is an abomination. Conscious of its Protestant backing, most but not all UUP members are against Same Sex Marriage. The Alliance Party seem ok with Same Sex Marriage although some of their Churchy or older types are against it. Sinn Féin and SDLP are in favour. Of course nothing can happen in Norn Iron unless both tribes approve.

Its something of a surprise therefore to see the Catholic Church in Norn Iron making noises of supporting DUP over the so called Conscience Clause. Lets be frank here, the DUP is a Party of anti-Catholic bigots. At best they follow the line that they hate Catholicism but love Catholics. For the Catholic Church to find common cause (which could easily be interpreted as Homophobia) with the DUP is shameful. And simply put, directing Catholic church-goers to consider voting for any unionist party would be absurd.

I myself have reservations about the civil rights implications of the Conscience Clause. And it is a ridiculous thing where common sense should prevail.

For readers unfamiliar with the Conscience Clause….it arises to deal with a situation last year. A gay man ordered a cake from a bakery. And they refused to bake it because as a Christian business, they felt it improper to bake a cake supporting same-sex relationships.






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9 Responses to Catholic Church…On Wrong Side Of History…Again?

  1. Caoimhín says:

    Not sure if this will fall foul of your no abortion rule Fitz. But the following scenario was presented at the time of the pro-gay-marriage cake debacle: would a pro-choice baker have been prosecuted for refusing to supply a product bearing an explicit pro-life political statement? I don’t believe so.

    Various rights and obligations conflict and intersect in these areas. We have the right to use consumer services and to be free from discrimination on one hand, and the right to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of association (and it relation – the right of dissociation) on the other hand.

    I suppose it comes down to a value judgment: does ‘equality’ trump freedom of conscience?

  2. frank7778 says:

    I get the impression that confronted by secularism, there are a lot of issues which actually unite the Catholic church with the more traditional fundamental protestants.

    • I would not think a lot of issues. More that binds Church to SF-SDLP political views.
      Take Fermanagh-South Tyrone in 2010.
      I dont have the files in front of me here.
      Let us say that in round figures there are 6,000 more nationalist voters than unionist voters in 2010
      We know that some voted SDLP…the SDLP core vote (let us say) and SF won by 4 votes.
      Theoretically all it would have taken would be a handful of priests in the constituency to change their vote to a DUP or Unionist candidate.
      Would an intervention by Catholic Church in 2015 win it for DUP?
      possibly….but the Church would lose more than it gained.

      • frank7778 says:

        I take your point but I really meant at a social or religious rather than an electoral level. For example I read a story last week how the catholic and protestant churches had been in talks to establish a joint school run by the churches, not run by the integrated education lobby.

      • Yes. And that is an interesting new development. A few years ago Dr Hamilton (?) the Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (I have no notes here and his name has slipped my memory) …was speaking on a panel at a SDLP Conference. Someone, probably Duncan Morrow also on the panel, brought up Integrated Education as the cure of all ills.
        And the ex Moderator said that there is no such thing as “value free education”. This is a very important point because the drivers of Integrated Education have THEIR agenda.

  3. I strongly support the conscience clause – I look at the case of Scottish Catholic nurses being forced to participate in abortions. I see Catholic adoption agencies being closed. I attended a local info night once about tourism and the lady from the tourist board bemoaned the lack of B and B’s. She was reminded that once you put up that sign you no longer have the right to control who enters your home.

    Catholics need the conscience clause if they are in business and want to be true to their beliefs.

  4. By the way – if you are a Catholic you should not worry in the slightest about being on the wrong side of history. You should worry about being on the right side of God.

    • I am sure Catholics AND people of other Faiths and no Faith worry about being on the right side of GOD.
      But historically GOD seems to change his mind…or more likely the people who purport to speak for GOD change their minds a lot.

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