Letter: The Irish church

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Dr Gerard Hogan's defence of the Irish Constitution (letters, 30 November 1998) is misleading in a number of respects. In particular, he is wrong to suggest that the Catholic Church was "disappointed" with the special position it was accorded in the constitution.

John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College (Holy Ghost Fathers) and later the renowned Archbishop of Dublin, was closely consulted by de Valera in the drafting process and helped write some of the clauses. There can be no doubt that Rev McQuaid was acting for the Catholic Church in this matter.

What Dr Hogan probably means to suggest is that the Irish constitution did not give a formal position of Establishment to the Catholic Church. But official, mainstream, Catholicism understood very well that a measure of religious diversity was required in a constitution which aimed to eventually encompass the northern Protestant people of the island.

The result of the compromise is that Catholic social power in Ireland has been exercised in an informal, unaccountable way. A formal concordat or Establishment would in fact have limited that power - just as Establishment cramped the independence of the Church of England.

At the same time it must be said that public life is freer and less hypocritical than in Britain. There have been, and are, Irish counterparts to Robin Cook (and his "mistress") and to Ron Davies - and they have not been driven from ministerial office, or forced to regularise their positions. Catholicism in Ireland is in many respects approaching Continental norms, while Britain seems stuck in its puritanical (and prurient) non-conformist conscience rut.

ANGELA CLIFFORD

Editor, Church & State

Cork, Ireland

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