Mick Mulholland’s Political Notebook - Church and State

Church and State relations have come a long way indeed with senior politicians calling on the Cardinal and Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign.

Church and State relations have come a long way indeed with senior politicians calling on the Cardinal and Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign.

The Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore set the ball rolling when he effectively called on the Cardinal to stand down.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, did not quite go that far, but the tone of his observation that the Cardinal should reflect on his position said a great deal.

Other politicians joined in. Will the Cardinal resign?

Who knows, given the strange way that the Vatican does its business.

Apparently, the word from Rome is that the greater the frenzy for his resignation in Ireland the more the Church authorities will dig their heels in.

There is a broad consensus that the Cardinal is a decent man.

But he made a serious error of judgement back in 1975 when he failed to put an end, once and for all, to the evil activities of the child abuser Fr Brendan Smyth.

The Cardinal insists that he was no more than a note taker at the interview of an abused boy. He clames that he was a small cog in a big Church wheel.

But the reality is that the then Father Brady was a canon lawyer.

He was a mature man of the cloth. And what was presented to him was a deeply moral issue.

He should have done more to ensure that Smyth would never abuse again.

Astonishingly, full priestly faculties were later restored to Smyth.

Equally astonishingly, the American diocese, to where he was sent to get rid of him in Ireland, was not informed of his criminal past.

What was it about senior Church people at that time that they believed they were above the law?

For there is evidence that they did feel they were above the law. Why otherwise would a predator like Smyth be allowed free to cause such havoc, mayhem and destruction?

Cardinal Daly’s resignation would be an admission by the Church that it got matters hideously wrong in the past. But there is not a great deal of evidence to suggest that senior people in the Church are prepared to go that far.

The separation of Church and State is a good thing.

That should not stop politicians expressing a personal view on Church matters, as they did last week.

Nor should it stop Church men and women expressing their view on the state of the country as it is run by politicians. That should be the norm in a healthy democracy.

The Dail speech in which the Taoiseach was highly critical of the Vatican in relation to abuse was a watershed in Irish political history.

It was the final act in the separation of Church and State in this country.

And Mr Kenny, himself a Catholic, handled it very well.

It is all a long way from the suffocating control which the Church once had on politicians and people in this country.

Most politicians were afraid of suffering the proverbial belt of a crozier if they stepped out of line.

Those who did step out of line, such as Dr Noel Browne, in the Mother and Child controversy, paid a price.

Even the great republican Sean McBride felt that he had to stay on the right side of the all powerful Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, whe he was elected to the Dail.

Dr McQuaid had sufficient power that he felt it in order to summon politicians to the Palace in Drumcondra if he believed that they were not doing things his way.

Following Mr McBride’s election to the Dail, in a by-election in 1947, he felt that his first duty was to send a personal letter to the Archbishop.

Even by the standards of the time it was appalling in its servitude.

It read: “I hasten, as my first act, to pay my humble respects to Your Grace, and to place myself at Your Grace’s disposal.

“Both as a Catholic and a public representative, I shall always welcome any advice which Your Grace may be good enough to give me and shall be at Your Grace’s disposal should there be any matters on which Your Grace feels I could be of any assistance. It is my sincere hope that Your Grace will not hesistate to avail of my services should the occasion arise.’’

It was little wonder, therefore, that Dr McQuaid felt he could order senior politicians around.

John A Costello and Eamon de Valera were equally grovelling in their approach to the Church.

Even in old age, and in a changing Ireland, Mr Costello still put forward the view that he was a Catholic first and a legislator second.

Time has moved on. That era has passed. And good riddance to it.

All that is not to take from the magnificent work of the Catholic Church’s footsoldiers in the area of education and health.

But the day is long gone when Church authorities could feel that they were entitled to hand down edicts cast in stone.