Irish referendum result revealed dislike of secularist agenda, says Catholic Primate of All Ireland
BY DAVID V BARRETT
THE REJECTION of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish people in their recent referendum reflects a growing unease with the European Union's attitude to religious belief, an Irish Catholic leader has said.
While stressing the importance of Ireland's membership of the EU Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. was also strongly critical of those "who wish to see religion relegated to all but the most private sphere."
Quoting Pope John Paul II he spoke of the "loss of Christian memory" in EU policy decisions.
Closer to home, the cardinal hailed the Northern Ireland peace process as "a remarkable achievement" and praised the Orange Order for the part it had played in it. In an emotional appeal. 10 years after the Omagh bombing, he pleaded for the bombers to give themselves up.
The cardinal. speaking from the pulpit of the historic Church of Ireland cathedral church of St Patrick, was giving the annual Bishop Stock address at the General Humbert Summer School in Ballina, Co Mayo.
"Ireland owes a lot to the European Union," he said. :It is difficult to believe we would enjoy the political stability in the North or the economic progress in the South we do today without it. This should give us pause for thought when we reflect on Ireland's place within the EU and our responsibility towards it."
The cardinal spoke first about the peace process in Northern Ireland, "now rightly lauded across the world as a sign of hope that age-old conflicts can be resolved". The peace "continues to be a robust and secure process", he said, citing "growing signs of maturity" around formerly intractable issues such as parades.
"lir this regard the Orange Order deserves credit for what I believe are sincere and convincing efforts to promote dialogue and understanding. These should be acknowledged and reciprocated," he said. He condemned recent attacks on Orange Halls as "symptomatic of a sectarian pathology which is evil and has to be continually challenged in our selves and every aspect of social, religious and political life".
The cardinal made an appeal to those who were responsible for the Omagh bombing. "Before the innocent children, women and men you massacred I appeal to you to do the right thing before God. I appeal to your hearts and human dignity. Give yourselves up to justice in this world before you face judgment in the next."
The cardinal also made a plea to anyone with information about who made or planted the Omagh bomb.
"You also have a duty before God to give that information immediately to the police. The families of those killed and the surviving victims have suffered enough. Help them to receive justice. If you have any humanity left in your heart at all, do all that you can to ease at least a little of their pain."
The violence in Northern Ireland "had relatively little to do with issues of religious dogma." said Cardinal Brady. He said that the history of Northern Ireland is often used to argue that religion is an inevitable source of conflict in society. but he disagreed. "In fact, I think it is increasingly recognised that the main churches had a largely moderating influence on the levels of violence which might otherwise have emerged."
The main body of Cardinal Brady's address was about the European Union, which he saw as another moderating influence in Ireland.
"The ideological vision of unity in diversity, the erosion of borders and the reconciliation of a continent marred by centuries of conflict of culture and history. this provided a new canvas for the future resolution of the 'Northern' problem. It was a brighter canvas, a wider and more assuaging one."
The EU's influence on Ireland was only one among many, he said, but we should hold up Northern Ireland as an example of the success of the European social project.
The Catholic Church was "generally positive towards the European project and its founding ideals," he said. But the recent rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in the Irish referendum suggests that "at least some of those who were previously enthusiastic about the founding aims of the EU, both social and economic, are now expressing unease".
One reason for this, he said, might be what Pope John Paul II described as the "loss of Christian memory" in European institutions and policy: decisions undermining the family and the right to life, which he said "have made it more difficult for committed Christians to maintain their instinctive commitment to the European project".
He said: "This coincides with a fairly widespread culture in European affairs which relegates manifestations of one's own religious convictions to the private and subjective sphere. It has not been unknown, for example, for individuals to have to defend their right to hold political, public or legislative office within EU institutions while professing a public commitment to their Christian faith, sometimes against very public and hostile challenge."
The cardinal said the EU needed to look again at "a prevailing pragmatic attitude that compromises on essential human, moral and social values on the basis of the lowest common denominator. The experience of many Christians within the EU is that this lowest common denominator invariably coincides with the secular and relativist tradition within Europe that which denies moral absolutes with an objective basis rather than the religious view."
This approach, he said, ends up with Christians "being denied the right to intervene in public debates or at least having their contribution dismissed as an attempt to protect unjustified privileges. such as, for example, the right to employ people who support the ethos of a Christian institution.
He said that this was in stark contrast to the political and social culture of the United States, which emphasises the separation of Church and State. "Is it possible that the US has actually been more successful in balancing diversity with respect for religious freedom and conviction than the EU?" the cardinal asked.
US presidential candidates, he said, are expected "to answer direct questions about their commitment to faith, their willingness to support faith based organisations, their position on moral issues and how it would affect their appointment of public officials.
Cardinal Brady was also critical of the media, saying that it was "dominated by a secular view hostile to or disposed to relegate the value of religion", and asking if it was really representative of the views and convictions of most Irish people.
But he ended on a note of hope.
"It may be that a growing number of people are questioning the prevailing orthodoxies of the 'new' Ireland. that they are reconsidering the value of faith, community and more traditional moral values he said It may be that the still small voice of God is emerging with new appeal in Irish cultural and political debate, albeit as a whisper."