Might the sky fall in on the Irish Government?

The question being asked in Ireland this morning is not whether the Government will win its ill-considered referendum asking its people to redefine marriage as a bond between people regardless of their sex, but whether it can long outlive the defeat of this proposal.

The Irish people are a warm-hearted lot but they are not irrational. Among the countries of Europe most tried by the debacle of the financial melt-down in the last decade, they were the ones who resisted the emotional response and knuckled down to sort it out. All observers now give them credit for this. The only rage which they gave vent to was in the face of another piece of gross mismanagement by their Government when it muddled its way through the realignment of the country’s water utility.

Despite what very suspect opinion polls – conducted through cell-phone users in many cases – are telling us, the writing on the wall for the Enda Kenny and his ministers is ominous. It has been a bad week for them – and it is still only Wednesday.

On Monday their star spokesman and campaign leader, Minister Simon Coveney, was pummelled on television by the reasoned legal and social policy arguments of his podium opponent, Senator Ronan Mullen, and pro-marriage supporters in the studio audience. He could not answer any questions convincingly and was left plucking emotional strings. His efforts, combined with similar responses from the pro-redefinition segment of the audience, did nothing but show that there simply are no rational arguments which can be advanced for this proposal, riddled as it is with inconsistencies.

Yesterday the Irish Times – now beginning to redeem itself in some eyes as an even-handed communicator of news and opinion – carried op-eds on the issue from two expert witnesses – to employ a legal metaphor – exposing the deep flaws in Government policy. Emeritus Regius Professor of Law in Trinity College, Dublin, William Binchy, exposed the fallacies in the Government’s arguments that the passing of this referendum would have no impact of the State’s child welfare laws. In the other piece, another former Trinity academic, sociologist and constitutional expert, Dr. Anthony Coughlan, argued that the impact of a ‘Yes’ vote would have repercussions beyond Ireland’s shores. By effectively nullifying a protocol won by Ireland under the Lisbon EU Treaty, the passing of the referendum could lead to same-sex marriage becoming an undeniable human right throughout all 28 EU states. For many this suggests that the entire project, funded as it is by international gender ideologists, is a Trojan Horse designed to destroy marriage across the European continent.

That was yesterday. Today we have news of another own-goal by the Government itself. The lead story in the online Irish Times this morning covers the retrospective withdrawal by a Government quango of funding for the Catholic Church’s marriage advisory council, ACCORD. Despite the attempt to dress this up as routine cost-cutting, the ineptly handled decision makes the Government look every inch the draconian agents that they are. People have been reminded that the Minister for Children – whose brief this comes under – is the same man who as Minister for Health two years ago shepherded the Government’s abortion legislation through parliament. After a thoroughly undemocratic exercise, he reminded Catholic hospitals that their funding would be cut if they did not implement that legislation as law required. He is now trying to tell people that the cutting of ACCORD’s funding has nothing to do with plans to redefine marriage. Good luck to him.

Add to this the truly scathing letter in this morning’s Irish Times from one of the country’s leading liberals, Emeritus Professor of History in University College Cork, John A. Murphy. It is not just the razor-sharp content of this letter which will dismay the Government. It is the fact that it comes from one of the country’s most respected historians, that he is one who has often been highly critical of the Catholic Church, and that his liberal credentials are impeccable.

Finally – although probably not, because it is still only 11.30 as this is written, – after a flood of ‘Yes’ endorsements from a range of celebrity sports stars, media people and pop stars, most of it mindless gushing of emotion, comes a very reasoned argument from one of the stars of Ireland’s most popular and most participative sport, Gaelic Football, the first cousin of Australian Rules Football. This comes from Dublin star, Ger Brennan, and again makes front page news in the largest circulation morning paper in the country, the Irish Independent.

Brennan writes, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that everybody is equal in dignity and it holds that marriage is a male-female union. I don’t think the Declaration of Human Rights is homophobic. I’m voting ‘No’”. Brennan’s well argued declaration, exuding respect for his gay friends and playing companions, will speak to his generation in a way that will worry a Government that thought it had that constituency in its grasp. This will put a serious dent in the Dublin metropolitan vote, as will Murphy’s in the second largest metropolitan area, Cork.

But the most significant element in all these interventions in the debate is not just that they question this proposal. It is that they place a massive question mark in people’s minds about the general competence of this Irish Government.

Totalitarianism dressed in the garments of righteousness

“There is now an extraordinary situation where State-funded third-level colleges are openly advising would-be teachers that their career prospects depend on their religious faith.”


The hidden secular totalitarianism of this statement is what is “extraordinary”.


Fintan O’Toole’s proclaimed agenda – emphasised again in his Irish Times column today – is to deprive the citizen-parents of this country of one of their fundamental civil and human rights – that of being supported by the state in their work as primary educators of their children.


The Irish State funds third-level colleges to train teachers who will work in primary schools which the vast majority of the parents of this country wish to be “faith” schools, that is, schools in which their children will learn about their faith and grow in their knowledge of and commitment to the God whom that faith proclaims.


The State does this because it is the will of the people that it should do so. The details as to how to manage a fair distribution of scarce resources – given the religious denominations represented in the population – is another matter. But it does not lead us to a conclusion that the faith commitment of those staffing the schools is something irrelevant.


For that reason it would surely be extraordinary if teacher training colleges did not point out to their students that their commitment to a particular faith might be a factor influencing whether or not they might be successful in applying to a post in the majority of schools.


The day in which this will become irrelevant will the day in which schools will have given up on a responsibility which the majority of the citizens of this State have chosen to share with them, denying them their rights in the process. The rights of parents to have their children educated are primary. In this context, the rights of teachers to have jobs are secondary.


The anti-faith secularism of O’Toole and the militant new atheists is not just extraordinary. It is profoundly sinister and utterly cynical in the manner in which it is dressed up in the garments of righteousness.

So who is obsessed then?


The real story revealed by the brouhaha over “that” interview is what it tells us about much of the international secularist media and it’s take on the Christian message. The interview is a moving and penetrating reflection on that message, our response to it, and ways in which we might be transmitting it to each other. For the media, deaf and blind to the spirit which moves the man who gave it, it was about obsession with sex.

In 12,000 words, about 18 pages printed out, the Pope mentions abortion and homosexuality a total of three times. As has been pointed out, a search for other buzzwords shows that Pope Francis referred to God 37 times, Jesus 26 times and St. Ignatius 15 times. As Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow said on American radio, “Pope Francis referred to Italian and German opera more than he did abortion and homosexuality.”

Wake up! There is no obsession with sex in the teaching of the Catholic Church. What there is, however, is an obsession by the media with the teachng of the Catholic Church on human sexual behaviour. This is plainly because the consensus on this realm of human behaviour within the media generally is deeply resentful of the Christian understanding and teaching on the nature and purpose of human sexuality.

The media pursues this obsession by reporting incessantly on every utterance from the Church on the subject, every sign of any rebellion or resistance to it inside the Church, to the exclusion of the rest of the entire corpus of its teaching on the Decalogue. It would be unfair if the Pope were to blame his bishops for an obsession just because the media grossly distorts the balance of everything they teach, from pastoral letter to pastoral letter, from homily to homily, day after day, year after year. He hasn’t, and they are adding to their distortion by putting words into his mouth. If anyone has a case to answer about obsessions, it is the media.

Kathryn Jean Lopez – in a rare exception in the flood of coverage on the Pops’s interview – points out in a piece she wrote for Fox News that not everything in the world is about sex and politics. That message may take the Irish Times, The New York Times, the BBC, among many more media prganizations, a few more homilies and interviews with Pope Francis to understand. As Shelia Liaugminas concludes on her blog on MercatorNet, “The Catholic Church – or at least those preachers and teachers who are outspoken on matters concerning human sexuality, especially when catechetical discussions are turned into clashes in the public square for political or cultural reasons – is often accused of being obsessed with sex. But the obsession might just be the media’s.” I dont think there is any “might” about it.

What really lies behind this impasse?

Thomas Cromwell – securer of monastic assets for Henry VIII

Is there a whiff of the stench of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell about something happening in Ireland just now?

The New Advent encyclopedia tells us that one of the first practical results of the assumption of the highest spiritual powers by king Henry VIII was the appointment of Thomas Cromwell as the king’s vicar-general in spirituals, with special authority to visit the monastic houses, and to bring them into line with the new order of things.

This was in 1534. A document, dated 21 January, 1535, allowed Cromwell to conduct the visitations through “commissaries”. Parliament met early in the following year, 1536, with the twofold object of replenishing an exhausted exchequer and of anticipating opposition on the part of the religious to the proposed ecclesiastical changes. According to the royal design, the Commons were to be asked to grant Henry the possessions of at least the smaller monasteries.

But Cromwell, who is credited with the first conception of the design, knew that to succeed, a project such as this must be sustained by strong yet simple reasons calculated to appeal to the popular mind. Some decent pretext had to be found for presenting the proposed measure of suppression and confiscation to the nation, and it can hardly now be doubted that the device of blackening the characters of the monks and nuns was deliberately resorted to.

This they did and followed on with one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism and religious sacrilege the modern world has ever seen.

Does all that sound a little familiar? Does it in some way send a shiver down your spine when you read news stories in the Irish newspapers about attempts by the State to confiscate the assets of Irish religious orders?

Irish society took advantage of the charitable dispositions of several religious orders of nuns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The State acquiesced in this, right up to the end of the 20th century, without giving any practical help, without any oversight or regard for the need for adequate training for the work entrusted to these charitable organisations.

Now, in the 21st century the same State is proceeding to portray these institutions to the public mind as sadistic and sinister abusers of women which the state had “innocently” left in their care. This campaign of vilification is being carried out at the instigation and prodding of elements of the Irish media, the driving force behind the new Irish “Reformation”. The State is now going after the property and assets of these religious institutions, most of which is still in daily use for their work of education, health-care and attending to the indigent in society.

The same media is now reporting that four religious congregations which have refused to contribute to the compensation fund for residents of their former Magdalene laundries had combined gross assets worth €1.5 billion when the last comprehensive assessment of their financial resources was made in 2009.

Friday’s Irish Times reports on the impasse between the State and these institutions. Most of the assets, it tells us, comprise property and buildings in use as schools, hospitals, facilities for health and disability services, making it impossible for the value of the assets to be realised. “Some of the assets are held in trust, making transfer problematic. With the property market depressed, 2009 values no longer stand, and attempts to dispose of land have not been successful.

“Yesterday Taoiseach Enda Kenny accepted in the Dáil that the orders could not be compelled to pay, and that moral persuasion would have to be applied. There have been calls for the four orders be stripped of their charitable status.”

Well, this is 2013, and the rule of law is a little more nuanced than it was in the fifteen thirties. But is the agenda not really the same? No one for a moment denies that girls and women suffered in these institutions. No one for a moment denies that the institutions were operated and run in a cultural and religious environment which now repels us. But the responsibility for what happened, the responsibility for the continuation for a century and a half was not the sole responsibility of a few organizations. It was the responsibility of the whole society.

What the Irish State and the “intelligentia” in the Irish media which is now effectively the puppet-master of the Irish State , is trying to do is an exercise in scapegoating of the most unjust kind. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell used the pretext of some undoubted bad eggs in English monasticism to destroy much of the religious fabric – and a great deal of the social fabric – of late medieval England. The French Revolutionary forces used the pretext of the undoubted excesses of the French clerical and ecclesiastical class to destroy the Catholic Church in France in the late 18th century. In both cases – and in this one also, it seems, undoubted injustice was used as a pretext to perpetrate much greater injustices.

The Irish Times, in its moderate and balanced report on Friday, outlined the situation of the two biggest orders involved in this controversy as follows:

Sisters of Mercy

The country’s largest order, with 2,000 members, founded by Sr Catherine McAuley in 1834, has played a central role in educational provision. In 2009 it had total property assets of over €1 billion. Some €660 million related to schools in use, €60 million to a hospital in use; the value of congregation residences was €200 million and a further €70 million related to other services.

It had €182 million in financial (non-property) assets but it argued that providing for the care of its members as well as funding its core services would account for all of that.

The order ran two of the Magdalene laundries, in Galway and Dun Laoghaire. The Government requested the order to sell all the properties (valued at €11.6 million) it offered to the statutory fund for institutional survivors. As of the last report six weeks ago, it had paid more than €1.6 million.

Sisters of Charity

Founded in Dublin by Mary Aikenhead in 1815, the Sisters of Charity are associated with education and healthcare, and founded St Vincent’s Hospital. With about 250 members in its Irish province, it had some €266 million in assets in 2009, virtually all of which was restricted or committed to provision of services or welfare of its elderly members.

A €5 million offer was made to the statutory fund in 2009 but only €2 million was paid. The order said it could not afford to hand over the remaining €3 million because of the downturn in the property market. It ran two Magdalene laundries, one in Donnybrook in Dublin and the other in Peacock Lane in Cork.

The institutions are quietly fighting this injustice but the public opprobrium being heaped on them for defending their rights and the work which they have been doing and want to continue doing is relentless. For many, all this is part of a bigger agenda of Ireland’s liberal left to destroy for once and for all the work and influence of the Catholic Church in the Ireland. They may just be right.