IT is 45 years since Éamon de Valera signed into law the constitutional amendment abolishing Article 44’s recognition of “the special position” of the Catholic Church. Our Constitution for the first half of its existence accorded closely with Catholic thinking. “The Most Holy Trinity” was described as the source of all authority. The 1937 document was drafted with the help of John Charles McQuaid, who was, in 1940, to become Archbishop of Dublin, a post he held for more than three decades and whose unhealthy influence on Irish life cannot be overstated.
Despite the removal of Article 44, it has taken four decades – and in particular the referenda on marriage equality and repeal of the 8th and catalytic events like child sexual abuse – for Rome to find itself finally an inconsequential influence on Ireland today.
‘The call to remove from the Constitution, the offence – a preposterous notion – of blasphemy…’
Cura, the Catholic agency for young women with “crisis pregancies” has recently closed its doors, and now comes the call to remove from the Constitution the offence – a preposterous notion – of blasphemy.
Meantime, the Pope is coming to town.
Ireland when John Paul visited 39 years ago was another country. Three out of every five Catholics attended Sunday mass, the churches were open day and night, newspapers like de Valera’s now defunct pro-republican Irish Press sold by the truckload outside church gates and if a cleric said black was white on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show it made the front page, Rome’s moral authority still, Article 44 or no, wholly unquestionable.
Those were the days before Sky TV and social media, where gay people struggled in fear of being “outed” and divorce and appeals to remove the 8th Amendment were still a good ways off being realised: days when clerical abuse allegations were merely nasty rumours and secularism was still something of a dirty word.
Ireland today is a secular, urban society, with a highly educated youth; a society tolerant to all shades of preference and predilection, where the four-letter word on the airwaves no longer shocks and reruns of Father Ted still raise big belly-laughs at the idiocy of the high esteem in which Rome’s rule was once held.
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny has accused the Vatican of playing down the gravity of clerical sex abuse, saying “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day”.
How those words ring true.
We’ve come a long way since the days of John Charles; we no longer cower to the crozier.
But here’s the rub.
Religion, despite its causation of war and hatred, despite all the badness and evil we now know proliferates in parts of it, despite its intransigent patriarchal attitudes, did, with its good tenets, once lay a good grounding for moral values in our society, based on the 10 Commandments.
Do not kill. Do not steal or commit fraud. Don’t covet your neighbour’s wife. And, if you cannot find it in your heart to love your neighbour, at least show empathy. My generation learned that as core value, through whatever denominational church we grew up in, and through the schools guided by such tenets.
That religion no longer plays a formative or central role in most of our lives today is evident all around. The fall-away from the sacredness of commitment, from the sanctity of life and the family, and from the honesty of our day-to-day dealings bear witness to this.
And the vacuum left by this downing of the Commandments has not been replaced by anything, anywhere near offering a moral code and guidance to those most in need of it.