LETTERKENNY, Ireland, February 2, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Arguing that the Catholic Church in Ireland is under attack from “aggressive secularism” constitutes a “hate crime,” according to a formal complaint made to Irish police.

John Colgan, called a “leading humanist” by the Irish Independent, told police this week that Bishop Philip Boyce of the Raphoe diocese in northwestern Ireland was guilty of “incitement to hatred” against secularists when the latter said in a sermon last August that the Church was being “attacked from the outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture.”

The complaint is reportedly being taken seriously by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who has opened an investigation.

After hearing nothing from local officials, Colgan complained in a letter to the Garda (Police) Commissioner, whose office forwarded the complaint to Galway-based Assistant Garda Commissioner. Last week, Colgan said he was informed that a file was being sent to the DPP. Should the DPP recommend legal action, the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989 allows up to two years in prison if convicted.

Colgan said in his complaint that the statements made in Boyce’s homily to a congregation at Our Lady of Knock shrine “are an incitement to hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists, within the meaning of the (Incitement to Hatred) Act, who are perfectly good citizens within the meaning of the civil law.”

“The statements exemplify the chronic antipathy towards secularists, humanists etc, which has manifested itself in the ostracising of otherwise perfectly good Irish citizens, who do not share the aims of the Vatican’s Irish Mission Church.”

Colgan told the Leinster Leader that the words “attacked” and “arrows” heavily “suggest war-like behaviour.” The sermon, he alleged, implied that non-believers will “end their lives in emptiness;” Colgan argued this constitutes abuse of atheists, humanists and sceptics. The bishop, whose address was heard only by those present at the shrine, was “picking on” unbelievers, Colgan said.

Catholicism, to which over 87 per cent of the Irish population adheres, is “marked prejudice by Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations against agnostics and atheists,” the secularist continued. This prejudice, he said, is due to “hostile propaganda disseminated in school and chapel in the main by or for the institutional churches, for [which] there is no rational or temporal reason.”

In its full context, the passage of Bishop Boyce’s sermon cited in the complaint said that Christians have the “distinguishing mark” that they know they “have a future; it is not that they know all the details that await them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.”

“Attacked from the outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture: rocked from the inside by the sins and crimes of priests and consecrated people, we all feel the temptation to lose confidence. Yet, our trust is displayed and deepened above all when we are in troubled and stormy waters.”

The Catholic Church in Ireland is going through an especially rough patch lately, with much of the public enraged by clerical abuse scandals that were detailed in a series of government-sponsored reports. Bishop Boyce went on to speculate that Christians may be suffering from the “spiritual Dark Night that now engulfs the Church in Ireland…because some of those anointed to preach the word of God and to sanctify, were found to have betrayed the trust placed in them by innocent souls.”

In the face of current difficulties, the bishop called upon his hearers to “act hopefully, with patience.”

Despite the police investigation, eagerly reported in the secular media, the diocese remains undaunted and the sermon, titled “To Trust in God,” remains prominently posted on the website. Apart from the extracts that spurred Colgan’s complaint, the 2350-word sermon focused mainly on the need for Catholics to have “confidence in God” in the face of all their troubles.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, Martin Long of the Catholic Communications office said, “Bishop Boyce’s homily ‘To Trust in God’ is available for anyone to read at catholicbishops.ie.

“I advise any person to read it and judge it for themselves. It is clearly a reasonable, balanced, honest – and indeed self-critical from a church perspective – analysis of the value of the Catholic faith. Bishop Boyce is a good and holy man and much loved by those who know him.”

In a response to a letter from Colgan, Bishop Boyce said he did “not wish to disparage in any way the sincere efforts of those with no religious beliefs, atheists, humanists etc.

“I have too much respect for each human person, since I believe all are created in the image of God. At Knock I wished to encourage and confirm the hope of believers, even in the present challenging times, since trust in God was the theme I was given.”