Tuesday June 22, 2010

Irish Politicians to Catholic Church: You Have No Business in Public Debate

By Hilary White

DUBLIN, June 22, 2010 ( – Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, and Green party leader John Gormley sparked a public furor in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland earlier this month after they said that religion has no place in the politics of the country.

As the Irish Parliament gears up to vote on the Civil Partnership Bill, which would recognize same-sex unions, Minister Ahern told the Irish Times in a June 12 interview that politicians must set aside their religious beliefs and not allow them to “cloud” their judgement.

Ahern, a sponsor of the bill who continues to profess to be a Catholic, said, “I do leave my religion behind me and I genuinely mean that. While we all have our beliefs and our own religions, I don’t think it should cloud our judgment.”

A group of senators have opposed at least some aspects of the bill that includes provisions for criminal prosecutions and possible prison terms for registrars who refuse to carry out same-sex civil partnerships.

The Catholic bishops have warned that these provisions constitute a suppression of religious belief in Ireland, which remains over 87% Catholic. But Ahern said that “a so-called conscience clause” is “absolutely not a runner” because registrars and other civil servants “can’t have an à la carte attitude to their job.”

Gormley was even more up front in his hostility to Christians opposing the bill, accusing the Church in a radio interview of “interference” in state matters. The Church, he said, should exclusively look after the “spiritual needs of its flock.” He added that he “thought we had left the era of Church interference behind.”

The bill is strenuously opposed by various pro-family groups, including the Iona Institute, which is headed by religious and social affairs commentator David Quinn. Quinn said the two politicians have “effectively told both the Church, and by extension, religious believers, to ‘know your place.’”

“Why should politicians be made to exclude religious values, and only religious values from their considerations when legislating? Why does religion ‘cloud’ a politician’s judgement? One is tempted to retort that the various vested interests do plenty of that,” Quinn said.

But Gormley’s wording was even more telling, Quinn said. “Gormley questioned even the right to express an opinion publicly. His use of such loaded words as ‘interference’ and ‘intrude’ were very telling. Both imply that the bishops’ statement on Civil Partnership Bill was somehow democratically illegitimate.”

Roger Eldridge, Chairman of the National Men’s Council of Ireland, called the comments a case of “hate speech” and a move towards totalitarianism.

“These members of the Irish government,” he said, “are saying to Christians, what happens to society is none of your business! Clearly these politicians are biased against Christians whose commitment is entirely concerned with the welfare of others.”

“This is saying that Christians are ‘less worthy’ than everyone else. Gormley’s statement that Christians ‘should not intrude on temporal or state matters’ is the very same as saying that anyone who is against my views should not have a say.”

Eldridge’s accusation of totalitarianism was seconded by Senator Jim Walsh, who said that the bill’s lack of a conscience clause will move the country “to a totalitarian society which certainly many of us, particularly liberals, would argue against if it were impinging upon their beliefs.”

Senator John Paul Phelan, from the opposition party Fine Gael, said, “Criminalising registrars for non-performance of their function is not a correct step in any legislation.”

Senator John Hanafin said he wants a referendum on the legislation.

The bill is expected to pass before parliament adjourns for the summer break.

Read related LSN coverage:

Irish Bishops Lobby Against Gay Unions, Call for Conscience Protections


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