Irish hierarchy saw opposition to clericalism as secularism

A former president of Ireland has said that an entrenched clericalism in that country used to view any opposition to itself as militant secularism.

Speaking in an interview on the Crux website, Mary McAleese said Ireland had, at least in part, been dissuaded from anti-immigrant movements because of its rich Christian culture.

She was asked if that would change because of the increasingly secular nature of modern society in Ireland.

Mrs McAleese said she thought this would not be the case, and she rejected the overuse of the term “secular” in the Irish context.

“Ireland has an extraordinary story to tell of a country that was, for a very long time, in the grip of a form of clericalism which saw every form of dissent as ‘militant secularism’ when, in fact, a lot of that dissent actually was in opposition to clericalism, not Christianity, and was, in fact, infused with a love of the Gospel,” she said.

“It was a determination that the Gospel would be experienced in a way that was not overwhelmed by rule books or people banging them over the head with the codes of canon law, but that people would experience an accompanying God who was deeply personal and who was like a parent or grandparent to them, who just watched over them, and smiled no matter what they did, and accompanied them in their life, and nudged them in the right direction, but never gave up on them, no matter what.”

For Mrs McAleese, the arrival of secondary education in Ireland, with the help of religious congregations, led the Irish to question clericalism in the structures of the institutional Church.

The values of Christian faith remained with them, however, and will always be a part of any decision that they make as a constitutive element of the culture.

“(Christian Faith) is always going to be infused, it’s always going to inform secular thinking,” she said.


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