Church and State under Enda Kenny

The absent backlash over Government actions against the Church is remarkable, writes David Quinn

The year is drawing to a close and soon it will be three full years since the Government of Enda Kenny was elected. It is time to do a brief sketch of Church/State relations under Mr Kenny.

During his time as Taoiseach we have had the blistering attack on the Vatican following the publication of the report into child abuse in the diocese of Cloyne. The Irish embassy to the Holy See has been closed.

A law on the reporting of child abuse will not exempt the Seal of Confession making us one of the only countries in the Western world which requires the violation of the confessional by force of law.

A forum on the future of Church-run primary schools, was established by Ruairi Quinn which envisages the Church ceding control over some of its schools but having the ethos of many more watered down to the point of meaninglessness in the name of that much abused idea, ‘inclusion’.


An ultra-radical redefinition of the family is underway, led by Alan Shatter, but with the full blessing of Enda Kenny, that will destroy a child’s right to a mother and father and which will say nature does not made you a parent, but instead your ‘intention’ to be a parent does.

In other words, even though you might be a child’s natural parent, if you do not intend to be that child’s parent, then legally you are not that child’s parent.

And of course we have seen the introduction of Ireland’s first abortion law which permits women to have an abortion if they are deemed to be ‘suicidal’.

In addition, the law requires Catholic hospitals to perform abortions on the suicide ground and also compels doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion to refer women who come to them seeking an abortion to doctors who have no objection. This is what’s known as ‘forced referral’ and is a direct attack on conscience rights.


So when you add all this together you see a Government that is no friend of the Church to put it very mildly indeed. This attitude has won great praise from the media and others who say it shows that the days of ‘deference’ are over once and for all. They say it is about time the Church was put in its place.

But there is a world of difference between deference and what we are seeing from this Government.

More secular societies than Ireland do not attack the Seal of Confession. They have not closed their embassies to the Holy See.

They do not attack the conscience rights of doctors much less require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions.

They respect the autonomy and independence of Church schools even when they are State-funded. Their leaders have not attacked the Vatican in the same forceful terms as Enda Kenny even in countries which have seen plenty of clerical sex abuse scandals.

Enda Kenny is himself a Catholic and perhaps the most interesting thing to contemplate is how he can stand over all these things, especially the legalisation of abortion in cases of suicidal intent.

During the abortion debate he gave us a clear insight into his thinking on this score. As he told the Dail, he sees himself as a Taoiseach who happens to be Catholic, but not a ‘Catholic Taoiseach’. He sees himself as a Taoiseach for everyone.


What is the clear implication here? Obviously it means that he believes his religion and his politics must be kept separate and if he does not keep them separate then that would in some way, shape or form be undemocratic. He believes that a ‘Catholic Taoiseach’ could not, by definition, be a Taoiseach for everyone although he clearly believes a Fine Gael Taoiseach can be a Taoiseach for everyone.

Mr Kenny’s position would be defensible if he as a Catholic intended favouring Catholics. For example, if he preferred Catholics for high political office, or for positions on State boards simply because they were Catholics.

Catholic vision

But the notion that we cannot have a ‘Catholic Taoiseach’ because not everyone believes in a Catholic vision of the common good is itself undemocratic. If a party was to put before the people a Catholic vision of the common good and was elected to office as a result, and its leader become Taoiseach, that would be democratic.

In the present climate, no party could run on such a platform and hope to become the biggest party in government, but to preclude running on a Catholic or Christian Democratic platform as a matter of principle, to imply that we cannot have a Catholic or Christian Taoiseach (as distinct from one who happens to be Catholic or Christian), is appalling.

This Government clearly has no expectation that the Church will stand up for itself. Hence it must accept the attack on the seal of Confession, the introduction of an abortion law, the requirement that Catholic hospitals perform abortions, that Catholic and other denominational schools should water down their ethos, and the radical redefinition of marriage and the family.

To what extent Mr Kenny is responding to a public mood is hard to say. Certainly he is responding to the Labour party and sections of the media. But the crucial point is that he can get away with all this because of the passivity of many Catholics.

It is quite remarkable that there has been so little backlash, even to the requirement that Catholic hospitals perform abortions. At what point do we say, this has gone too far?

Enda Kenny himself can probably scarcely believe how passive the Church has become.