Ireland is mission territory, and the Church needs a leader rather than just an onlooker

Ireland is mission territory, and the Church needs a leader rather than just an onlooker The recent Rally for Life in Dublin.

In an address of unrelenting irony to the Diocese of Würzburg, Germany on July 8, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin spoke in honour of a great missionary monk, St Killian, “…who brought renewal in the Faith from Ireland right across Europe”. He speaks as the second most senior figure of the Catholic Church in Ireland, a country which is now itself mission territory from a Catholic perspective.

Dr Martin tells us that “the Church in Ireland is very lacking precisely in ‘keen intellects and prolific pens addressing the pressing subjects of the day’”, a claim that he has made previously.

Delivered from his keen intellect and with his prolific pen, his lecture has, in truth, the character of a journalistic piece of a tourist to Irish Catholicism, a commentator, a bystander, rather than someone with the second highest level of responsibility for its witness in this country. This peculiar detachment explains why this address has elements more befitting of the “adolescent progressivism” (a phrase of Pope Francis) of The Irish Times, than of a lecture that offers inspiration to Irish Catholics.

One of the basic themes of this address is that the Catholic Church in Ireland must move “from monuments to movements” becoming “a much more monument-less one…which reaches out into hearts and becomes heart-driven through the conviction of those who feel touched and inspired by the message and teaching of Jesus Christ”. This appears like engagement with the challenges of the Irish Church until one remembers that this lecture proposes no plan for its people.


In fact, for a plan to emerge, the first thing that is needed is for the hearts of those who can conceive of a plan being encouraged by their leaders. They need a movement from leadership that is based on detached correction to one of engaged affirmation.

There is little time for a leader in a ‘field hospital’, inundated with casualties, to be maintaining an independent diagnostic laboratory or for giving papers at conferences abroad pouring forth on all of its deficiencies.

A field hospital also needs its leaders not to be in denial about when a war is on, particularly as the casualties enter its tents from every side.

Following the delivery of this address, the national media concentrated upon Archbishop Martin’s comments about the “Irish religious education establishment” which he criticised as “fixated on questions of ownership and management and too little on the purpose of the Catholic school and the outcomes of Catholic education in terms of faith formation”.

Archbishop Martin appears to state prophetically that “The risk now looms large that effectively it will become more and more difficult to maintain a true Catholic ethos in Catholic schools.”


The reality, however, is that the systematic removal of Christian faith and religious education from Catholic and Protestant schools already began in earnest six years ago with the establishment of Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in 2011 by the then Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD.

This has been followed by a range of secularist based initiatives by the Irish Government and by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which, if unchallenged, will inevitably create a uniform model of publically-funded schools in our country that is devoid of Christian spirit.1

It also does not require a keen intellect to see the disconnect between Dr Martin’s address and an acknowledgment of his own power in the area of school patronage and corresponding responsibility. The Department of Education and Skills has carried out no proper, independent research to identify the location of primary schools which are oversubscribed, the extent of that oversubscription and the varied wishes of parents for the education of their children in these areas. It is commonly believed, however, that the unresearched extent of this problem is largely in the South Dublin area, that is amongst Catholic primary schools of which Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is the patron.

He claims that “There is a stubborn reluctance within the Church to allow the situation to change”, that he has “advocated a process of divestment of a substantial number [of] Catholic schools to foster a more pluralist presence” and that he has been “relatively unsuccessful in pushing that idea into practice”.  Has there not been voting undertaken in Catholic schools in his own diocese in which parents have elected to retain the Catholic patronage of them? If so, why did he not inform his German audience of the extent of this election by Catholic parents and their reasons for it?

The media has concentrated upon Dr Martin’s critique of “the Irish religious education establishment” while avoiding the incongruity that he is the most powerful and relevant figure within it.


It is, however, what he said and, more importantly, did not say about the redefinition of marriage referendum in 2015 that is even more significant. For Archbishop Martin gave this address in Germany, having become the President and host of the 9th World Meeting of Families to be held in Dublin from August 21-26, 2018.

In first remarking upon the result of the referendum on same-sex marriage, he says “the vote was not about doctrine”. This view is not shared by even one of the seven judges of the Irish Supreme Court, in the case of H.A.H v. S.A.A. and others (June 15, 2017). In the judgment of Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley (with whom the six other Judges of the Supreme Court concurred), she said: “The combination of the introduction of no-fault divorce and, in particular, the amendment of the Constitution providing for the introduction of same-sex marriage have resulted in a legal institution of marriage that cannot be described in terms of traditional Christian doctrine.”

While his address is laden with criticism of people who are dedicated to promoting Catholicism in Ireland, he cannot make a single observation that might begin to question the prudence of the decision to introduce same-sex marriage into our country through making provision for marriage, without distinction as to sex, in the Irish Constitution.

The timing of his silence on this subject is especially significant. Archbishop Martin prepared this address for a German audience when that country had legislated for same-sex marriage eight days before his lecture on June 30, 2017.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, facilitated a free vote in the German parliament but she voted against it and in accordance with her conscience that marriage is between a man and a woman. Surely, for his German Catholic audience, having had their law on marriage radically changed eight days previously, contrary to the conscience of their leader, the President and host of the forthcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin would have something more to say than why the majority voted for it in his own country two years previously.

His reticence underlines a denial of one key aspect of the difference between what  occurred in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 and what has now occurred in Germany in relation to same-sex marriage. This is the difference between legislating for same-sex marriage as opposed to making provision for it in a written Constitution.

The latter path, which we adopted, means that the rights of adults in same-sex marriages and the rights of children to know and be loved by a mother and a father, now compete against each other at the most fundamental level of the Irish Constitution, in relation to which all legislative provisions are subject. When the rights of autonomous adults compete against the rights of children, in legislative provisions, there is only one winner, unless the latter are grounded in the deeper protection of the Constitution and thereafter capable of being vindicated in the Superior Courts.


In remaining silent about this profound difference, Archbishop Martin is in august company.

Three days before the referendum took place, on May 19, 2015, Dr Mary McAleese, with the weight of having been the President of Ireland for 14 years and then the primary person to protect the Constitution of Ireland, coupled with being an ongoing member of the Council of State, was able to emphatically tell the Irish public: “No-one in Ireland, whether heterosexual or homosexual, has a legal or constitutional right to procreation using surrogacy. This referendum if passed will certainly not create any such right. It is a nonsense to think it could.”

The redefinition of marriage referendum gives two married men the same implied constitutional right to procreate, as a married couple, as the Supreme Court has previously held is enjoyed by a married man and woman (Murray v. Ireland [1991] ILRM 465). By their very nature, constitutional rights are not absolute but nor are they ever meaningless. The implications of the implied constitutional (as oppose to legislative) right to procreate, which two married men now enjoy in the Republic of Ireland, will inevitably be endorsed by the Irish Superior Courts.

Their new, implied constitutional right of procreation cannot be held to be meaningless and it can only have meaning through conferring an entitlement to use the gamete of one woman and the womb of another through surrogacy.

This sets us on an entirely different course from the European Parliament which, in December 2015, called for an outright ban on surrogacy.   It also makes us the leading international contradictor of the charter against surrogacy signed by feminist and human rights activists in Paris in February 2016, which again calls for its outright prohibition.


Archbishop Martin also did not share with his German audience that the redefinition of marriage referendum gives a constitutional status to commercially selected human reproduction (referred to inaccurately as “donor-assisted human reproduction” in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015) and to the selection and purchase of gametes which is inherent in this industry.

One would have thought that his German audience would have been keenly interested in this as one of “the points of contact between the Church in Ireland and those areas where the future of Irish culture is being formed”.

He would also have been able to point out that even though the Irish Government rushed through the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 in March/April of that year, within two months of the redefinition of marriage referendum, it has not been possible to since commence Parts 2 and 3 of this Act.

They had been promised by the Irish Government (with Leo Varadkar TD as the Minister for Health and Frances Fitzgerald as the Minister for Justice and Equality) to regulate the commercial selection of gametes for human reproduction before the redefinition of marriage referendum conferred an implied constitutional right to procreate upon same-sex couples once married.

One is now Taoiseach, the other remains as Tánaiste.

This commercial industry remains unregulated. The Archbishop of Dublin is silent. It seems that Irish Catholics can be criticised to a German audience by a Catholic archbishop but the Irish Government cannot be. What good is seed in rich soil if it becomes choked and overgrown by the conformist, secularist demands of our society?

Archbishop Martin has given outstanding leadership in relation to the horrendous problem of child sexual abuse within the Irish Church. He ceaselessly stands up for the dignity of homeless people.

He is a brave and constant critic of gangland crime. Most importantly, one can see in so much of his work a real, lived relationship with Jesus Christ.

This shone through, for instance, in how well he addressed us at the Eucharistic Congress in 2012 and in his intelligent, sensitive and convincing interview on RTÉ television two days before the redefinition of marriage referendum. When clarity is needed, he can be utterly precise. When sensitive issues need balanced responses, he can be masterful.


My own perspective of what he is saying, or more accurately, not saying, in relation to marriage and the family, is primarily informed by the statement of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia that “many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will”. (AL53)

Marriage and the family have been legally deconstructed in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 in a manner which is without parallel anywhere in the world. We now have a profound contradiction in this country, having inserted same-sex marriage into our Constitution, while it otherwise bases its entire understanding of the family upon marriage between a man and a woman. It is a masterpiece of ideological colonisation.2

Perhaps Dr Martin would see my perspective as belonging to what he terms the “…integralist elements within the Church who see a Christian presence in a pluralist culture purely in terms of a negative culture war”.

It is unclear what he means by the term “integralist” and to whom he is referring, other than that it is meant to be pejorative. Yet, does his general description that follows the use of this word not also apply to Pope Francis?

Speaking in Tbilisi, Georgia on October 1, 2016, Pope Francis said “today there is a global war out to destroy marriage”. He said “today you do not destroy with weapons, you destroy with ideas. It is ideological colonisation that destroys”. He also said “marriage is the most beautiful thing that God has created” for in marriage, man and woman became one flesh and “the image of God”.

Three weeks later, however, at the launch of the World Meeting of Families at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Archbishop Martin had this to say: “Let me say something about which I feel strongly: do not allow ourselves to become entangled in trying to produce definitions of the family. Family is such a transcultural value that it cannot be defined simply. We may find it hard to define, but we all recognise what is family.”

When speaking in Rome about the World Meeting of Families on March 30, 2017, Archbishop Martin was asked about ‘ideological attacks’ on the family. He said it would be “foolish” to ignore such attacks but he then observed that this is something families rarely bring up with him when he meets them.


Last month, on June 1, 2017, at a press conference at the commencement of a three-day meeting in Dublin to help prepare for the World Meeting of Families next year, he said “the World Meeting of Families will be a moment when we will speak of confidence but also of realism stressing both the challenges and the joys of family life.That is the reality of the life of every family: the ideal family does not exist. Great families do exist. They need the support of the Church.”

It is clear that Archbishop Martin is seeking to include and embrace every family in the World Meeting of Families 2018. He deserves to be complemented for facilitating this spirit of inclusion. In doing so, he rightly confirms that perfect families do not exist.

To say that an ideal family does not exist, however, is a fundamentally different matter and is in contradiction of Amoris Laetitia. The ideal is, in fact, precisely set out in this Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, which says: “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realised in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society.” (AL 292)

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis also clarifies: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur…A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves.

To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being.” (AL 307)

If the World Meeting of Families 2018 is to be a truly joyful and inspiring event, the beauty, truth and goodness of marriage between man and woman needs to be stated with the joy and confidence of a trumpet blast for it reflects the glory of God in the totality of the human person, male and female.

If the embracing arms of the Church are to have compassionate strength for all families, they must not be unhinged from the spinal column of the full ideal of marriage as the union of man and woman. The trumpet must not have an uncertain sound.

If the day of the passing of redefinition of marriage referendum in Ireland was the ‘Dunkirk’ event for Irish Catholicism, the day that Pope Francis may arrive in Dublin could be a ‘D-Day’ moment for the ‘field hospital’ that the Irish Catholic Church is called to be. His arrival could launch the first proper, co-ordinated response to the secularist, ideological colonisation that has attempted to suffocate the great tradition of Christian faith in this country and turned it into mission territory.

If that is to happen, however, the one thing that cannot precede the arrival of Pope Francis is for the Archbishop of Dublin to be an uncertain trumpeter.


*Patrick Treacy is a senior counsel. He has written a book in anticipation of next year’s World Meeting of Families Mission Territory: Pope Francis, Ireland the World Meeting of Families 2018 Towards a renewed understanding of marriage, the family and the domestic Church for Christian faith and society. It can be downloaded and read from


1. An explanation of how the Irish Government and the National Council for  Curriculum and Assessment  have incrementally sought to remove the Christian ethos from primary and secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland, since 2011, can be found at the website of Faith In Our Schools (

2. This is explained more fully in a text entitled ‘Mission Territory – Pope Francis, Ireland and the World Meeting of Families 2018’ which can be downloaded from the homepage of the website of Integritas, a domestic centre of Christian spirituality, Ennisnag, Stoneyford, County Kilkenny( This centre also hosts the research and advocacy group Faith In Our Schools.