Irish Catholic Bishops misrepresenting meeting as ‘the Church-State structured dialogue process’

by Michael Nugent on January 21, 2013

The Irish Catholic Bishops are misrepresenting their meeting with the Government last Friday as part of “the Church-State structured dialogue process.”

After the meeting Cardinal Sean Brady said

“It is in the common good of Irish society to have in place a vibrant and organised structure where the Catholic Church – as well as other faith groups – can engage with the State in a transparent and respectful manner to establish a shared and supportive approach, as appropriate, when dealing with matters of mutual concern.”

But this process is not “the Church-State structured dialogue process” and it is not limited to “faith groups”. It is important that this terminology does not gain credibility by going unchallenged.

The process is one of dialogue between the government and representatives of churches, faith communities and nonreligious philosophical bodies in Ireland.

It explicitly goes beyond ‘church-state’ dialogue and ‘faith groups’, despite attempts by the Vatican at EU level to limit such dialogue to churches.

Atheist Ireland is a partner in this process in Ireland, and we are seeking a similar meeting with the Government as the Catholic Bishops have just had.

Please email the Taoiseach and your local TDs and let them know that you want them to meet Atheist Ireland, so that they can hear secular views on the same basis as they are now hearing religious ones.

How the dialogue process came about

This dialogue process arose from developments at European Union level during the draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.

The Vatican wanted the treaty to institutionalize a specific form of access for the churches to EU decision makers, over and above that of ordinary civic bodies.

This ended up being included in the Lisbon Treaty, but it was not restricted to churches. It also explicitly included nonreligious bodies.

Article 17
1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.
2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.

The parallel dialogue process in Ireland was launched in 2007 by Bertie Ahern, before Atheist Ireland was founded, and the Humanist Association of Ireland were invited to take part. The process seems to have been mostly ignored under Brian Cowen, and it has been recommenced by Enda Kenny.

What the Bishops discussed with the Government

This is the list of issues that the Catholic Bishops say they discussed with the Government in their three-hour meeting last Friday:

  • protecting human life;
  • child safeguarding;
  • addressing mental health issues in society especially in the context of suicide;
  • civil unrest in Northern Ireland and the threat to the peace process from dissident paramilitaries;
  • the De Silva Report (Pat Finucane);
  • education in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors;
  • the national economy;
  • the vital role of chaplains in hospitals and prisons;
  • justice and peace issues specifically on poverty and social need;
  • the Constitutional Convention;
  • Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See; and
  • Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union.

Atheist Ireland requesting meeting with Government

Atheist Ireland is a partner in this process, having met with officials at the Taoiseach’s department, and we are currently seeking a meeting with the Government to discuss our aims for an ethical, secular state that is neutral on the question of religion.

We do not believe that these type of meetings are necessary or appropriate, although we accept that they are enshrined in the Lisbon treaty at EU level. Political institutions should not give special access to bodies on the basis of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.

However, for such time as the Government is in practice meeting with churches to listen to their religiously-inspired input to public policy, it is important that the Government also directly hears the secular viewpoint.

Please email the Taoiseach and your TDs and ask them to prioritise the meeting with Atheist Ireland that we have requested under this process.

The Taoiseach’s email address is taoiseach@taoiseach.gov.ie

TDs’ email addresses are firstname (dot) surname (at) oireachtas.ie

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