Decades of good done by the Catholic Church in Ireland are being “almost obliterated by a revised and narrow narrative that religious ethos cannot be good for democracy,” the Archbishop of Armagh has said.
Speaking at the University of East Anglia on Monday night, the archbishop said Irish society was being “hugely impacted by secularisation and is evidenced by a steady decline in church attendance and in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”
“What began as a gradual drift of people away from Mass and the sacraments became a stronger current,” Archbishop Martin said. “Like other parts of Europe and the western world, more people in Ireland are living their lives without reference to God or to religious belief.”
Delivering in the Newman Lecture on the Church in the Public Sphere, the archbishop said there was a misconception that religion stands “against the progress and flourishing of society and the rights of citizens” and that issues of faith were “unconnected with reason”.
“In fact every Catholic position on concrete morals is argued from reason even when there exists a biblical warrant for that position.”
Defending the place of the Church in public life, Archbishop Martin added that it was “simply not true that the Catholic Church has a desire to create a theocracy in Ireland, North or South.
“However, the church does expect that in a true pluralist democracy or republic, religion and faith will continue to have an important part to play in the national conversation.”
Acknowledging the Church had failed in the past, he said this must nonetheless not be “allowed to define us, but should instead help all of us in the public sphere learn lessons for the present about where church and society might today be similarly marginalising the poor, stigmatising the unwanted or failing to protect the most vulnerable”.