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ÉIRE NUA FACT SHEET 3

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

The Separation of Church and State is essential for achieving a just and lasting peace in Ireland and is central to Éire Nua. The lessons of history require that. Ireland today is a multi-cultural pluralistic society that must cater equally to all its citizens irrespective of their religious affiliations. Religious freedom will be protected under the Éire Nua constitution. Organized religion will be free to prorogate and grow and the individual will be free to join or remain apart. Religion will not dabble in politics nor will the government use religion to advance their political agendas.

Since organized religion was first established the relationship between Church and State has been uneasy if not downright contentious. When the Roman Empire finally collapsed the Christian Church took its place and nearly all of Europe’s rulers submitted to its power and authority.

The quest for power and supremacy between the Church of Rome and the civil authorities in Europe was felt in Ireland. The Reformation divided the Christian church and pitted the countries of Europe against each other. As the consequence of a rift between King Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII over the question of supremacy, Protestantism became the state religion in England. Remaining true to their beliefs the Irish people sided with the Church of Rome.

After the defeat of the Catholic armies at the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim in 1690, the English enacted a series of repressive anti-Catholic laws. These laws, collectively known as the Penal Laws, deprived Catholics of their religious freedom, political and property rights. Catholic colleges were closed and priests were not allowed to attend to their flock. Property owners who refused to convert to Protestantism were classified as disloyal and summarily dispossessed of their lands. Protestant settlers were brought in from Scotland and England and given the lands and possessions taken from the native Irish property owners. Religion became a powerful weapon to suppress the Irish people and formed the basis for the ‘divide and rule’ doctrine used by the English down through the centuries to rule and control the Irish people.

After the Reform Act of 1850, which modified the Penal Laws the new face of the Catholic Church was romanistic, authoritarian and determined to enter the political arena to protect its vested interests. Its attitude towards Irish nationalism was adversarial in that it had to compete for the loyalty of the populace. Although some priests were sympathetic and at times joined in the struggle for independence, the hierarchy did not consider Irish independence important or desirable. As repayment to the English for establishing Maynooth College, a seminary for priests, the hierarchy vehemently condemned resistance to English rule. The Church entered the political arena to ensure the downfall of Parnell who posed a constitutional threat to the English. To weaken resistance to English rule they summarily excommunicated all those who took part in the uprisings of 1867 and 1916. They also condemned anti-Treaty forces during the civil war of 1922. To this very day, they condemn those who engage in anti-British activities.

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