Celtic Crossroads

Ireland’s New Model Of Church-State Relations

During a parliamentary debate this summer over the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations, Ireland’s Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, railed against the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and narcissism” of the Vatican—strong words from any head of government, and unprecedented in Ireland. Kenny’s blistering criticism may provide a chance for a needed recasting of Irish church-state relations.

As Ireland stumbles toward recovery from the economic catastrophe of recent years, it needs a Catholic Church that can articulately criticize both the lack of accountability and the excesses of individualism that led to Ireland’s financial crisis. For its part, the Irish church must stop mourning its lost power and prestige and read the signs of the times in contemporary Dublin—signs announcing a range of pressing issues, from the continuing aftershocks of the housing bubble to the demand for justice for sexual-abuse victims. And—just as important—the church must recognize that such signs of the times in Ireland today are more likely than ever to be written in Polish, Chinese, or Arabic.

The church’s opportunity to refashion its role in Irish life will be driven not so much by choice as by necessity. In the past two decades, what University College Dublin sociologist Tom Inglis has termed the “moral monopoly” of the Catholic Church over public life in Ireland has crumbled. Under the traditional church-...

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About the Author

David T. Buckley is a doctoral candidate in government at Georgetown University.