Hamill’s Beat - Church ‘law’ can’t be above state law

Sex scandals and paedophilia haven’t been confined to the Catholic Church.

The trauma has been going on so long you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Every morsel of information sparks another round of media scrutiny.

The Catholic Church is being tried in the court of public opinion before the ‘shock Jock’ judges like Stephen Nolan.

As a non Catholic I’ve little to say about it. The church’s internal difficulties are matters for the Catholic ‘family’.

There is, however, a wider family to consider. That’s the ‘family’ of the plain people of Ireland. All who give allegiance to the Irish nation (Protestants, Catholics, Dissenters and others) and those who give allegiance to Britain, have a big question to ask.

How did governments allow the situation to develop where church leaders thought their rules or “Canon Law” took precedence over the state’s law?

Both jurisdictions have suffered greatly from too close and deferential relationships with the churches. The sad truth is that there was some validity in the old unionist mantra that, “Home rule would be Rome rule”.

The special relationship between the enormously powerful Catholic Church and the Republic was even given official status in De Valera’s constitution. In response, here in the north, some unionists thought it appropriate to have an Orange State or, “A Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”. It was all tragic stuff. Both parts of the island developed in an unhealthy way.

The majority in both states imagined they were ‘the people’. There was no need for state law to reflect pluralism in civic society. The situation was anti-democratic.

We should by now have finally learned our lesson.

We need separation between church and state.

It’s not good to give any church so much respect that its clerics feel they can ignore the criminal law.

Out of the present trauma good can come.

Things are already changing. Last year, for instance, Taoiseach Enda Kenny made remarkably forthright comments about the Vatican.

His speech wouldn’t have been possible in an earlier era.

We should profoundly hope that healthier church and state relationships will continue to emerge from the wreckage of the present train crash.