A ‘Truly Pluralist’ Society?

The news this week that a meeting had taken place between ‘The Catholic Church’ and the government was a welcome surprise. Leo Varadkar’s tweet made me curious:

Good meeting with Catholic Church. Faith communities have important place in Irish life.Constructive engagement with them is valuable 4 Govt

The Irish Times piece  (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/church-urges-government-to-reconsider-eighth-amendment-referendum-1.3205246) revealed that ‘senior Catholic representatives’ met with key government representatives to discuss a number of issues including the eighth amendment, aid and the political impasse in Northern Ireland. Afterwards Archbishop Eamon Martin said

‘I believe that regular Church-State dialogue is in the interest of everyone and reflects a truly pluralist society.’

The Taoiseach hoped ‘this would be the first in a series of bilateral meetings which would be held with dialogue partners.’

Faith communities have an important place in Irish life. The majority of Irish people belong to one and have a faith perspective on life.  The views of faith communities can and should be part of the national conversation on policy, values and public life.  This includes the diverse faith traditions which make up Irish society and should certainly fully involve Catholic representation as the biggest faith group in the country.

But within this who should be the ‘dialogue partners?’ In this case the Irish Times names three archbishops.  Were there other representatives present?  How does this representation contribute to the ‘truly pluralist society’ mentioned by Archbishop Martin?  Could ‘senior figures from the Church,’ include senior Catholic women who have spent a lifetime in service of the Church? When the key issue being discussed is the eighth amendment, the Catholic voice is debilitated without expert female representation.  When the Church puts forward its view on the eighth via male celibate leaders this is detrimental to how it is received and this is also true of any subject in the public square.

There are many Catholic experts on Irish life who reflect its plurality and would make themselves available to advise the bishops, including expert non-episcopal members of their commissions.  I am encouraged by the news of top level meetings between the government and the Church and hope that the bishops will endeavour to make their delegation at these meetings truly representative of the membership of the Catholic faith community.

Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

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