Christian Churches in Ireland have suffered because of a lack of ecumenism, Church of Ireland primate Most Rev Robin Eames has told the McGill Summer School in Donegal.
“Christianity in Ireland has suffered because of our total allegiance to denominationalism. In the naked sectarianism of Northern Ireland, ecumenism for some is a sign of failure, surrender and weakness, he said.
Eames says religion in Ireland is now divided into two parts – north and south – with the Catholic Church commanding the largest majority of Christians in the Republic and the Church of Ireland totally integrated into the life of the Irish State.
But neither Church in the Republic has had to address the tensions a society such as Northern Ireland has produced, in which the uneasy cohabitation of the political and the religious has posed fundamental questions about power, authority, domination, alienation and tragically, human suffering, he said.
For them, the freedom to believe and to implement true ecumenism has been enjoyed without the obstacles of political/religious opposition.
In Northern Ireland, religious labels have been embraced as an identity which owes much to political hopes and fears, and little to Church allegiance or involvement.
The Irish Examiner quotes him as saying there had been a large scale failure by all Churches to identify social and economic issues beyond their relevance to denominational doctrine and Church teaching, until violence and sectarianism began to appear in the 1960s.
I see a failure by the Churches, all of them, to step outside the comfortable pew, the protected pulpit or the untouchable sanctuary to ask questions about justice, rights and equality in society.
Of course, the Churches must accept their responsibilities for the grim past. But equally, they must recognise that to talk of a religious war is an over-simplification which contributes its own injustice to history.
A sign of hope for an ecumenical future, perhaps?