The Dean’s last stand over the paper thinness of Irish ecumenism…

If the congregation of Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin had known what their Dean, Robert McCarthy (biographer of his much overlooked predecessor John Henry Barnard), was going to say in his final Evensong sermon about the poor quality of religious ecumenism in Ireland [and a few other things besides – Ed], they might have had the foresight to advertise it more widely. Patsy McGarry has the dope:

THE DEMORALISED state of the Catholic Church in Ireland “may have something to do with its lack of ecumenism”, the Very Rev Robert MacCarthy (71), Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, has said.

“While I have been happy to welcome the present Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin as a preacher here, I have to say that there has been no reciprocal invitation to the Pro-Cathedral,” he said.

Ecumenism in Dublin seemed “to be equated to fellowship between the two archbishops; that should merely be the first step”, he said in his final sermon as dean at evensong in St Patrick’s yesterday.


The former and current Catholic archbishops of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, had “both refused to appoint a Roman Catholic chaplain to St Patrick’s, and in this they were supported by their Anglican colleague”, even while such chaplaincies were “commonplace” in England.

He disagreed with those members of his church who felt it could benefit from the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in Ireland. They had been “lucky that there was no inquiry into sexual abuse within the Church of Ireland – if there had been, I doubt if we would have been found to be blameless”. Clericalism “was at the root of the church’s ills” and was “alive and well in the Church of Ireland.”

There’s an interesting aside that others better qualified may wish to comment upon:

The Church of Ireland itself showed every sign of splitting into “a sort of Catholic sect in the South with married clergy and a body indistinguishable from other Protestant sects in the North”.

The Dean is no stranger to controversy, something which he acknowledges in his sermon… As, what we would call in the Catholic Church, a late vocation (he was nearly forty by the time of his ordination), his habits of mind were already strongly formed by the time he went into harness.

, ,

  • sherdy

    Maybe the Dean should be grateful for the lack of reciprocation from Catholic clergy. Would he want to be tainted by association with a Church which has for years supported and defended child molesters?

  • sherdy

    Mick – Was my comment not factual? A yellow card for stating the truth!

  • Turgon

    The dean does sound pretty cross with all sorts of people. I know little enough about him but on his point about ecumenism I think he may misunderstand how many Protestants in NI (and the RoI) and I suspect Catholics think.

    The outworkings of a Christian’s life: things like being decent to one’s fellow man, turn the other cheek etc. are entirely common to Protestants and Catholics. We are not especially good at those things but we have a standard (our Lord) and know what we should do. In that out living of religion we are of course little different to most secular ideologies and other mainstream, religions. Jewish people, Hindus, Buddhists most of Islam etc. etc. have much the same views.

    Where committed Protestants and Catholics part company and indeed also part company from other religions is in the mechanism of personal salvation. For Protestants and Catholics the means of salvation: getting to heaven and avoiding hell is absolutely central. The Roman Catholic Church teaches different things from the Protestant churches both Anglican and the others. Put simply we Prods regard Catholics as in grave error and vice versa.

    As such it is entirely reasonable to be nice and friendly to one another but entirely unreasonable to suggest ecumenism, RC chaplains to Protestant cathedrals etc.

    Actually the Catholic Church in Ireland should be lauded for standing pretty solidly behind its analysis of the message of Christ: anything else would sell its message short. Clearly Protestants are the same. Hence, actually most of us are happy being civil and non ecumenical to one another. I have no desire to attend a made up joint theology service with Catholics (or Muslims, Jews, Hindus etc). I respect their position and respectfully disagree with them. I respect them the more because they do not try to pretend we all believe the same thing.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sherdy. You want that tested in law? Behave!

  • glenda lough

    Very courageous of him to tell us these things -on his retirement of course. As for the North/South C of I divide he’s right, 26 counties Anglicanism is bit higher church and liberal whereas the Northern version is really just Presbyterianism with bishops and a prescribed liturgy, those wonderful people who gave you…..Garvaghy Road.

  • wild turkey

    “Put simply we Prods regard Catholics as in grave error and vice versa.”

    Turgon my friend. that may very well be the case. I am not a theologian. But as an aside, perhaps tangential, those of us of the Orthodox faith do not really differentiate between the Roman Catholic Church and various protestant faiths.

    bottom line? Christ is risen and death is overcome. Correct me if i am wrong, but that is a belief fundamental to all christain faiths.

    For detailed instruction, we read the scripture, new and old testament ,in the eight (i think) year cycle as set out in the annual lectionary.

  • Pete Baker

    wild turkey

    “those of us of the Orthodox faith do not really differentiate between the Roman Catholic Church and various protestant faiths”


    As the Irish Times’ Patsy McGarry said at the time [2007]

    And now, from the people who brought us Limbo, then took it away. Who gave us Hell, took it away too, and have since tried to give it back to us. Who gave us the Latin Mass, took it from us, and gave it back last Saturday.

    Yes, from those same people we now have a repeat, summer-time restatement of why being Roman Catholic is “simply the best”. Furthermore, they explain again why being Protestant is to be a yellow-pack Christian.

    Yes, from the very people who under Pope Paul VI told us that Christians who were Protestant belonged to “sister churches” of the Roman Catholic Church, we are being told again that Protestant (Reformed) churches are not really sister churches at all.

    Now, they are not even churches “in the proper sense”. A bit like St Christopher, they have been demoted. They are now mere “ecclesial communities”. You could say they remain in something of an ecclesiological Limbo. If Limbo still existed.

    Pity our Anglicans, our Presbyterians, our Methodists, etc. They do not know it really, despite being told before, but their priests/ministers are not really priests or ministers at all. And as for their Holy Communion – it’s a sham! All a sham.

    Even if, when in 1997 Cardinal Desmond Connell used that word after President McAleese received communion at a Church of Ireland Eucharist service in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, he meant it was “a sham” for a Roman Catholic like her to do such a thing. But, let’s be frank, it is the Holy Orders and the Holy Communion of the Reformed Churches that Rome really sees as “a sham”.

    To be fair and as you would expect, Cardinal William Levada, current prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, put in somewhat differently in yesterday’s document (which was approved by Pope Benedict).

    He said: “According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”

    All of which can be summarised in one pithy word – sham!

  • Turgon

    wild turkey,
    Fair comment. Though the issue of how to access salvation is different between Christian faiths.

    However, in a way this is not a theology discussion. I just find the idea of a Catholic chaplain to a Protestant cathederal very odd nay a bit silly. Catholic priests may be very friendly with their Protestant counterparts but why take a semi formal role with a different church. It does not make a lot of sense. Good relationships and friendships do not require such formalisation.

  • Pete Baker

    Further to that earlier example of ecumenism“Let’s put this bluntly..”

    As the blood-crazed ferret editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, Damian Thompson commented at the Telegraph’s blog.

    I just hope that Anglo-Catholics will not be taken in. Let’s put this bluntly. Far from wanting to preserve the Anglican Communion, Pope Benedict wishes all its members to become Catholics. He realises, however, that corporate reunion is now impossible, and so he and his key advisers in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are considering ways in which groups of Anglicans can be received into full communion with the Holy See.


    You may find it “very odd nay a bit silly”, but according to the Irish Times report the Dean argued that “such chaplaincies were “commonplace” in England.”

  • PaddyReilly

    “those of us of the Orthodox faith do not really differentiate between the Roman Catholic Church and various protestant faiths”

    Yes this is true. From an Orthdox point of view Catholics and Protestants are all Azymites. This may seem a rather strange construct to those inside the Azymite tradition but opponents are often surprisingly alike. I don’t suppose a Bulgarian differentiates between Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants. In an Orthodox country like Greece or Russia, you may find the Azymites banding together for mutual protection. Notably in Yugoslavia, you did find all the Western Countries rooting for the Catholic Croats, apparently on the grounds that they were better than the Orthodox Serbs.

    In fact the construct ‘Protestant’ is largely unknown outside Northern Ireland. You’re either Anglican or (one of several varieties of) Presbyterian or Ewangelisch (Calvinist-Lutheran) or a Mormon or something else. The idea that all these constitute some common body of opposition to Catholicism is purely ad hoc and local. Which brings us to the question of ecumenism in Ireland. As a significant part of the reason for being Anglican or Presbyterian etc in Ireland is to demonstrate that one is not Catholic, ecumenism is largely a lost cause. The sectaries, in some cases, only have a congregation by virtue of being not the Catholic Church: they have no sincere interest in ecumenism. In other countries, it may be purely historical why the local religions are not in communion with the Catholic Church.

    I just find the idea of a Catholic chaplain to a Protestant cathedral very odd nay a bit silly.

    I find the idea of a Protestant Cathedral odd nay a bit silly. They’re largely Medieval Catholic Cathedrals which have been requisitioned. A Free Presbyterian Lady Chapel?