Political and religious freedom is way forward for Northern Ireland

Posted By: July 24, 2017

Distributed by Irish National Caucus

 Fr Sean McManus

Letters to the Editor, Irish News. Belfast. Monday, July 24, 2017

Dear Editor
The Fourth of July is a special day for all Americans —and not least for Irish-Americans, who glory in America’s freedom from England.

But the Fifth of July now also takes on special meaning for this Fermanagh man because on that date the World Communion of Reformed Churches formalized its assent to the Joint Declaration on Justification, originally signed by the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation in 1999, and later by the World Methodist Council in 2016— and warmly welcomed by the Anglican-Episcopalian Church.

The formal statement of assent took place at an ecumenical prayer service to in Wittenberg, Germany— the very heart of Luther’s Reformation.

All my life— at least from my seminary days in England— I fervently believed that disagreement on Doctrine of Justification (the wedge issue of the Reformation) should never have led to a split in the Catholic Church. And now, 500 years later Luther’s Church and the Catholic Church have reached agreement on this central doctrine: that we are saved by God’s grace, in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in the Vatican said: “One of the crucial issues of dissent between the Reformers and the authorities of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century is thus being diffused and overcome, making further growth in spiritual and ecclesial communion between the Protestant and Catholic Churches possible.”

I appeal to all the Protestant Churches in Northern Ireland not to act as if this historic, Holy Spirit-filled moment, never happened. In particular, I appeal to the Orange Order —as it celebrates the 500 th Anniversary of the Reformation—not to bury its head in the sand and pretend this never happened— as the Order tends to pretend the IRA ceasefire never happened.

Political and religious freedom must be the way forward in Northern Ireland based on the concept popularized by that other Martin Luther, whose last name was King: The Beloved Community— founded on equality, non-discrimination mutual respect, non-violence, and forgiveness, as is the Good Friday Agreement.

But it is up to the British Government and the Royal Family to address the foundational cause of so much discrimination and bigotry in Northern Ireland: The Anti-Catholic sections of the Act of Settlement, 1701, which still, to this very moment, prohibits a Catholic from being King or Queen of England. That such State-sponsored discrimination would be enshrined, justified and mandated in the (unwritten and non-codified) BritishcConstitution is blatantly shameless. It would be like —in effect and consequence— having a provision in the U.S. Constitution prohibiting a Black person from being president. (Can you imagine how that would have justified and condoned  White racism and bigotry?)

Responding that the Monarch is also head of the Established Church is neither an excuse nor an explanation. The other thing Americans celebrate on the Fourth of July is The Establishment Clause — the separation of Church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

God bless America and God save Ireland.