Home > Social and moral issues > That the Catholic Church hindered social progress in Ireland

That the Catholic Church hindered social progress in Ireland

This debate in the Hist was on 18 November, so before the publication of the Dublin Diocesan Report eight days later. Nevertheless, I think this showed the inadequacy of a student debating society as a forum in addressing certain issues of relevance in modern society. There are motions where one side or other is not sustainable. Sometimes this might be because of a debate on whether Russia is a threat to the West, which we held in early 2008. Many of the ordinary members of the Hist on that occasion had reason to believe the proposition, and put good cases from what they had researched. Then Sir Roderic Lyne, a former British Ambassador to Russia, spoke on the opposition, and it was clear given his unquestionable expert opinion, as well as that of former Irish Times correspondent Seamus Martin and retired Political Science Professor Ron Hill, that the case lay on the opposition.

But I mean particularly when even before the debate, those on one side know that the other is fundamentally right, and can only put their case by finding a nuanced argument, or focusing on particular points. Of course, in a competitive debating context, in its various formats, this is entirely appropriate. It serves a very good purpose in training the mind to think about subjects from different approaches. And I would not propose either that a one-sided motion is never appropriate for chamber debates, where the emphasis is truly on trying to convince the audience of a stance, and giving people the opportunity to voice their opinions. I would hold that in general, speeches in the chamber should be sincere, and that both the speaker and the audience benefit when this is the case. But I have on rare occasions myself during my many years in the Hist argued against my sincere belief, in order to capture a particular nuance, or to challenge myself to put a case. And at times when there is a somewhat imbalanced debate, it is reasonable for the Correspondence Secretary to ask good speakers to speak on the side contrary to their sincere belief to facilitate other speakers.

On this occasion, however, there was simply no contest as to which side was in the right. Despite one of the guests being the artist Cllr. Mannix Flynn, who had been through the industrial school system, the debate from student speakers’ point of view ended up focusing on issues like divorce, contraception and homosexuality. It was on issues such as these that there was at least a plausible case that Roman Catholic Church was merely in line with the mood of the time, though even then one has to ignore how much a part of that system they were, and the influence they had. I spent time myself on the question of illegitimacy, and how their stance truly affected people’s lives, but I can’t claim to have been satisfied with my speech given the enormity of the Catholic Church’s crimes and harms as we see them now. The debate put those professed Roman Catholics among us in an impossible situation, and I feel that they more than others should really be the ones to find the case for the proposition, as other than those directly harmed, it is practising Catholics more than those like myself who have been more affected.

I found this blog post difficult to write, to be able to convey the feeling properly, which is why it is here now that bit after the debate itself. I think it is only on the rarest of occasions that such a situation arises, and someone who appreciates the difficulty in selecting relevant and debatable motions, I do not mean to be critical. But there are some statements that cannot be debated.

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