The Brandsma Review

Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland

Issue 131, March-April 2014


HAVING AS A BLOW-IN SIGNED UP to an Irish Constitution which recognised the special place of the Roman Catholic Church, and which framed its laws in accordance with her doctrines, it is with considerable sadness that I now find myself saddled with a Republic that has serially offended against these doctrines, and with prospects of going from bad to worse.

Personally I did what I could to resist this trend, especially in the 1990s, opposing the redefinition of marriage contained in the referendum on divorce, and subsequently by standing as a general election candidate for the Christian Solidarity Party. Any hope of achieving some success at the time was finally scuppered by the National Party, which fielded a rival candidate in my Clare constituency. Former allies in the campaign against divorce found that the first item on the agenda, going forward, was “the split”. This was more seriously destructive on the occasion of the 2002 abortion referendum, which saw a misguided pro-life minority enabling a pro-choice victory.  The “Christian” constituency was critically fractured.

Is there now any such constituency out there in a more viable form? Can it be claimed that any lessons have been learned? Will we ever find the grace to put such foolishness behind us, and concentrate on the real task?

More PD than CSP

Any serious challenge to the Endalife Brigadewill presumably have to be mounted in the first place by those politicians who courageously sacrificed their immediate prospects by voting against the recent abortion bill, although it may be said that they seem to bear more resemblance to the PDs than the CSP.

One can anticipate the scoffs of mainstream commentators at a combination of “middle-class liberals” and “die-hard Catholic reactionaries”, which just goes to show that the game of tag is alive and well, but do they have any kind of point?

There is a basic personalism about the Catholic faith, which has developed considerably in the last fifty years, and which seeks to foster the flourishing and responsibility of the individual, albeit in the context of family and community. It is in the first place to those struggling to make a living and rear families and take responsibility for their lives that our political challenge must be addressed.

The same half century has matured the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, which perhaps only now with Pope Francis may belatedly achieve its potential.  The Council had after all been the previous 50 years in gestation, and even if its fruit, fragile from its inception, nearly suffered obliteration in the fierce storm of the zeitgeist of the ‘70s, now we may see how it did indeed provide the basis for a resolution of all those sterile and destructive confrontations between church and state, ultramontanes and modernists, conservatives and progressives, monarchists and republicans etc. Really they should have been left behind in the 19th century, and then perhaps the 20th would not have been so catastrophic. Where was the strong centre, the Christian presence, when it was desperately needed to combat crazy racism and extremism?

Defining the human condition

At least, when we now advocate Christian principles in the democratic marketplace, there is no longer any excuse for anyone to fear “Rome rule”. That sort of rule, in its imperialistic and authoritarian sense, is well and truly dead and buried. Christian political advocacy is now firmly based on our belief in the truth, justice, consistency and practicality of our faith.
We argue from the realities that confront us, yet it remains our right to cast that belief in terms of our tradition, with its special insights and grasp of the reality of the human condition; and indeed to assert that the democratic political process, which is designed simply for the purpose of securing consensus in the practical management of national affairs, cannot possibly provide of itself an adequate definition of what it is to be human, and hence how we should behave and what is right or wrong.

It remains by no means fanciful or arcane to persist in pointing to the perennial existential crisis that unfortunately pits the Roman Catholic Church against “the spirit of the world”, particularly in our day against a certain destructive materialistic determinism; we may call it Satan’s contemporary guise, but it may be recognised by people of all faiths and none, provided they have good will. We need to build a consensus with them about the value of human life in all its aspects, and to ask them to forgive us if, in all humility, we simply cannot see any adequate alternative focus for the assertion of this value in all its dimensions, but the Catholic faith in Jesus Christ. This need not however prevent us from recognising that God has distributed His gifts throughout the human race, and we surely all have plenty to learn from each other, granted only the presence of “good will”.

“Good will” is unfortunately a somewhat vacuous phrase; the fashionable notion that “all you need is love” just does not cut the mustard. One would have thought the least acquaintance with the world makes this obvious, but still people keep coming up with inane remarks about the superfluity of “religion” etc.  Genuine good will implies at least the recognition that we did not create ourselves, that we do not constitute ends in ourselves and are not furnished with an automatic sense of morality or meaning, and even when we do inherit some such gifts, we have a constant struggle on our hands in attempting to be true to them; in other words real “good will” implies a difficult and painful quest to discover and penetrate that mystery we call God, and with it something in the nature of prayer; it bears the hall-mark of respect for all His creation, though especially our fellow pilgrims, including our enemies, for this respect flows precisely from our sense of the mystery.

The People of God are above all involved in a spiritual quest; we know the “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18, 36), but as we pray “thy will be done on earth” (Matthew 6, 11), while there are always those who so fear and hate the mystery that
they deliberately seek to suppress and obliterate it, we are confronted also with a cultural and political battle. This is notwithstanding our sense that Heaven is fun, and we would rather dance thither, if it could be managed.

In our volatile times, there’s no knowing what might happen. New populist movements are poised to pull the rug from established political parties all across Europe. Beppe Grillo of the Five Star Movement (M5S), which came from nowhere to win 25 per cent of the vote in last year’s Italian general election, claims to be “on the same wavelength as Pope Francis”; however, one doesn’t know what “rough beasts” may slouch along. A new hard centre that can not alone hold but shine, is urgently called for.

Joe Aston is a writer based in West Cork.  His blog may be viewed at


In the same issue:


Anthropological Emergency and Evangelisation
Demythologising to Show Better the Face of Christ
Tom O’Gorman—An Appreciation
The Iona Institute’s Battle with Bigotry

Dr Niall Brady

Peadar Laighléis

Wolfgang Hering

Dr Joe McCarroll

Joe Aston

Paul Fournier

Rev Professor Brendan Purcell


From the Editor’s Desk includes ‘Our Lady of Trim’, ‘Saint on a Bridge’ and ‘Advent and Aggressive Secularism’; Letter to the Editor from Eric Conway; and Hurling Shots comments on ‘The Head Chaplain’s Sermon’ and ‘Embassy Victory’.


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