Secular Sunday #474 – How the Catholic Church has harmed Ireland

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How the Catholic Church has harmed Ireland


The Mother and Baby Homes report is the latest reminder of how the Catholic Church evangelised Irish culture, and why it is important to separate church and state.

In today’s Secular Sunday, Seamus McKenna outlines how the Irish Catholic Church has harmed our people, our schools, and our democracy.

He argues that Religious myths were the great enablers in the many church/state scandals, and that Ireland still inculcates these myths into children in its state-run primary schools.

This week Atheist Ireland also highlighted the harm caused by religious oaths in our constitution and RTE’s continued free advert for the Catholic Church in the shape of the Angelus.

We will continue to campaign for an ethical, secular Ireland. If you’re not already a member, please consider joining us and helping us in this important work. You can join here.

– Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach


Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:

  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News


How the Irish Catholic Church has harmed our people, our schools, and our democracy

In the aftermath of the Mother and Baby Homes report, Seamus McKenna outlines how the Irish Catholic Church has harmed our people, our schools, and our democracy.
On the 12th of January 2021 the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters in the Republic of Ireland was published. This is a judicial report. It began its deliberations in 2015. Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland were established as places where unmarried women were brought in order to have their children, and operated at their peak in the years after independence from Britain in 1922.
The new Ireland was a Theocracy in all but name. Since the Reformation, Irish nationalism and Roman Catholicism had been closely connected. The new state was in dire straits economically, and the government saw ceding schools and hospitals to the management and control of the Catholic Church as a pragmatic step.
The Church was only too happy to cooperate in this, as it believed that both education and health were key areas in the maintenance of adherence to its faith, and for the recruitment of priests, nuns, and teaching monks. Unfortunately for Ireland, the flavour of Roman Catholicism at the time was of the most austere and rigid kind. It focussed on the primacy of original sin and human depravity, with a particular emphasis on matters of a sexual nature.
Catholic Church influence on politicians
This strongly influenced the new government, to the extent that it was able to make contraception illegal under the law from 1933 until 1978. Divorce had been outlawed under the Constitution of 1937. Abortion was such a taboo subject at the time that it was not even considered for mention in the same constitution or laws.
So strong was the hold that Catholicism had over the government that when a new minister for Foreign Affairs, Sean McBride, was appointed in 1948, he sent a message to the Pope, Pius XXII, on behalf of the whole cabinet and signed by the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister), which read:

“On the occasion of our assumption of office and our first cabinet meeting, my colleagues and myself desire to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and devotion as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teaching of Christ and to strive for the attainment of a social order in Ireland based on Christian principles. John A. Costello. Prime Minister.”

Two months later the same Sean McBride wrote to the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh, to say:

“I should be very indebted to Your Grace if Your Grace would say a prayer asking God to give me the wisdom necessary to carry out my new duties well and faithfully. I trust that if at any time any matter arises upon which Your Grace feels disposed to give me advice, formally or informally, that Your Grace will not hesitate to do so. I shall always welcome advice and be entirely at Your Grace’s disposal.”

Bishops and priests had tremendous power in the early and middle decades of the 20th century. Whatever was prescribed during a sermon at mass was obeyed unquestioningly by the population at large.
Catholic Church influence on sex
Sex was the real bugbear for this unholy alliance of church and state. Abstinence outside of marriage, and then the wholesale production of children within it, were the order of the day. Transgressors, of whom unfortunate women and girls who became pregnant without being married were the most visible, were dealt with very harshly indeed. Some of these were no more than children themselves.
The ruling orthodoxy insisted that they should be sent to the Mother and Baby Homes. The idea seemed to be that they and their children should be kept out of sight so that others would not be ‘scandalised’ by the occurrence, until such time as the children could be taken away for adoption.
In the meantime the girls were forced to work unpaid in laundries and in other similar places, were subject to all kinds of psychological cruelties, and were denied an education. Children who had been bonding with their mothers for considerable periods of time were taken away for adoption, forcefully and without the consent of the mother. One tragic element in all this was that the families of these unfortunate girls often reacted, due to the ambience of the time, by throwing them out of their homes and having nothing more to do with them. Read more…


Religious oaths in the Irish Constitution

In Ireland atheists, humanists and the non-religious cannot take high office because of the requirement to take a religious oath in our Constitution.
Atheist Ireland runs a ‘One Oath For All’ campaign, to enable conscientious atheists to hold the office of President, Judge, Taoiseach, or other members of the Council of State. All of these offices are out of reach of conscientious atheists.
This is because, in order to take office, we would have to swear a religious oath, the wording of which is in the Constitution, that would force us to deny our philosophical convictions, and breach our human right to freedom of conscience and belief. This also contradicts our right to freedom of conscience under Article 44.2.1 of the Constitution and effectively renders us second-class citizens.
In 2014 the UN Human Rights Committee told Ireland to replace the religious oaths for public office, and to remove the law against blasphemy. We have since removed the law against blasphemy, and we should now replace the religious oaths.
These public office-holders should instead make a single declaration of loyalty to the Irish Constitution, State, and people, that does not reveal anything about the person’s religious or nonreligious beliefs.
In October 2020 the UN Human Rights Committee have again raised this issue with Ireland. They asked:

Please report on the measures taken to ensure that the right to freedom of conscience and religious belief is fully respected, in law and in practice, on a non-discriminatory basis. In this regard, and bearing in mind the Committee’s previous recommendation (CCPR/C/IRL/CO/4, para. 21)… (b) indicate whether there have been any changes to the constitutional provisions requiring persons who take up certain senior public positions to take religious oaths

To date the Irish State has done nothing to ensure the right to freedom of conscience of the non-religious. It is simply not an issue for them. If religious people were obliged to affirm that there was no god in order to take high office in Ireland, then everybody would realise that this was a breach of the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief.
Atheist ireland will continue to campaign for the separation of Church and State. Read online…

Lobbying Bishops in ETB schools

In 2018 the Catholic Bishops lobbied the Minister for Education with regard to the decision by the Department of Education to oblige ETB schools to permit students to not attend Religious Education classes and pick another subject.

The Department of Education just caved in to the Bishops and removed the requirement of State schools to permit students to not attend
Religious Education classes and get another subject.

Religious Discrimination

The vast majority of schools in Ireland discriminate on the grounds of religion. They have a Catholic ethos and that ethos is such a part of our culture that religious discrimination goes unnoticed.
Admission policies that say that they will refuse access to a five year old if they can prove that it is essential to uphold their ethos are discriminatory. It is not legal discrimination but that does not mean that it is not discrimination on the grounds of religion.
Catholic schools ignore the recently enacted Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 that obliged them to put in their Admission Policies the arrangements for students that wish to not attend religious instruction. Anything they can do to make it more difficult for minorities to access their Constitutional rights they will do because religious discrimination is part of their ethos and reflected in our culture.
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley enables this discrimination, even though it is her responsibility to ensure that schools comply with legislation she has done nothing to rectify this situation.

Under the Irish Constitution students have a right to not attend any type of religious teaching. Church and State have undermined that right by giving it no practical application on the ground.

Students from non religious backgrounds are left sitting in the class where religious teaching takes place and no other subject is offered to them. This breaches their Constitutional rights and is religious discrimination.

We need separation of church and state in the education system. The state must stop evangelising students from non religious families and put in place statutory guidelines regarding the right to not attend any type of religious teaching.

*|YOUTUBE: [$vid=V1azKWYO-xI]|*


Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at


List of Atheist Ireland Submissions



Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

**Schools Special Offer**

As Covid continues and schools start back online, Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book during their online school term. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…

Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.


Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans here



Be Good without Gods


Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $30,775 to 1068 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland’s ‘‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1793 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,042 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

Tell us what you think

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Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:

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You can join Atheist Ireland here.

Thank you for your continued support


Atheist Ireland Committee



Take Action

Mubarak Bala And Rage of Intolerant Islam in Nigeria


By Leo Igwe


The case of Nigerian Humanist, Mubarak Bala, highlights a warped sense of justice and piety among Muslims in northern Nigeria. His continued incarceration is a lesson in islamic extremism. It reinforces the notion that Muslims are intolerant and Islam is a religion of hate and violence. Look, everything that has transpired since the arrest of Bala in Kaduna on April 28 2020 attests to the oppressive nature of Islam as practiced in Northern Nigeria especially the sordid extent that ordinary Muslims and Muslim state officers could go in lying, and deceiving, in harming, destroying, abusing and if given the opportunity killing any real or imagined ‘enemy’, transgressing infidel in the name of their religion. The treatment of Bala drips with revulsive religiosity, intolerance of a scale that numbs the mind and makes any civilized being shudder. Muslims have made it clear that wherever they are in the majority, nothing matters to them, except Islam as they understand it. The rule of law does not matter. The constitution is worthless. Human rights and dignity are of no value. Our common humanity is of no consequence. What counts is Islam, their very version of Islam, and nothing more.  Read more…

Update no. 5: Australian Government Needs to Act to Get Zara Kay Home


By International Coalition of Ex-Muslims and Australian secular organisations


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims and Australian secular organisations remain concerned about Zara Kay’s safety and urge the Australian government to take immediate action and intervene on her behalf so she can return home without delay.  In a recent Tweet, Zara asked the Australian Foreign Minister & Minister for Women:  “When are you going to talk about me @MarisePayne? I’m an Australian citizen, detained in #Tanzania.
When does Australia step in to protect their own citizens? When some people in Tanzania have expressed their wishes to behead me. Where’s the justice for my false detention?” Read more…

Raise awarness on blasphemy law abuse






One of Atheist Ireland’s members asked us to share the following

Monday 1st at 7pm – Women Leaving Islam — CEMB Premiere

Thursday, 11th at 2pm Free online conference – registration required ‘How should a liberal democracy react to conscientious objection claims?’

Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.


Blogs & Opinions



Time to open doors of secrecy around Mother and Baby Homes, says NI survivor


By Aine Kenny


A campaigner is calling for more cooperation between Stormont and the Dáil in relation to investigating the mother and baby homes, which operated both north and south of the border. His call comes in the wake of the publication of the report of the Mother & Baby Home Commission, which detailed decades of mistreatment of women and children in facilities all over Ireland. Read more…

Spiritual terrorism created world of mother and baby homes


By Fintan O’Toole


Mary Lavin’s story Sarah, written in 1943, begins: “Sarah had a bit of a bad name.” It ends, a few laconic pages later, with Sarah in a ditch “dead as a rat” and “the child dead beside her!” It is, as one of the principal characters concludes, where “the likes of her belong”. Read more…


McQuaid’s shadow hangs over mother and baby homes


By Diarmaid Ferriter


The publication of the mother and baby home report coincides with the 50th anniversary of the resignation of John Charles McQuaid as Catholic archbishop of Dublin. McQuaid’s parting shot after 31 years in that position was his 1971 pastoral Contraception and Conscience: Three Statements. Read more…

Revisionism on mother and baby report must not be allowed


By Katherine O’Donnell


It is difficult to read the Report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission, the detail of multiple traumas is often overwhelming.  However, the report is also difficult to read because of its failure to present a coherent interpretation of the evidence of this recent history. Read more…

The mother and baby homes Commission report misses the point on redress


By Máiréad Enright


THE COMMISSION REPORT on mother and baby ”homes”, published earlier this month, advances a ‘social history’ of these institutions, discussing 18 in detail.
Its interpretation of that history grounds the Commission’s recommendations for state action. That means that it is a legal document, as well as a historical narrative. It will be used by the government as the evidence base for any future investigation or reparation.
Read more…



‘I only know one god – and that’s me’: non-believers on the meaning of life


By Harriet Sherwood


Around the world, growing numbers of people are rejecting traditional faiths and choosing their own spiritual path. Eight atheists and agnostics open up. Religion may once have been the opium of the people, but in large swaths of the world the masses have kicked the habit. In countries once dominated by churches characterised by patriarchy, ritual and hierarchy, the pews have emptied and people have found other sources of solace, spirituality and morality. Read more…

FL County That Opposed Atheist Invocations Will Finally Have Atheist Speaker


By Hemant Mehta


I mentioned last month that the Brevard County Commissioners in Florida had adopted a new invocation policy that finally appeared to be inclusive of non-Christian groups. They needed to be extra careful they weren’t violating the law because their previous invocation policy, from a few years earlier, essentially limited the prayers to Christians. They were sued over the matter and it resulted in penalties costing the county roughly half a million dollars. Read online…

Don’t let religious advocates define the boundaries of acceptable thought


By Chris Sloggett


A BBC debate on defining ‘Islamophobia’ was a reminder of the risks of giving too much ground to religious identity politics and empowering ‘community groups’ to police public discussion, says Chris Sloggett. On Sunday the BBC One programme The Big Questions turned its attention to the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims’ definition of ‘Islamophobia’. Since November 2018 political parties, local authorities and others have adopted this vague definition. Read more…

Are the brains of atheists different to those of religious people? Scientists are trying to find out


By Miguel Farias


The cognitive study of religion has recently reached a new, unknown land: the minds of unbelievers. Do atheists think differently from religious people? Is there something special about how their brains work? To illustrate what they’ve found, I will focus on three key snapshots. Read more…

The expanding role of Christian Nationalism in the Capitol attack


By Freedom From Religion Foundation


Is America finally waking up to the threat Christian Nationalism poses? The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been educating about the dangers of theocratic extremism for decades, is hopeful the attack on the Capitol has opened the nation’s eyes. Read more…

Atheists Sue Ex-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for Making Colleges Fund Bigotry


By Hemant Mehta


American Atheists and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are giving the Trump administration a going away present: They’re suing the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos in response to a policy that forces colleges to “financially support religious student groups that discriminate.”
They’re referring to a rule published last September, stemming from an executive order Donald Trump signed in March of 2019, which said schools could lose federal funding if they applied non-discrimination policies to religious groups
. Read more…

Christian nationalism is a key part of Trump’s legacy


By Alastair Lichten


Alastair Lichten argues that understanding Christian nationalism is essential to understanding the presidency of Donald Trump and its consequences for the world.
Over 1,200 books have been written about the Trump presidency, so far. It will take some time and distance to fully understand Trump’s reshaping of US and global politics. But as I predicted four years ago, Christian nationalism has been at the heart of his policy agenda. Read more…

The Inauguration’s Beautiful Call for Unity Was Undermined by the Invocation of Religion


By Andrew L. Seidel


There’s a reason religion and politics are forbidden topics in polite conversation: they’re divisive. Mixing the two is doubly so. President Joe Biden is a deeply religious man who turns to his faith in dark times. But 85 million Americans do not. Those nonreligious Americans were left out of yesterday’s moment of national healing. Read more…

For ‘no religion’ mention in certificates, man moves Gujarat HC




AHMEDABAD: The man who had approached the Gujarat high court seeking to be declared an atheist, has filed another petition for permission to not mention caste and religion in the certificates for all those who do not want such details mentioned.
For himself, petitioner Rajveer Upadhyay (36), seeks directions to the authorities to mention “No Religion, No Caste” in his certificates because he does not want any religion or caste to be mentioned. Read more…

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Freethought Radio – This Land Is Our Land – Jared Huffman

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Mother and Baby Home Report Coverage



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