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"Of some symbolic importance but not much else": the Irish inter-church meeting and ecumenical dialogue in Northern Ireland, 1980-1999".


It has been argued that the conflict in Northern Ireland has a religious dimension. (1) This interpretation transformed a political conflict, based upon disputed territory and minority rights, into a religious war based upon doctrinal differences stretching back to the sixteenth century and the Reformation. Although interpretations of the conflict have evolved from this simplistic understanding, it is evident that the churches in Northern Ireland have a sociopolitical dimension, (2) and, as the largest institutions of civil society, (3) they have a sociopolitical as well as a cultural role to play.

As a result of these sociopolitical and cultural roles, when the conflict was escalating in Northern Ireland during the late 1960's and 1970's, ecumenical dialogue between the leaders of the Protestant (4) and Catholic churches came to represent, for many, "a magic formula for solving all of Ireland's problems." (5) This belief found support in the idea that "Christianity has some powerful resources for helping communities, whether theistic or not, to deal constructively with antagonised division. Concepts such as love, justice, forgiveness and healing ... are as central to secular political efforts towards peace as they are to religious ones." (6)

Such arguments were further strengthened by the role that churches had played ecumenically in other conflicts and, especially, in South Africa where "[r]eligious leaders, working under the influence of new religious ideas, served as a force for social change.., and tens of thousands of Christians, through resistance and defiance, joined in the struggle against oppression." (7) Here a fusion of politics and theology was seen in which the leaders of both Catholic and Protestant churches worked together, using whatever means they had, to facilitate a resolution and bring an end to apartheid. They did so because they believed that the "struggle against apartheid in South Africa was theological as well as political. When prophetic Christianity confronted segregation and the apartheid state, challenging the passivity of the diverse denominations and their de facto acceptance of the status quo, the Christian Church itself became a site of political struggle." (8) Many Christians, witnessing such actions and drawing upon comparisons to the wider experience of conflict often made between Northern Ireland and South Africa, expected the churches in Ireland to react in a similar manner. Advocates of this idea argued that, through a religiopolitical dialogue with one another, Protestant and Catholic churches could somehow facilitate a solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland or, at the very least, offer a theological response to it. Such people, however, were to be disappointed; when the churches failed to make significant progress in their dialogue with one another, charges were leveled against them, such as "reconciliation between the two communities is a recognised major objective [of the churches] and yet the Church Leaders had to be asked before they came together for a joint statement."(9)

Before 1980, the leaderships of the Protestant and Catholic churches made efforts to work together. In 1974 they inaugurated the ecumenical talks at Ballymascanlon, County Louth, later becoming known as the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM). They produced a report in 1976 on Violence in Ireland, (10) which suggested ways in which the churches could respond together to the situation in Northern Ireland. Consequently, by 1980 there was "more contact, more mutual respect and understanding [between the churches] ... than at any earlier period of Irish history." (11) However, despite the strengthening of relationships, friendship and understanding between the clergy involved, and the optimism displayed concerning their progress, the ecumenical dialogue taking place in 1980 was fundamentally flawed. A lack of definition characterized the meetings between the leadership of the Protestant and Catholic churches, both before 1980 and after, and there was no common understanding of what the members actually wanted to achieve. Essentially, there was little agreement on what the structures in place for dialogue between the churches were for. Were they ecumenical structures in the strictest sense of the word, (12) or should they have been engaging with the sociopolitical conflict that surrounded them in Northern Ireland as other churches had done when ministering to societies suffering conflict, such as South Africa?

From the interviews conducted during the course of this research with those involved in national-level dialogue, it is clear that this confusion over definition, compounded by the fact the participants never seriously attempted to clarify their aims, was one of the main problems preventing progress. When asked what they believed the purpose of ecumenical dialogue to be, none of the participants gave similar answers. Indeed, one Catholic priest commented that "ecumenism in Northern Ireland is probably one of the most misunderstood words and I think, in some respects, if you were to ask people in the road what they mean by it they would probably give you different definitions."(13) Thus, while some put forward a classic definition of ecumenism, arguing that it should be concerned only with theological matters and ultimately church unity, others argued that it should be "the same as that of the world ecumenical dialogues in general, namely as being partly theological and partly social--both of these being naturally applied to the particular situation in Ireland." (14) The structures in place for ecumenical dialogue during the 1960's and 1970's were merely an arena in which the churches could "give some expression to the matters [and concerns they] share in interchurch relations; to foster and improve those relationships; to engage in shared reflection about issues affecting Ireland and the Churches." (15) Early attempts at ecumenical dialogue were intended to create a deeper understanding on issues that represented major difficulties for the churches and were "not primarily designed and could not be expected to 'solve the Irish problem' or to end violence." (16)

This essay will demonstrate that in the period from 1980 onward, the IICM tried to adopt a more holistic approach to the issue of ecumenical dialogue, essentially transforming it into an arena for interchurch discussions to deal with sociopolitical as well as ecumenical issues. It will argue that in the 1980's the meetings began to examine social issues as well as to continue the theological work that had characterized its work during the 1970's. The meeting developed two distinct strands to its work: ecumenism and community relations. However, because the differences in approach to the issue of interchurch relations remained a central feature of the work of the IICM, it was prevented from dealing with issues of reconciliation and community relations in a constructive manner. Thus, although discussion on such issues took place, the meeting never took action on the recommendations of the working parties; and no attempt was made to create a synthesis of the work of the IICM, at either a theological or a communal level. In short, while there is some evidence that national-level ecumenical dialogue has expanded its agenda in the past twenty years to encompass the conciliatory role that the churches have to play in Northern Ireland, there is none to suggest that this translated into affirmative action, remaining as little more than a place for polite conversation between the church hierarchies.

Restructuring the IICM

The history of the IICM and its deficiencies can be characterized by the nature of its structure and the attempts to rectify its organizational failures. The problems experienced with this issue have prevented it from making any progress in developing relationships between the churches or building upon the recommendations of its reports. From the outset, the IICM was subject to criticism concerning the way in which it operated. One internal document written in 1984 stated:
 Questions have been raised about its progress, its purpose and its
 intent. The criticisms have come from its member Churches and also
 from the mass media. These criticisms can be divided into two
 groups: a) the assertion that the meeting has avoided adequate
 discussion on certain sensitive topics; b) failed to make
 spectacular ecumenical progress, or to make progressive decisions
 on behalf of its participating Churches. (17)

The meeting's participants agreed that structural and subject-matter changes were needed but, once more, found themselves unable to agree on the actual purpose of the dialogue. Two passages from the same 1980 consultation document on ecumenism in Ireland illustrate this dichotomy. The first of the two authors wrote:
 As we approach this mature stage it is important to realise that
 the ecumenical movement can actually be hindered severely by
 relating it too exclusively to the tragic problems of Northern
 Ireland. Whether the Churches have had their share of blame for the
 troubles or not is something that will be debated endlessly, but
 whatever way we may see it, the fact is we need to be careful in
 defining the limits of that responsibility, and to be honestly
 realistic in assessing the ability the Churches have to bring about
 a solution. (18)

The other argues that the IICM needed a new approach to its involvement in "nonecumenical" affairs, especially those relating to community relations. He asserted that it was their duty as churches to try to facilitate, even at the most basic level, some form of work toward reconciliation:
 It is ... manifestly the obligation of the Churches to be
 concerned about anything or any combination of factors that
 makes abundant life impossible or difficult for either the
 individual or the community. And concern is not enough.
 Appropriate action is called from all of us. We cannot opt
 out of society or our obligations to it and at the same time
 claim to be disciples of the Lord in the fullest sense. (19)

These differing analyses of the work of the IICM illustrate the direction in which the participants wanted the meeting to go: One wanted to exercise caution regarding any work carried out relating to reconciliation and community relations, while the other felt that such work should be the main focus of the meeting. These varying expectations regarding the activities of the IICM were continuing to vex the participants and resulted in the appointment of a working party in 1980 to restructure the meeting to take into account the various functions that it was felt such a body should have.

The final report, produced in 1984, tried to follow a middle ground between those who wished to concentrate upon purely ecumenical matters and those who wanted to discuss reconciliation and community relations. The authors defined the meeting as:
 An exercise in interchurch dialogue, and not designed to solve "the
 Irish problem" or to end violence, nor should it be expected to do
 so ... Obviously, however, the more Christian leaders can come
 together to think, pray and work in an attempt to grapple with the
 problems of a deeply divided and polarised society, the more
 effective will be their contribution to remedying these problems.

The IICM's lack of progress, in the areas of both ecumenism and reconciliation, was attributed to the structure of the meeting itself. As the report points out, by the late 1970's it was being convened infrequently with a three-year gap occurring between the meetings in 1977 and 1980. Such prolonged breaks, when combined with the organizing committee's inability to make autonomous decisions and problems with the nature of authority and decision-making structures of the member churches, meant that the meeting was unable to move as swiftly as some would have liked. The report suggested a series of changes all centering on the notion that there should be a "co-ordination of the responses from the Churches, and, where possible, organisation of positive follow up action." (21) Two departments were consequently established, the Departments of Social Issues and of Theological Questions, which signaled the meeting's recognition of the need to separate the issues of community relations and reconciliation from ecumenical matters. Despite this recognition, however, the work carried out after these structural changes serves to illustrate that member churches of the IICM still had very different ideas concerning its aims, a problem that resulted in the production of numerous documents, but no action was taken to put their recommendations to use. This led to another, even more unsuccessful, attempt to restructure the IICM in the 1990's.

By the early 1990's, the members of the IICM were beginning to realize that it was an ineffective body, and they were once more voicing concerns over its work and structure. A 1992 discussion document noted that "[t]here is an air of drift about our work, we go through the motions, we don't expect to be taken too seriously, and generally we need a renewal of purpose and a sense that what we are doing is worthwhile." (22) Once more, it was apparent that the structure and organization of the IICM's work needed a radical overhaul if it was going to have any effect upon Northern Irish society, especially in relation to supporting the political peace process in the mid-1990's, as they had argued was their role in the 1997 publication Freedom, Justice, and Responsibility. (23) The proposed restructuring would see a formalization of relationships for the first time and, more importantly, dialogue between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland (as the IICM had previously been an unofficial body.) Accordingly, both the proposals and the reaction to them, especially their rejection by the Presbyterian Church, demonstrate clearly that the IICM had made little if any progress in clarifying its aims or its definition and understanding of interchurch dialogue in Ireland.

The report of the review group established by the IICM in 1996 suggested that changes take place in two areas: structure and role. It suggested a more formal set of arrangements for the establishment of the newly named Council of Churches in Ireland (CCI). Thus, the new CCI would
 provide an opportunity for deepening the relationships between the
 Churches; discuss and deliberate on issues of importance to the
 member Churches; help to establish the direction and agenda of the
 IICM; perform necessary legal and constitutional functions, receive
 accounts, elect office bearers, etc; receive reports from the Irish
 Inter-Church Committee, Departments, subcommittees etc. (24)

The work of the forum would be to support the Irish Inter-Church Committee in establishing "the direction and agenda" (25) of the CCI itself. It also suggested a stabilization of the meeting's membership, since "those who attend the meetings have no responsibility for the IICM structure, nor is the working of the structure responsible or accountable to them." (26) These new arrangements would force "the Churches to appoint people to be their representatives on the IICM rather than attend 'one-off' meetings ... [and result in] significant continuity of membership." (27) Such changes would have seen the formalization of interchurch relations with the meeting "for the first time, becom[ing] a proper legal entity with its own constitution, which could then obtain charitable status." (28)

However, despite the changes in structure, the authors of the report were content with the direction of the IICM, as the aims and functions of the new body demonstrate. Thus, it was to become:
 A forum where the member Churches meet, discuss and consult
 together; To assist the member Churches to grow in their
 understanding of each other, in accordance with the will of Christ;
 To assist the member Churches to cooperate and act together as
 appropriate; To foster and support inter-church initiatives at
 local level; To make known to the Churches and community what is
 happening at all levels in the area of inter-church activity. The
 IICM will continue not to be a forum for Church union negotiations.

Each of these aims represents a clear continuation of the IICM's work since 1973, highlighting that the proposed modifications were not "going to change the agenda or what the inter-church meeting [was] about [but rather were] a tidying up process." (30) Consequently, the report said little regarding the issue of dialogue on either theological or social issues. It simply stated that "The IICM is a fellowship of Churches in Ireland which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (31)

This lack of clarity proved to be one of the most problematic elements for those opposing the new structures. Thus, while some feared that this confessional or theological statement would allow dialogue on church unity to creep into the meeting's agenda (despite assurances to the contrary written into the constitution) others viewed it as a failure that some kind of theological basis (32) had not been established. This they believed would have indicated the progression of relationships between the member churches since 1973. In 1999, these proposals were sent to the member churches for their comments, and most welcomed the implementation of such plans, believing them to reflect the needs of the society that they would be serving. For example, the Methodist interchurch committee stated that "the need for a more formal structuring has been emerging for some time ... There is life and vitality as Churches seek relationships of understanding and co-operation. The context also changes as inter-church relationships in Ireland now develop within a peace process moving towards a political settlement and change." (33) However, despite such endorsements from the other churches, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland voted against the measure 244 to 144 in its meeting in June, 1999. (34)

Thus, in these proposed changes were plans, which, if implemented, could have radically altered the form of interchurch relations in Ireland, creating a legal entity that for the first time would officially recognize that dialogue between the Protestant and Catholic churches was taking place. However, the most crucial element of these plans is the way in which they acted as a report on the progress of interchurch relationships between the Protestant and Catholic churches by offering a stark reminder that the members of the IICM were doing very little to address the drift that was occurring in its purpose throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Consequently, while relationships between individuals had undoubtedly matured within the IICM, the twin pillars of friendship and understanding, so often used as examples of the strength of relationships between the churches, were not translated into relationships between the institutionalized churches beyond the meeting itself. Accordingly, relationships at a national level between the Protestant and Catholic churches were still very much about individuals, and, while understanding had increased many Protestants---especially those within the Presbyterian Church---did not feel ready to enter into a formal marriage of dialogue with Catholicism, especially concerning theological matters. Furthermore, the "drift" in interchurch relations noted by O'Hanlon (35) is still very much in evidence throughout the proposals put forward by the review group. Thus, had these ideas been implemented, the meeting would have been formalized, but there was no clear plan detailing its direction afterwards, especially in relation to theological matters. Furthermore, the CCI would still have been an improvised body committed to pursuing the two roads of ecumenism and community relations and improving relationships among the individuals involved, but it would have done little to move relationships between the Protestant and Catholic churches themselves beyond polite conversation.

The IICM's Work. An Exercise in Disappointment?

These structural changes illustrated clearly the inability of the IICM to decide upon its definition and purpose, and this lack of direction ultimately impacted on the meeting's work. The meeting's most important role in the development of interchurch relationships in Ireland was its contribution to the trend of separating theological ecumenism from community relations that was occurring throughout Northern Ireland. The publication of Sectarianism, A Discussion Document (36) in 1993 by the Department of Social Issues illustrates this. It represented an attempt by the IICM to deal with the conflict in Northern Ireland from a sociopolitical perspective. However, the failure to act constructively on the document's recommendations, demonstrates the way in which the IICM's lack of definition effectively crippled it as a national-level interchurch organization, ultimately reducing it to a debating club.

Sectarianism represented an attempt by the IICM to tackle a core issue in the conflict in Northern Ireland and signaled the meeting's growing commitment to the separation of community-relations issues from ecumenism. (37) Its origins lay in Violence in Ireland, (38) but it was not until 1991 that the IICM established a working group to examine the role of the churches in creating sectarianism and to develop strategies to alleviate the problem. (39) The result was a broad document that adopted a comprehensive approach to the issue of sectarianism. The document's recommendations clearly highlight the IICM's desire to adopt a more community-relations-based approach to reconciliation, as its recommendations encompass virtually every aspect of society, ranging from the constitution and government through socioeconomic inequality to home, street, and local community. (40) The main thrust of the recommendations centered on the idea that "the two communities are entitled to equal respect and treatment ... [and there should be] a willingness to treat other communities with the same fairness and concern for rights as one expects for one's own." (41) The recommendations show the churches' realization that, in order for peace and reconciliation to occur, every level of society must change and reassess its attitudes.

Despite this, it is the recommendations specifically aimed at the churches that have the most salience for interchurch relationships both nationally and locally in Northern Ireland. Unlike the other reports produced during this period, Sectarianism emphasizes that the churches must work together on this issue, indicating that the idea of a holistic approach to the issue of interchurch relationships had now become part of the culture of the IICM. Thus, the members of the working party had transcended the idea that working together on "side issues," such as youth and urban regeneration, would eventually lead to reconciliation, moving instead toward a fusion of politicoreligious discussion, which would strike at the heart of the churches' involvement in the Northern Irish conflict, possibly providing the foundation for a Northern Irish contextual theology. (42)

Unlike the other documents produced by the Department of Social Issues in the years between 1984 and 1993, Sectarianism was called a "discussion document" rather than a report. According to one member of the working party, the IICM "had to consider how to deal with it and what status to give it. The Committee felt that this was a potentially controversial issue and it wanted to emphasize the provisional nature of the conclusions and it therefore called it a 'discussion document.'" (43) Such an action could be seen as particularly significant for the development of interchurch relations, as it made clear the reluctance on the part of the member churches to associate themselves openly with a set of recommendations that so blatantly called for the churches to work together. However, the very fact that the document was published at all under the auspices of the IICM did highlight that the member churches had gone some way toward an acceptance of the need for a more community-relations-based approach to interchurch relations. Be that as it may, the actual impact of the discussion document itself is hard to determine; as one clergyperson put it: "The report was used a lot but it is difficult to gauge the impact or effect of these documents--it is a general permeation of consciousness; things change gradually" (44) At the time this goes to press (March, 2008), the IICM had done little to build upon its recommendations.


When asked what he thought of national-level ecumenical dialogue, a minister who had been closely involved with the IICM replied that it is "of some symbolic importance but not much else." (45) This assessment of the relationships occurring among the leadership of the churches during this period is accurate. Indeed, despite the cosmetic changes in structure and attempts to broaden its activities, national-level interchurch relations were not any further developed by 1999 than they had been in 1980. This was because at the most fundamental level the participants were unable to move forward and were prevented from capitalizing upon the structural improvements of the mid-1980's and from acting upon the recommendations of their documents by their complete failure to define the IICM's purpose. The record of the IICM and its contribution to interchurch relations in Northern Ireland can be considered in two separate respects: its structural development and its work, represented by the various documents produced during this period, in particular Sectarianism.

At the end of the 1970's, ecumenical relationships involving the Catholic Church in Ireland were just moving out of their infancy, and one would have expected that in the years between 1980 and 1999 they would have improved to a point where formal structures with a clear vision of their aims and objectives would be in place. While the structures of the IICM have improved to a certain extent, the organizational growth of interchurch relationships between Protestants and Catholics at a national level has been completely inadequate. The ease with which the structural improvements were implemented in 1984 indicated that the member churches of the IICM were willing to move relationships beyond the development of friendship and understanding witnessed in the 1970's into ones that would allow for the measures recommended in the reports to be realized. However, this has not been the case, and the 1984 changes were merely cosmetic, reorganizing the way in which the IICM worked, instead of helping it to change its methods and, therefore, move forward. The failure of the Presbyterian Church's vote on the establishment of the CCI blatantly highlighted this lack of progress in national-level dialogue and cast doubt upon the strength of relationships--in which the IICM took so much pride. The opposition showed that, despite all the dialogue, the IICM had done little to address people's objections to interchurch contact and was simply talking to a converted and committed few; consequently, it failed to try to reach beyond its inner circle.

The changes that have taken place in the concern of the IICM tell a similar story. The ideology of the IICM has changed, and it is evident that it has radically altered its outlook on what interchurch relationships should mean in the context of Northern Irish society. Consequently, they have implemented a dual strategy of dialogue on ecumenism and community relations, with the establishment of the Department of Theological Questions and the Department of Social Issues, respectively. Through this separation they have made a little progress on such topics as sectarianism. However, in the area where most was expected, theological dialogue, it has been comprehensively unsuccessful, ignoring worldwide trends and clinging to a comparative methodology, discussing issues such as intercommunion. As a result, despite the opportunity offered by the restructuring in the mid-1980's, it has failed to address the situation in Northern Ireland from a theological perspective as one would expect in a conflict that is considered to have a religious dimension. (46) This would have been one of the most useful contributions that the IICM could have made to Northern Irish society, as the theological reflections produced by the churches in other conflict areas, such as South Africa, and in a number of papal encyclicals (47) have proved by producing analyses of the social, economic, and political problems facing their societies and providing leadership and a blueprint from which Christians can interpret their faith in light of the society in which they live. In essence, as the IICM itself suggested, the churches in Northern Ireland should position themselves firmly as "a force for peace." (48)

Much of this ineptitude may have to do with the cyclical nature of interchurch relations; the personnel of the meeting was often changed, and time was needed to build understanding and trust. However, this factor cannot account for twenty years of work. Furthermore, even when it tried to address matters of wider social concern, through the auspices of the Department of Social Issues, it was unable to implement any of the necessary steps recommended in the reports. That said, however, changes brought about as a result of the 1984 restructuring have laid the foundation for an improvement in dialogue between the Catholic and Protestant churches, and it is clear that the quality of work produced after 1984 was an improvement on that of the 1970's, even if it was not used. Thus, like their counterparts in the 1970's, the participants in the meeting were afforded an opportunity to increase understanding of and friendship with other clergy, which often resulted in developing contacts between local churches. (49) However, the members failed to move further than their immediate circle, so as to disseminate the work beyond those already committed to interchurch relationships. Consequently, from 1980 to 1999, the IICM was little more than a "talking shop," providing a figurehead for the interchurch movement, while more constructive work occurred instead within local churches and their communities.

* "I am grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council (award number PTA-026-270247) for the support that enabled me to complete the research for this essay as well as to Dr. Diane Urquhart at the University of Liverpool and two anonymous referees for their comments on earlier versions of this essay.

(1) For a fuller discussion of this issue and the nature of this debate, see L. Philip Barnes, "'Was the Northern Ireland Conflict Religious?" Journal of Contemporary Religion 20 (January, 2005): 55-69; John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary, Explaining Northern Ireland (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Joseph Ruane and Jennifer Todd, The Dynamics of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. Power, Conflict and Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and J. Whyte, Interpreting Northern Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

(2) It has been argued that they "took root in political soil. Each of the four larger Churches was shaped by historical dynamics and political forces. Origins are found not only in God, but also in political contexts" (Johnston McMaster, "Churches and Politics," in Norman Richardson, ed., A Tapestry of Beliefs: Christian Traditions in Northern Ireland [Belfast: Blackstaff, 1998], p. 299).

(3) Duncan Morrow, "Churches, Society and Conflict in Northern Ireland," in Arthur Aughey and Duncan Morrow, eds., Northern Ireland Politics (London: Longman, 1996), p. 194. Religious identification and practice are among the highest in Western Europe with around 60% of the population attending church services regularly in 1980. By 2000 this figure had dropped to 58%. Data calculated from Peter Brierley, UK Christian Handbook: Religious Trends, 1998-99 (London: Christian Research, 1999).

(4) For the purposes of this article, the main Protestant churches under consideration will be the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Methodist Church.

(5) John Barkley, Blackmouth and Dissenter (Belfast: White Row Press, 1991), p. 164.

(6) Joseph Leichty and Cecilia Clegg, Moving beyond Sectarianism: Religion, Conflict, and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland (Dublin: Columba Press, 2001), p. 282.

(7) Tristan Anne Borer, Challenging the State: Churches as Political Actors in South Africa, 1980-1994 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), pp. I-2.

(8) Peter Walshe, "Christianity and the Anti-Apartheid Straggle: The Prophetic Voice within Divided Churches," in Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport, eds., Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social, and Cultural History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; Oxford; J. Currey; Cape Town: David Phillip, 1997), p. 383.

(9) Brian de Burca, "The Northern Ireland Conflict and the Christian Churches," Doctrine and Life 23 (September, 1973): 474.

(10) Violence in Ireland." A Report to the Churches (Belfast: Veritas Communications, 1976).

(11) Eric Gallagher and Stanley Worrall, Christians in Ulster, 1968-1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 211.

(12) 1n its purest sense, the term "ecumenism" means the aim of unity among all Christian churches throughout the world.

(13) Author's interview with Fr. Padraig Murphy, Director of Ecumenism, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh, February 4, 2000.

(14) Letter from Cardinal Cahal Daly. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland 1990-96, March 12, 2002.

(15) Letter from the Rev. John Dunlop, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, March 8, 2002.

(16) Cahal Daly and Stanley Worrall, Ballymascanlon: An Irish Venture in Inter-Church Dialogue (Dublin: Veritas, 1978), p. 11.

(17) The Inter-Church Meeting Organisation and Structure, form approved at meeting of Interchurch Committee, December 5, 1984, Nelson Papers, Library of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Dublin. This criticism from the media came during the early 1980's, a time of political turmoil in Northern Ireland. It is clear that the Hunger Strikes in 1981 created problems for those engaged in interchurch work by polarizing the two communities even further. E.g., the perceived support of Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, 1977-90) for the hunger strikers galvanized an already growing conservative element within Presbyterianism. Thus, it is interesting to note that the IICM, in effect, ignored the hunger strikers' existence and never held any discussion relating to them or their consequences for the relationships among the churches. This further highlights their reluctance to engage constructively with the political situation in Northern Ireland.

(18) Michael Ledwith, "Ecumenism in the Republic of Ireland," in Ecumenism in Ireland. Experiments and Achievement--Survey Papers Commissioned for the Inter-Church Meeting at Ballymascanlon, Co. Louth, on 6'h March 1980 (a joint publication of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Irish Council of Churches, November, 1981), p. 7.

(19) Eric Gallagher, "Northern Ireland," in Ecumenism in Ireland, p. 34.

(20) The Inter-Church Meeting Ballymascanlon (the Inter-Church Relations Board of the Presbyterian Church version), reproduced in the Report of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1985, February, 1985, p. 115.

(21) Ibid., p. 3.

(22) Gerry O'Hanlon, The Agenda of the Department, November 25, 1992, Nelson Papers, Library of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Dublin.

(23) Freedom, Justice, and Responsibility in Ireland Today (Dublin: Veritas, Department of Theological Questions, IICM, 1997).

(24) Review of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, Report of the Review Group, Appendix I, Report of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (Belfast, 1998), p. 113.

(25) Ibid., p. 110.

(26) Ibid., p. 108.

(27) Ibid.

(28) Belfast Telegraph, May 26, 1998.

(29) Review of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, p. 112.

(30) Author's interview with the Rev. Robert Herron, Convener of the Inter Church Relations Board, Presbyterian Church, Omagh, January 24, 2000.

(31) Review of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, p. 112.

(32) It is unclear, however, what they actually mean by theological basis.

(33) Belfast Telegraph, August 1, 1998.

(34) Report of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 1999, p. 31. Three main reasons have been put forward for the failure of these proposals in the Presbyterian Church: dissatisfaction with the structure of the proposed body, anti-Catholicism, and the political uncertainty faced by the Protestant community.

(35) O'Hanlon, Agenda.

(36) Sectarianism, a Discussion Document: The Report of the Working Party on Sectarianism (Belfast: Department of Social Issues of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, 1993).

(37) This trend had been growing for some time, with documents such as Report of the Working Party on Young People and the Church, A Report to the Irish Inter-Church Meeting and Its Department of Social Issues (Belfast: IICM, 1990); and The Challenge of the City, A Report to the Churches (Belfast: Department of Social Issues, IICM, 1990), examining social issues, but Sectarianism represents the Meeting's first attempt to deal directly with the conflict in Northern Ireland.

(38) Violence in Ireland, p. 72.

(39) The working party's terms of reference can be found in Sectarianism. p. 7.

(40) They also include Sectarianism and Violence, Law and Order, Education, North-South Links, the Republic of Ireland, and dealing constructively with differences. See ibid., pp. 99-113.

(41) Ibid., p. 105.

(42) The introductory paragraph to the recommendations for the churches states: "The task of reconciliation, and not the maintenance of boundaries, is central for us in Ireland--for the credibility of the Gospel is at stake. What has happened in Northern Ireland society calls us to a profound change of heart (metanoia.) It calls us to face reality and abandon our myths, to accept our part of the responsibility for what has happened and find new ways of living together" (ibid., p. 100).

(43) Letter from David Stevens, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, 1992-2003, March 15, 2002.

(44) Author's interview with the Rev. Ian Ellis, Church of Ireland's Church Unity Committee, Newcastle, County Down, January 12, 2000.

(45) Letter from David Nesbitt, Convener of the Presbyterian Church's Inter-Church Relations Board during the 1980's, March 19 2002.

(46) For a more detailed discussion, see Maria Power, "Developing a Theology of Reconciliation for Northern Ireland? The Irish Inter-Church Meeting," Search 26 (Spring, 2003): 21-29.

(47) Gaudium et spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965, stressed the need for Catholics to fight social, economic, and political injustices, arguing that they had a right and the duty of "passing moral judgment even in relation to politics."

(48) Freedom, Justice, and Responsibility, p 71.

(49) See Maria Power, Inter-Church Relationships in Northern Ireland, 1980-2005: From Ecumenism to Community Relations (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007).

Maria Power (Roman Catholic) has been a lecturer at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, since 2006. During 2005 and 2003-04, she was an ESRC Post Doctoral Fellow at the Institute, and, during 2004-05, a temporary lecturer in modern Irish history there. During 2003, she also served as a research officer at the Institute for Volunteering Research in London. She holds a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. (2003) in history from Royal Holloway, University of London. She published Inter-Church Relationships in Ireland, 1980-2005: From Ecumenism to Community Relations (Irish Academic Press, 2007), based on her dissertation. Her articles have appeared as invited contributions in two journals, The European Legacy (2005) and Search (2003), and as chapters in two books: Marianne Elliott, ed., The Long Road to Peace in Northern Ireland, 2nd ed. (Liverpool University Press, 2007); and Karen Vandervelde, ed., New Voices (Four Courts Press, 2002). She has lectured or presented papers on ecumenism and the peace process in Northern Ireland at several academic conferences.
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Author:Power, Maria
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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