Church historian delivers 2012 St Thomas More College Chair of Jesuit Studies Seminar Series

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 21-9-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



The 'de-Christianisation' of Europe and Catholic Church's history during the Troubles in Northern Ireland were two of the topics discussed by London-based Church History lecturer, Rev Dr Oliver Rafferty SJ, at The University of Notre Dame Australia's Fremantle Campus recently.

Dr Rafferty, a member of the Society of Jesus, delivered three interrelated seminars under the heading 'The Catholic Church in Europe'. He also delivered a public lecture on Catholicism in Northern Ireland.

The St Thomas More Chair in Jesuit Studies involves the annual visit of an eminent Jesuit scholar in residence at St Thomas More College and teaching at Notre Dame and the University of Western Australia. Their visit is generously sponsored by a benefactor from the Catholic community.

In his seminars, Dr Rafferty traced the history of Catholicism from the French Revolution in 1789 to the present in Europe.

"I tried to contextualise the role of the Catholic Church in more recent European history focussing on the French Revolution and the restoration of the 'people's state' as a result of the Congress of Vienna," Dr Rafferty said.

"I also discussed the Church's failure to positively engage as an intellectual development tool in Europe as new ideas of democracy, freedom of press and freedom of religion began to flourish in the mid 1800s."

At the public lecture, Dr Rafferty discussed the contentious relationship between the Church and the nationalist community during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles, one of the most violent periods in mainland Irish history, saw more than 3500 people lose their lives during a 30 year period of ethno-political conflicts starting in the late 1960s.

The conflicts centred on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between the mainly Protestant unionist and mainly Catholic nationalist communities in the country.

Catholic minority groups in Northern Ireland were seeking a voice after becoming increasingly marginalised politically and socially in the early 1960s. Police harassment, exclusion from appointments in the public sector and the inability to have a Catholic member of parliament further increased the alienation.

The Catholic Church faced an ethical dilemma in 1969 as factional Catholic groups broke away from the Church and formed the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) as "defenders of the Catholic community" against British rule. The Church found itself to be on one hand condoning the revengeful violence of the PIRA against its opposition and upholding the Gospel teachings on the other.

Dr Rafferty said one of the greatest difficulties the Church faced in the early period of the Troubles was its lack of direct political influence over British Government policy.

"The Church's failures to convince successive administrations of the roots of Catholic alienation and the steps needed to remedy these meant that its moderating voice in the Catholic community could easily be dismissed by those who thought that violence was the only solution to the community's difficulties," Dr Rafferty said.

"The failures of government to uphold the credibility of institutional Catholicism in the eyes of the Catholic community lead to fragmentation in Catholic identity and enabled the 'men of violence' to take the lead in determining Catholicism's relationship with the state authorities in Britain and Northern Ireland."

Dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology at the Fremantle Campus, Professor Matthew Ogilvie, said Dr Rafferty's lecture shed new light on the troubles Catholicism faced in Northern Ireland throughout its history.

"I was struck by his depth of scholarship, the new insights he brought into the history of Church during the Troubles in Northern Ireland," Professor Ogilvie said.

"Dr Rafferty's expertise and gentle Irish humour was warmly received by staff, students and the general public."

Michelle Ebbs: Tel (08) 9433 0610; Mob 0408 959 138
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