God is fully capable of standing up for himself and doesn’t need blasphemy laws to protect him, according to Bishop Kevin Doran.
He was speaking to The Irish Catholic after a mini-storm after a minor controversy when a complaint to gardaí led to British entertainer Stephen Fry being investigated for blasphemy. Gardaí quickly clarified that there would be no action, however it led to calls for the 2009 law to be revoked.
Bishop Doran said his “own personal view is that if people are rude or insensitive, that’s not a criminal offence.
“I equally think that when it comes to standing up for God, I’m not sure there’s an awful lot of logic in that: God is able to stand up for himself,” the Bishop of Elphin said.
Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne, who conducted the interview with Mr Fry more than two years ago, described the probe as “ridiculous nonsense”.
Mr Byrne said: “I attach very little relevance to it. I’ve had 60 years of it now”.
Meanwhile, implying that the Church would be unlikely to oppose the repeal of the blasphemy law, Dr Doran distinguished between harsh criticism and comments intended to provoke hatred and violence.
“I think there’s a difference between rubbishing people’s beliefs on the one hand, and fomenting sectarian hatred on the other hand,” he said, insisting that there was an important distinction to be made between critics and “someone who specifically agitates against one religious group in a way which is liable to create violence or sectarian hatred, that certainly has the capacity to destabilise society”.
The Department of Justice says it has begun preliminary consultations on the question of having a referendum to amend the Constitution to remove the offence of blasphemy.
Dr Doran’s comments are in line with the views of his fellow bishops, with a spokesperson for the bishops’ conference confirming that a November 2013 submission to the Convention on the Constitution from the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Inter-Church meeting continues to reflect the views of the Hierarchy.
That submission described the current reference to blasphemy as “largely obsolete”. Expressing concern at how similar measures “have been used to justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world”.
Since then, according to Dr Doran, the subject has not been a priority for the hierarchy. “It’s not something that we’ve talked about – let’s say there are other referendums that might well be more our focus,” he said.