The Irish Republic is a very small country and a very Catholic one in terms of the hold of church teaching on civil and public matters. It is perhaps the last truly Catholic country left.
This picture is reinforced by the importance to Ireland of the sad public case of the bishop of Galway, who resigned upon acknowledging his paternity of a teen-aged boy in Connecticut and his use of church funds to pay child support. This revelation has become a national preoccupation in Ireland.
Great institutions survive lapses of even highly placed individuals who cannot live up to their standards of virtue. That is not at issue here. But the position of the church in the Irish national psyche is.
This incident comes nearly 18 months after the Irish people elected Mary Robinson, a campaigner against civil laws mandated by church teaching, to be their non-political president. And it comes some three months after the Irish people were transfixed by the interference of the courts in the plan of a 14-year-old rape victim to travel to England for an abortion.
The Irish Supreme Court's judgment on the rape victim's travel, granting her the right because her life was held to be in danger from suicide, has thrown the new government of Albert Reynolds into a crazy-quilt of referendum-drafting.
The judgment contravened the easy consensus of the Irish people against the performance of abortions within Ireland but for the absolute right of travel in the European Community. The court implied that abortions must be made legal in Ireland in some circumstances, and held the right to travel to be abrogated in others.
When the Irish people vote on constitutional amendments to bring Irish law into conformity with the Irish consensus and European Community law, they will be affected by this latest scandal diluting confidence in church authority. That could make passage more likely.
This would be noticed by their supposed compatriots in the Protestant majority of the British province of Northern Ireland. The character of the Irish state revealed by these incidents only reinforces the Ulster Protestant determination not to be part of that state.