Sectarianism and the Orange Order

Tanaiste at fault on Orange bias claim

In her response to Saturday’s events in Dublin, the Tánaiste has failed to recognise that the basis of Orangeism has echoes in other organisations and religions, writes Brian Kennaway

The most disturbing event of recent days in Dublin has not been the fascist response to a loyalist march, which to some extent was predictable, but the remarks attributed to the Tánaiste, Mary Harney, describing the Orange Order as “a sectarian and bigoted organisation” (Irish Times, February 28th). For someone in Ms Harney’s position to use such intemperate and ill-informed language is inexcusable.

The Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland has two fundamental documents within which it discloses its core values. The first and oldest of these is the Basis of the Institution:

“The Institution is composed of Protestants, united and resolved to the utmost of their power to support and defend the rightful Sovereign, the Protestant Religion, the Laws of the Realm, and the Succession to the Throne in the House of Windsor, BEING PROTESTANT; and united further for the defence of their own Persons and Properties, and the maintenance of the Public Peace. It is exclusively an Association of those who are attached to the religion of the Reformation, and will not admit into its brotherhood persons whom an intolerant spirit leads to persecute, injure, or upbraid any man on account of his religious opinions. They associate also in honour of KING WILLIAM III, Prince of Orange, whose name they bear, as supporters of his glorious memory.”

The second is the Qualifications of an Orangeman, which although subject to change over the 200 years of the institution’s existence contains phrases which often give rise to ill-informed comments such as those of the Tánaiste:

“. . . he should strenuously oppose and protest against the errors and dangerous doctrines of the Church of Rome – he should, by all lawful means, resist the ascendancy of that church, its encroachments, and the extension of its power – but he should abstain from all uncharitable words, actions, or feelings towards any Roman Catholic; and scrupulously avoid countenancing [by his presence or otherwise] any act or ceremony of Romish Worship.”

Because of the language cited in The Qualifications, the institution has often been accused of being “anti-Catholic”, “sectarian” or “bigoted”. Yet this language is not dissimilar from that of the institution’s Catholic counterpart, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Would Ms Harney equally regard the AOH as “a sectarian and bigoted organisation”?

When you consider the language used in the doctrinal standards of the churches, the language of the Qualifications appears quite moderate.

The Westminster Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church speaks of the Pope as “that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God” (Chapter 25). The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Churches (Church of Ireland), make reference to the Mass as “blasphema figmenta sunt, et perniciosæ imposturæ” – “blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits”.

Similarly the Methodist Church in its foundation documents, Standard Doctrines of the Methodist Connection, which include John Wesley’s Sermons and Notes, also makes reference to the Church of Rome. In his Sermon 38 “Caution against Bigotry” (Mark 9:38,39), while not specifically naming the Roman Catholic Church, it is obvious that he is making reference to that church when he says:

“Of such a church which we account to be in many respects anti-scriptural and anti-Christian; – a Church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice; guilty of gross superstition as well as idolatry; – a Church that has added many articles to the faith which was once delivered to the saints; that has dropped one whole commandment of God, and made void several of the rest by her traditions; and that, pretending the highest veneration for, and strictest conformity to, the ancient Church, has nevertheless brought in numberless innovations, without any warrant either from antiquity or Scripture.”

In this respect therefore the present Qualifications of an Orangeman, of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, cannot be judged to be any more “anti-Catholic”, “sectarian” or “bigoted” than the doctrinal standards of the three main Protestant churches in Ireland.

This theological attitude to other churches is not exclusively Protestant – in the broadest sense of that word. The Roman Catholic Church has long held to a position of the exclusivity of its own truth. This is to be seen in the often quoted Papal Bull:

“By faith it is to be firmly held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church none can achieve salvation”. (Pius IX – D. 1647)

Lest we should be tempted to believe, as some would have us believe, that this is “old hat”, and we are living in the glow of Vatican II, this exclusivity is reinforced in the most recent Catholic Catechism and the Dominus Iesus document of 2000 which regards all other churches as “defective” in some way or another.

If the Tánaiste is to be honest she must recognise, according to her own use of language, that the label “a sectarian and bigoted organisation” could be used of many organisations, including the churches. The use of such language in today’s society, by a leader of Government, is both insulting and offensive to many, like myself, lifelong members of the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland. Perhaps the Tánaiste should get out more and meet some of us and not willingly accept the caricature of generations of bigotry.

The Rev Brian Kennaway is former convenor of the education committee, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland 


This article appeared in the Irish Times on 2nd March 2006