The Garda investigation of Stephen Fry for the alleged offence of blasphemy smacks of a story from an Ireland of former times. In fact, it was not until 2009 that Ireland introduced a Defamation Act, which included the offence of blasphemy. The government argued that such a measure is an expression of Article 40, 6.1.1 of the Constitution of Ireland
“The State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”
Section 36 of the Defamation Act states:
36.— (1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—
(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and
(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
Does that mean that if I state that the Pope is erroneous; that if I say Roman Catholic doctrine is repugnant; that if I say Roman Catholic teaching gives rise to superstitions; that if I say having a Mass said for someone who has died is a blasphemous fable; then, if some member of the Roman Catholic Church takes offence, I can be brought before a court and fined €25,000, and presumably be imprisoned when I refuse to pay the fine?
The “blasphemous” comments against the Pope and his church are of course part of the Anglican Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.
Article XIX: ‘Of the Church’, talks about error:
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
Article XXII: ‘Of Purgatory’, talks about repugnant doctrine:
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.
Article XXVIII: ‘Of the Lord’s Supper’, condemns superstitions
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
Article XXXI: ‘Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross’, is unambiguous is describing the sacrifice of the Mass as a “blasphemous fable”
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.
Were I a traditional Catholic, I think I should be pretty offended at my weekly worship being described as a “blasphemous fable” and were I feeling particularly aggrieved, I think I should want to complain to the authorities. The courts would be hard pressed not to find the Articles “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred” and would have to find against the Church of Ireland and confiscate copies of the Book of Common Prayer where the Articles appear on pages 778-789.
Will Gardai now investigate the churches in their search for blasphemous material?