Cardinal faces backlash after comparing IRA to Islamic State terrorist group

Archbishop Timothy Dolan enters St. Patrick's Cathedral to celebrate Easter Mass during the annual Easter Parade outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral April 4, 2010 in New York City.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan enters St. Patrick's Cathedral to celebrate Easter Mass during the annual Easter Parade outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral April 4, 2010 in New York City.

A war of words has erupted in Irish America after the senior Catholic cleric due to lead New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade compared the Islamic State (IS) terror group with the IRA.

Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines this week when he said that the Islamic fanatics had perverted their religion in the same manner that Irish republicans did during the Troubles.

The cleric said the IRA claimed to be Catholic but that what they were doing was “a perversion of everything the church stood for”.

Father Sean McManus, who leads the Irish National Caucus, the top Irish lobby group in Congress, was outraged.

He described the cardinal’s comments as “profoundly ignorant, totally irresponsible and lacking all credibility”.

He added: “It is sadly consistent with a man who for 40 years never opened his mouth about the oppression of Catholics in Northern Ireland.

“Such a person as Cardinal Dolan – who was complicit by his silence in British torture of political prisoners, anti-Catholic discrimination, British murder gangs and the wholesale denial of human rights – has now no moral authority to comment on the struggle of an oppressed people.”

Brendan Moore, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, said Cardinal Dolan was plain wrong.

“The fact is that unlike ISIS, the Irish Republican Army never used religion to justify its resistance to loyalist sectarianism and/or British misrule,” he said. “Cardinal Dolan’s statement [‘everything they were doing was a perversion of everything the church stood for’] appears to be contradicted by the heroic utterances and activities of many Catholic priests, among them Alex Reid, Des Wilson, Raymond Murray and Denis Faul.”

Mike Cummings a past National Board member of the Irish American Unity Conference was equally scathing.

“In his defence, the cardinal may be unfamiliar with the Irish conflict,” he said.

There was no record, he said, of him speaking out against “the discrimination against Catholics in jobs, housing and voting or in favour of the MacBride Fair Employment Principles”.

Paul Doris, a senior figure in Irish Northern Aid, also lashed out: “The IRA has never claimed to be fighting as Catholics for Catholics, indeed all down though Irish history, folks from all religious persuasions have fought for Irish independence from Britain.”

Earlier this week the UUP’s Tom Elliott said he could see similarities between IS and the IRA but questioned how far the Catholic Church had gone in denouncing the IRA.

Asked whether he believed Cardinal Dolan’s reference to the Catholic Church’s anti-IRA stance rings true, he said: “On some occasions it does. However, I never knew the Catholic Church to not bury a PIRA person and some of them allowed, obviously, those terrorist or paramilitary funerals at their church. So while they did go some way, they had options to go much further.”

Catholic IRA victim Ann Travers commented that “only our Lord has the right to take life” – and added that exactly the same condemnation applies to loyalists.

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd responded that he was not sure how much Cardinal Dolan knew about Northern Ireland.

Asked if IS were freedom fighters, he told the Nolan Show: “I do not believe the deliberate targeting of civilians is right either by non-state or state organisations”.

The cardinal’s office offered no further comment.