God & I: Rónán Mullen

September 06 2021 | by

YOU studied for a Master’s degree in journalism, after which you worked as a teacher, press secretary and journalist. Why did you decide to start a career in politics?

From my childhood I was interested in politics and elections. A cousin of mine had been involved in party politics locally and I enjoyed helping him to canvass support during campaigns. At university in Galway I was active in student politics. Abortion was not then legal in Ireland and there were campaigns about whether students unions should provide information about abortion services in Britain. I got involved on the pro-life side. I was also active in the College debating society and, I suppose, my generally extrovert approach helped me get elected President of the Students Union.

I remained active in pro-life politics as I entered my working life. Then I worked as a press officer for the Dublin Archdiocese from 1996 to 2001. After that I wrote a weekly opinion column in one of our national newspapers. In 2006, I decided to seek a public mandate for some of the ideas that I was expressing. So in 2007 I ran for Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate, which is the upper house and review chamber in the Irish parliament. In our system university graduates elect a number of Senators through a postal vote. These Senators are mostly non-party. I ran on a typically Christian Democratic political platform, got elected, and have been re-elected three times since.


You have been one of the few politicians to represent Catholic teaching on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Does it require special courage to take the Catholic point-of-view in today’s secular Ireland?

I’m not sure if it requires courage, but it certainly requires the willingness and ability to communicate the values that you believe are good and true even when you know that you will be “playing against the prevailing wind” in Parliament.

I was blessed to be brought up in the love of God. I believe my Catholicism helps me to promote ideas that seek the common good and make sense. I do not seek to enshrine any Catholic doctrine in law, but I believe Christianity and Catholic social teaching especially can shine an important light on our understanding of how the common good can be achieved.

The teachings of Pope Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI emboldened people like me to speak up for the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person and the importance of the family. Inspired by faith, yes, but confirmed by reason too. Christian ideas on these issues should resonate with all people of goodwill. I remember saying on a radio interview recently, in reference to a colleague of mine in the Senate who is militantly pro-abortion and a determined atheist, that if she was right and I was wrong and this world was all there was, she should be more pro-life than I am. After all, if you consider yourself to be a decent person and want to be fair to everybody, what could be more cruel than to dispatch a little innocent child into nothingness?


Do you think that, like abortion and same-sex marriage, euthanasia will also eventually be legalized in your country?

The only thing that I am sure of is that those who propose euthanasia will continue to pile on the pressure to legalize it. But I am glad to see that many prominent doctors and specialists in palliative care oppose it. They see that, even if you mask euthanasia by referring to it as “physician-assisted dying” you end up tempting people to see themselves, or their loved ones, as a burden, if there is a disability or terminal illness. Those doctors want to promote the positive alternative to the euthanasia mentality, which is the best possible physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual care for people with chronic, life-limiting conditions and their families. I worry about the ‘bean-counters’ however – the ones who calculate that it might be cheaper to provide for euthanasia than to develop our health-services. We should reassure people who are fearful of pain and suffering, or of a loss of control in their lives, about all the good that palliative care can bring. With the right supports we can disperse the despair that causes people to think of euthanasia. The ‘bean-counters’, however, may prefer to play on people’s fears.


You have also served with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. How do you regard the UK’s decision to leave the European Union?

Brexit is, economically, extremely challenging for Ireland, because we need to maintain fluidity in human and economic exchange across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but also because the UK is such a big market for us. Its future trade deals with other countries, eg its new deal with Australia, which will allow more Australian meat to be imported, will affect us. So Brexit makes the relationship between the North and South of our island more tense and more complicated, and it hurts the Irish economy.

Membership in the European Union has given Ireland many benefits, like equal pay for men and women, though there have been bad policy moves too which I would question. The EU often displays an overly centralistic bureaucratic approach to issues and a lack of respect for local democracy and traditions. These may be part of the reason for Brexit. But, in any event, I respect the right of the British people to choose their own destiny. I hope we can continue to work on our special relationship with them. Our history and people are inextricably linked, and we should support each other.


What, in your opinion, are the most important values that the Church and society in general should promote?

Human dignity is the most important lens through which we should view policy and law. Take housing. We have a big housing crisis in Ireland. Not enough houses are being built and young people are being priced out of the market. Now that’s a human dignity issue because people deserve the support of the State in creating an economy where they can establish homes and set up families.

And, on marriage, the redefinition of marriage in our Constitution means there is no longer any respect for a child’s natural right to be brought up in a family with a father and mother, and preferably his or her own genetic parents. Shaping law by prioritizing what the adults want is not fair. It’s not justice. 

Globally, as well, we see serious violations of human dignity about which we are sometimes silent. I have tried to draw attention in our parliament to the horrific human rights abuses perpetrated by the Government of the People’s Republic of China on its Uighur minority, as well as on Christian and other religious groups, and to the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately the Irish government seems to only pay lip-service to the evil of these abuses. Why? Because it wants to protect its economic links with China. I can understand that. I come from rural Ireland and I want to promote the international market for our agricultural produce. But it is wrong that Ireland, like so many European countries, should fail to speak up for human rights and to condemn violations of human dignity.


Have you been a practicing Roman Catholic all your life? Have you ever had any doubts about your faith?

I have been blessed to know kind, intelligent people of faith through the formative stages of my life, and then later on in life. I was always encouraged to try to understand my faith. Like many people, I have had moments when I doubted whether God really exists or whether He loves us. But I also know that if you could prove that Christianity is true with a microscope, then it would not really require faith anymore, and how then could we be fully free? God has generously left us free to love him; for that freedom to be real, I think he has to hide himself a bit. If we are humble enough to face up to the mystery, faith becomes more possible, less random.

There are moments of spiritual dryness, and like everybody I struggle with my sinful nature. I value confession. What some decry as ‘Catholic guilt’ I see as ‘Catholic liberation’. The ones who can have their sins forgiven are the ones who know true freedom.


Who is God for you? How would you describe him?

At my core I see God as my Creator, my gracious lover and greatest friend. The One who gave up His life for me and for all humanity on the cross. He gave me the awesome privilege of living; blessed me with a happy disposition and a sense of meaning and purpose in my life. I am grateful to have this human existence. I try to accept this gift from God, to know Him better and to prepare for eternal life when “every tear will be wiped away.”


What does God expect from us?

I think God expects us to be humble before the facts of our reality. Our universe is a deep mystery. Science is wonderful. It can tell us more and more about the ‘how’. But it is as ignorant as ever of the ‘why’. Once we realize that, there is little room, I think, for any arrogant rejection either of those who have faith or of those who have no faith. So I think God expects us to be honest about our smallness.

I think that in this mysterious universe God expects us to use the talents He has given us to be the best people we can be. And, very importantly, I think God wants us to love Him in each person we meet – especially the weakest among us.


What the impression do you have of Pope Francis and his attempts to reform the institutional Church?

I have to admit that I do not always understand Pope Francis’s approach. But then it’s not necessary for me to always understand! God knows better than any of us how to use his instruments. St. Pope John Paul II challenged communism and championed human dignity. His courage and flair inspired love of God in countless Catholics of my generation. Pope Benedict used his admirable intellect to explain the relationship of faith to reason in ordering human affairs. He taught us much that we needed to know. Pope Francis focuses on bringing people in all sorts of irregular situations into contact with God. He reaches out to those on the peripheries, cultural and economic. This is vital. His promotion of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is very inspiring. All of these Popes complement each other in the history of the Church and all of them, with their human strengths and failings, are working for people’s salvation. It is wrong to portray one of them as being in conflict with the others. That is a part of Church history, but it hasn’t surfaced in any significant way in modern times.


You are fluent in the Irish language.  What role does Irish culture play in your daily life and in the living of your faith?

I speak Irish and count myself lucky to enjoy its cultural richness. The word in Irish for a person with a mental disability is “Duine le Dia”, meaning, “one of God’s own people.” It’s a beautiful concept. Irish is a minority language, and it is a struggle to keep it alive and central to our political and cultural life. In terms of Irish culture, our country has secularized aggressively, and many in our political and cultural élite have repudiated our Christian heritage, linking it only with abuse scandals and denying the immensely positive contribution of Christian culture to so much that is beautiful about Ireland and the world. I think Irish Christians sometimes feel forced into exile within their own country. But we need to resist the temptation to feel excluded. Like St. Patrick, we must hear the voice of our contemporaries calling for our return.


Has St. Anthony ever played any particular role in your life?

St. Anthony is a great saint who has been very much a part of Irish life. His statue is venerated in many churches. He is the Saint to whom we turn to when things are lost – not only material objects, but perhaps even more important things like one’s health or one’s faith. Whenever I lose anything I say a prayer to St. Anthony, and when I find it I always make a donation to the poor – if I remember to do it, which is most of the time.

I visited the Cathedral of Saint Anthony when I was in Lisbon, Portugal, with my mother and some friends about two years ago. It is a beautiful place. But although I have been to Italy many times, I’ve never been to the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua to see St. Anthony’s mortal remains. I intend to remedy that as soon as all this Covid-19 mess is over!


BORN IN 1970 in County Galway, Rónán Mullen grew up in Ahascragh, Co. Galway. He obtained a BA degree in English and French from University College Galway, followed by a Master’s degree in Journalism from Dublin City University in 1993.

In 2007 Rónán was elected to the Seanad (Senate), where he has worked on issues such as the right to life, protections for the victims of human trafficking, improved end-of-life/palliative care in hospitals, maintaining Ireland’s commitment to Overseas Development Aid, and social welfare protection for the economically vulnerable. Rónán is currently a member of the parliament’s Education Committee, its Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community and the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

In January 2010 and again from 2016 to 2018, Rónán was an Independent member of the Irish parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he joined the European People’s Party (Christian Democrat) group. His report on the Provision of Palliative Care in Europe was unanimously adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in November 2018.


Updated on September 06 2021