ACP Statement about the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment
ACP Statement about the upcoming referendum on the 8th Amendment
Friday 4thMay 2018
In the midst of the debate and discussion in our country about the forthcoming referendum to repeal the 8thAmendment of the Constitution, we, the leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests, issue the following statement.
As an association representing Catholic priests we fully endorse the Catholic teaching that all human life, from beginning to end, is sacred, and that every human person shares in the fundamental right to life.
We are also aware, and are constantly reminded in our ministry, that human life is complex, throwing up situations that are more often grey than black and white and that demand from us a sensitive, non-judgemental, pastoral approach. Also, as leadership of an association made up of men who are unmarried and without children of our own, we are not best placed to be in any way dogmatic on this issue.
We do not wish to tell anyone how they should vote. But we encourage both ourselves and any citizens who may be interested in our viewpoint, to do the best we can to acquaint ourselves with exactly what we are being asked to vote for, and what the possible consequences of our vote may be. Having done that to the best of our ability, and following it with the, often painful and difficult, task of consulting our conscience, let us cast our vote.
A vote cast in accordance with each person’s conscience, whatever the result, deserves the respect of all.
There is undoubtedly a moral content to this referendum, but as with many other issues, there are also social, political and pastoral dimensions. For that reason we are concerned that some Catholic parishes are allowing their pulpits to be used by campaigners during Mass. As there are, among faithful, Church-going Catholics, a great variety of opinions on this vote, we believe this is inappropriate and insensitive and will be regarded by some as an abuse of the Eucharist.
We believe it would be better if this practice ceased for the rest of the campaign.
We wish the Irish people well in this immensely important decision awaiting all of us. The leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests will have no further engagement in this debate.
Thank you for having the courage and the humanity to contribute as an oeganisation to this debate- it is so much easier to keep silent.
This policy is interesting when one juxtaposes contributions from a letter by William Binchy (Irish Times May 5) and the present Pope in AL.
“The proposed legislation, if the Eighth Amendment is removed, will authorise the intentional ending of the lives of disabled babies. There are no restrictions on who may be aborted during the first 12 weeks of their lives. Any baby, disabled or not, may have his or her life intentionally ended. Ivana [Bacik] simply can’t deny this, because it is obviously true, yet she refuses to acknowledge it. From 12 weeks to the point of viability, both healthy and disabled babies will be aborted. We can’t at this stage be sure how many, but international experience gives little confidence that the number will be small. Even if the number were small, would that be a matter for satisfaction? Surely, the profound injustice to those babies calls us to reconsider the path we are on.
Finally, the proposed legislation unquestionably provides for abortion of babies, including healthy babies, up to birth. This is not a matter of interpretation or opinion. The language of the Scheme for Legislation explicitly so provides. The limitation to the point of viability does not apply to Grounds 5 and 6. I can’t put it any plainer: disabled babies will be aborted and abortion up to birth will be permitted. Rather than deny the undeniable, perhaps it would be better to address this prospect.”
The present Pope:
“Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed.”
“So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being.”
Does the policy mean that it is only appropriate to quote the present Pope on a clear life and death issue outside the church building, and then only by members of the laity? Is accompaniment not necessary on such a vital issue? Do priests preach only on issues on which the faithful are totally of one mind?
I find this statement astonishing. There is no clear direction given at all which is what should be coming from you. You say that one should vote according to one’s conscience. However it is according to an informed conscience that one votes. A conscience that has been informed as to correct Catholic doctrine in matters concerning faith and morals. It is the duty of priests to preach and inform Catholics and lead. However, now that many priests are at last stepping up to the mark and finally leading the flock you appear to be taking them to task. Many Catholics have been let down in the past by the fact that priests have appeared to step back from their God given roles and become puppets of the state. Thank God for priests who are proud to be priests and are finding the courage to raise their voices in defense of those who have no voice.
a very timely and appropriate statement by the ACP.I admire priests who take control of their churches in regard to who is allowed use the pulpit, place literature in porches etc.The statement says that all human life from the beginning to the end is sacred but that human life is complex. I well remember the 1983 era when the 8th was introduced with much fervour. It was supposed to copper fasten the issue,but little did we know the problems it threw up,so be careful what you wish for!. A Constitution by its very nature is a statement of aims generally and cannot by its very nature deal with the many complex issues that arise in matters like this.Winston Churchill once said that problem about referendums is that you sometimes gets answers to questions that are not asked. All sorts of issues arise,not least the (un)popularity of the government of the day and other matters.
It was with absolute dismay I heard this on the RTE news this morning and read the article above. If we cannot hear the pro-life message at Mass we most certainly will not hear it in most other places! We have been bombarded for months by all media with the euphemisms of the pro-abortionists, I will not use their euphemism “pro-choice”. The pro-life message needs to be out there by using all means necessary to give the undecided the information needed to vote to save lives in this referendum. Innocent lives are at stake here, if the “yes” campaigners get their way this country will be one of the most dangerous places in the world for a baby in the womb. Once the horse has bolted it is too late to close the door.
I am a mother of 5 children with af full time job and a very busy house. I have given the very talks you reject. My knees were trembling and my hands shaking during the talks. It was all worth it in the cause of protecting precious unborn life. Your statement will be relished by the Yes Campaign and the liberal biased media of this country. I am trying to raise 5 children to love their Catholic Church, you have given my family a devestating blow.
I am deeply saddened indeed quite upset, to hear this morning of the stance being adopted by the ACP. I of course have no way of knowing for how many priests they speak on this issue. I do not at all accept, that it is only they the priests, who have right to speak in a Church during the gathering of the People of God all of whom share the same dignity through their baptism.We are all the priestly people of God. I for one welcome the words of any pro life group in our church.What they have to say is in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus and the values of the Kingdom of God. I would encourage the ACP to think again before it is too late and their stated position silence the words of life and the God given gift of life which will be targeted directly for death in the womb if the Referendum is lost. I have no problem stating that I am a Catechist of the church, so also teach in the name of the church, would I too be silenced in a church if as a member of Love Both actively canvassing door to door presently, wanted to speak to God’s People in a Church, how sad would that be.
I applaud the leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests for this sensitive and wise statement. Very well done.
Your statement does your organisation no favours. If the amendment is repealed, we are facing a tsunami of women going for abortions because of ease of access. The very sad fact is that many of these women will suffer through their lives at the memory of their having aborted their baby. I think your statement has something to do with your hostility towards the bishops of the country who at long last are stepping up to the plate and accepting the challenge of teaching which is one of their primary responsibilities. Mass is where Catholics gather and where Catholic teaching, such as the Ten Commandments, should be communicated.
When I heard reports on this ACP statement in the media, my immediate reaction was that there must be some mistake. Having read the actual statement on the ACP website, I feel like I have just been punched in the stomach. It brings my mind back to the years I spent in Latin America, when far-right military regimes regularly warned the Church to stop using Mass and other religious celebrations to speak about political or social issues.
Thankfully, due to the courageous leadership of bishops like Oscar Romero and guided by insights provided by ‘liberation theology’, the majority view was that the Church not only may, but must, link God’s Word and participation in the Eucharist with concrete action in defence of those who are most vulnerable and without a voice of their own.
Given the overwhelming political and media consensus in favour of removing Constitutional protection for pre-birth human life, I believe it is imperative that preaching of the Word and participation in the Eucharist should be linked as explicitly as possible with action (in the present instance, a mere vote!) in defence of what is, surely, the most voiceless group of all.
Finally, I would be absolutely amazed and dismayed if this ACP statement accurately reflected the views of the majority of its membership.
I am appalled at the pusillanimous stance which the leadership of the Association has chosen to adopt. The fifth commanddment requires that we shall not kill, and the Church teaches that a life begins at conception – where can there be any grey area in relation to abortion? How can the killing of a baby, born or unborn,ever be considered other than wrong?
I agree that the preaching on this issue from our pulpits by lay people is not ideal if it is in lieu of such preaching by local parish priest, but regrettably many of our priests are too timid to adopt a stance they perceive as unpopular with a section of their congregations. We all have a responsibility to speak out against this proposed amendment, which is really about the legalisation of abortion, as clearly illustrated by the commencement of drafting of abortion legislation before any vote has even taken place!
I am a retired lawyer, with some 40 years in practice, and I am enormously incensed by the way in which the euphemistically named “pro-choice” camp have consistently misrepresented their medical arguement for scrapping the 8th Amendment. When faced with a decision of treating a mother or her unborn child where treatment of one may be to the detriment of the other, doctors DO have the right to treat one patient at the expense of another provided they make their decision based on sound medical assessment of the risks involved for both parties and the available options. I am certain that no doctor wants to be faced with or make such a hard decision, but that is part of their professional responsibility, and they must deal with that.
I can appreciate where the association is coming from, and I accept many of the points its spokespersons have made. However, as a member of the association I have to say that the leadership does not speak for me. For many years I never spoke in the church about abortion because I was sensitive to the possibility that members of the congregation had had an abortion. But now that we are at the ‘end game’ on the issue of abortion I have felt it too important to remain totally neutral on the issue. On one occasion (only) I have allowed a pro-life person speak at Masses in the Church, despite the danger I mentioned above. My reason, and the introduction I gave on that occasion, is as follows. As the media for months, if not years, have been promoting abortion, with the risk that people are being brain-washed, I feel it important that the opposite and pro-life point of view would get an airing, and this seems to be the only place where that can happen. You will also notice the current tendency in the media, which I expected from long ago would happen as we get closer to polling day and when the margins in the polls get closer, where it begins to look for any possible action that can be construed as ‘dirty tricks’ and highlighting it. We hear no such allegations re the pro-abortion campaign. I have been in Dublin city and Limerick city within the last fortnight and, as somebody else put it, they are both ‘awash’ with ‘Yes’ posters. I was puzzled by this until I heard somebody from the pro-life campaign saying that 40% of their posters had been removed! Where is the ‘dirty tricks’ reference to this? So, I stand on my action: when there is little on the pro-life side coming from the media it was correct to take this small action of having a pro-life speaker on one occasion in the church to give the alternate point of view.
Thanks ACP for these words — probably the best that could be said in the circumstances.
‘What you do to these, the least of my brethern you do to me’. The unborn human being, frail, vulnerable, dependent and silent is the very least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. If we, as Church, do not stand and speak and witness in solidarilty with them, within and without our churches, where is our credibility? It is so much easier to be an appeasing, accomodating church that compromises truth especially when there are kudos a plenty from the new secular order. The secular order that is slowly moving to attenuate, emasculate and finally erase the ‘hard’ teaching that is paradoxially God’s outreach of mercy and love to us in a fallen world.
I am astonished and dismayed at this pusillanimous statement,and can only hope it represents a small minority of the clergy. I won’t repeat what other commentators have said about unambiguous Catholic teaching about the sanctity of life, which you manage to simultaneously endorse and question. But I just can’t understand your contention that as celibate, childless men, you think you should refrain from taking a clearly pro-life position. This is to endorse the frequent argument of the “pro-choice” side that only those likely to be directly affected by the issue should voice an opinion or vote, i.e.: women of child-bearing age. This is reminiscent of the argument that excluded women and working-class men from the franchise in the past: they were deemed not to have a stake in society. We are celebrating the100th anniversary of the (partial) reversal of that view this year. It is depressing to hear a version of it being touted again.
By your own criteria, however, there is one group that IS vitally concerned, but has no voice: the unborn.
Perhaps you could consider being their proxies.
Gosh I can only say I am sad and disappointed. I have always enjoyed your website and it was in my opinion a light in the darkness in our church. I am a lay person with teenage family and young adults. I have attended your events some years back and I suppose you could say I was an ardent supporter.
I am knocked back today at your statement and am sad and dismayed. I think I will continue to look at your website.. but the candle of light ye were for me is currently very dim. With respect brothers and sisters, what are ye at at all?
It is unfortunate that the repeal of the 8th has been twinned by the government with abortion on demand up to and including 12 weeks. Are they not two seperate issues? Garret FitzGerald a most prolife taoiseach told us in 1983 that the wording of the 8th was flawed and that we were in danger of entering a legal and moral quagmire. My was he right?. He never advocated a twelve week free for all. We have nobody in politics like Garrett today. Brendan Cafferty (4) is correct. Bunreacht na hEireann (a superb document) is not the appropriate place for technical detailed legislation. Remember the constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means. Dev may not have intended that but think of the X case.
The ACP continues to muddy the waters by talking about voting according to one’s conscience. The problem is the vast majority of people have ill informed or unformed consciences. It is quite clear from Catholic Church teaching that abortion is always wrong. The circumstances may mitigate the guilt but by its very nature abortion is wrong. You do no service to people by talking about the complexity of the human situation. Frankly it is irrelevant when one makes a moral choice in the situation of abortion. Further, there is currently no forum for adequately telling people that abortion is wrong. People need clarity and certainly. They are getting neither from ostensibly Catholic politicians who don’t know their own faith, nor from the bishops whose statements are too long winded nor from the ACP leadership who speak as if they are talking to people of wonderfully educated theological backgrounds. It is a simple thing. Abortion is wrong!! And therefore safeguard the 8th. Further, as Nuala O’Loan said so adequately, Catholics can’t be pro choice. That’s the meaning of the word “heresy”.. Choice. This is opposed by what St Paul calls “the obedience of faith” in Romans. The only choice a Catholic makes is to be Catholic, and after that he must keep the faith, whatever it demands.
Having read the Statement from the APC I will be voting according to Church teaching that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death. There is also the 5th Commandment Thou shalt not kill to be taken into account as this Referendum approaches on May 25th. I am the mother of a 26 year old young man who was born with a disability, Down Syndrome. My rearing of him over the years has been very hands on but he has taught me more than I could possibly have taught him. There was plenty support from the time he was born right up to the present day. Last year he won 2nd Prize in the Special Needs over 18’s Category at Writer’s Week Listowel and that is only one among many of all the other achievements he has achieved. I cannot agree with any of the arguments of the Pro-Abortion or Pro-Choice groups or the My Body-My Choice group either. When I look at other countries where abortion has been allowed for several decades and the loss of young employable people in those countries now at the present time to fund taxes for pensions for the older people in those countries that tells me that abortion in Ireland will lead to the exact same situation. Over the coming decades what abortion will ultimately lead to in the future is a holocaust of the unborn. How can that be justified.
I completely agree with Brendan Cafferty @4.
Women’s issues,are never black and white and the constitution was no place to regulate them.
Basically, it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
Presently, we have abortion under two guises.
1) The women who go abroad.
2) The women who order the on line abortion pill,this is illegial akin to back street abortion.
The No campaign, delight in givings us the gory details of abortion,ignoring the fact, that we already have abortion in Ireland and will continue to have it, if the No side win.
This statement has already done enormous damage. Not all pro-life-choice speakers are fundamentalists. We have had a speaker here who sent her script to me beforehand it was balanced and compassionate. Does the Assoc.have no problem with the consequences of widespread abortions? I am no longer a member, you don’t speak for me.
I attended the first few meetings of the ACP and I was quite hopeful about its aims. Since then it seems you have become overwhelmed by personal agendas and now simply provide ammunition for journalists, especially the Irish Times. What a pity. We really needed the ACP. This latest statement shows how lost you have become.
The ‘Association of Catholic Priests’ ‘fully endorse the Catholic teaching that all human life …… ‘ etc. etc. before urging Catholic Priests not to defend this teaching. The justification offered for this ambiguous, cowardly and self-serving statement is that ‘we’ are not married and have no children of our own! Politicians in our one party state will, no doubt, welcome this statement. I, however, value my rights as a citizen and will continue to express my views privately and publicly. I also recognise my duty as a citizen to defend the rights of those who are in danger of being excluded from membership of the human race. The ACP does not represent me and I would ask you to remove my name from your membership list.
The following is not a boast. I have been doing pro-life work for a number of years. “2015 – one night a week for a few weeks. 2016 – one night a week for 4 or 5 months. 2017 – one night a week for 9 months. Now 4-5 days every week. Despite the comradery I have always wished I wasn’t involved. Since 2013 I have never believed the Eighth could be saved without a miracle. I now pray for it every day.
I have come to realise that abortion is a battle between good and evil, between God and Satan. So besides being on a campaign, one is also in an apostolate. If one can in any way influence even a few changes from a “yes” to a “no” vote one is helping to promote the good, even if the campaign is lost. This is not to convert people from being sinners to being virtuous, but frustrating the quest of Satan for evil.
Take away the Eighth and modern secular Irish society will abort up to birth. The artificial contraception culture has fed into this. The prospect of abortion up to birth is the reason not to repeal the Eighth. People bemoan the difficulties which have ensued since 1983, but those difficulties were a price worth paying for the 100,000 thousand lives spared, the countless incidences of women escaping the negative aftermath of abortion, and our world class standard of health care for women in pregnancy. This was no quagmire but an ongoing battle for the good. Without the Eighth Garret Fitzgerald may have held things in check, but only for a while. The moral fibre of the country would be much worse in the Absence of the Eighth.
There is a feeble argument that The Eighth has not stopped Irish women having abortions. How many of our laws actually result in complete compliance by the public? Does the continued occurrence of rape require that laws against rape be abolished?
This evening I was working outside the gates of a rural church. On the basis of my experience, I estimate that more than 50% of that congregation will vote “Yes.” This constitutes part of the sacrifice of self they offered to God at Holy Mass. Many sheep are caught in a thicket.
Abortion corrupts. Its first casualty is truth. And on May 28th these (figurative) sheep will become targets for the next step in the secular agenda concerning the nature of human rights and functioning.
I used to be a signed up member of the ACP, but am gobsmacked by their flippant and dare I say shallow treatment of so serious an issue, so fundamental to Christian faith, the santity of life.
One wonders why the authors of this text even bothered.
While often being extremely critical of the bishops’ so-called lack of leadership in the Irish Church, the Association still comes out with a statement, cherished by the church-bashing media which says “Also, as leadership of an association made up of men who are unmarried and without children of our own, we are not best placed to be in any way dogmatic on this issue… ” What rubbish !
Com’on lads … get a grip of yourselves. You are called to preach, to teach ! Wake up to reality and have the courage to boldly live your vocation, leading the people of God in your care with hope, joy and the beauty of the Gospel, which includes the protection of the most vulnerable …
I used to be a paid up member of the ACP. However, I believe that its public pronouncements on most issues are not very constructive do not not represent my views. Does the ACP even represent a small majority of its members ?
I agree with this statement by Kathleen Faley @19
“Having read the Statement from the APC I will be voting according to Church teaching that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death”
And overall, general comment, although I am not eligible to vote.
kevin your brother
“Catholics can’t be pro choice. That’s the meaning of the word “heresy”.. Choice. This is opposed by what St Paul calls “the obedience of faith” in Romans. The only choice a Catholic makes is to be Catholic, and after that he must keep the faith, whatever it demands.”
The question of abortion is not a matter of faith but of ethics and should be resolved in ethical debate. Appealing to the commandment “thou shalt not kill” takes us only so far, since the correct translation of that is “thou shalt not murder”; there are many cases in which the church sees killing as ethical (including self-defence against an innocent aggressor).
The idea that Catholics sacrifice all freedom of conscience and all duty of ethical reflection is incorrect.
The ACP has lost its way. You are supposed to stand up for the protection of life. Not complain because women from the Savetthe8th campaign are allowed to speak at Masses. If you have a problem with guest speakers take up with the speakers and the local bishop. Don’t be giving ammunition to the media and the opposition.
I note the media did not highlight your opening paragraph on the sanctity of life. Instead they highlighted your objections to people mostly women speaking up for the right to life of the unborn.
Your statement comes from the executive of the association. How many of your members were actually consulted before hand.The good news is that the NO side is gaining ground in the polls. If the Church does not speak up for the rights of the unborn, who will?
It is good that the ACP leadership team call attention to the sensitivities of the matter. How it is addressed, whether by a priest or by a layperson, is important. A campaigner can be a lay person or a priest.
I do not think it good that the ACP leadership team say: “We believe it would be better if this practice ceased for the rest of the campaign.” It is a vital matter. Yes, there are many pastoral considerations. But it is important that it be addressed.
The team say: “The leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests will have no further engagement in this debate.”
I recommend that they reconsider this, to recognise that their statement itself is part of the “campaign”, and that perhaps it could have been better expressed.
I applaud the ACP leadership on taking this sensitive and courageous position. I objected to the use of the celebration of Mass by the Catholic Hierarchy in 1983 to advise us on how we should vote on the original referendum, even though a distinguished AG advised of its possible (unintended) consequences. We now know the AG’s judgement was subsequently vindicated.
I also object again to any interference in the celebration of Mass this time by opponents of the deletion of the amendment. One would have expected a more humble and sensitive Church now, particularly at this time when further details emerge of the tragic circumstances which preceded the death of Ann Lovett. A ‘misogynistic’ Church, to borrow a phrase, should not be rushing to pronounce upon issues that touch upon women’s bodies- at least not advise us on how we exercise our political judgement on a most complex area.
Incidentally, I am ‘pro-life’ and will not allow one group involved in this campaign to monopolise ownership of this term. Like the ACP, I recognise that the referendum affects women in a unique way; therefore, I do not advocate that my views on the matter in question, given all its complexities, should be enshrined in the constitution. I suggest we create a society in which every possible support is given to pregnant women with a view to, in so far as is practicable and appropriate, to helping her and her child throughout her pregnancy, while ultimately respecting any decision she might make.
Thank you ACP for your insightful and measured statement.
@27 What about ‘she’?
“The idea that Catholics sacrifice all freedom of conscience and all duty of ethical reflection is incorrect” –Joe, I agree completely.
I was shocked and greatly saddened to hear the ACP statement on theRTE news headlines. It is at best ill advised and at worst very damaging. It is incredible to hear an organisation one of whose main aims was to promote and enhance the role of women in our church now stressing that it is inappropriate to have speak in our church on retaining the 8th amendment. They are the people best qualified from their experience to speak on this topic. I have spoken to 4 members from our diocese and they share my sentiments. Please withdraw the statement immediatly. Andy Doyle
Thank you for this thoughtful and beautifully crafted statement. I have heard these speeches at mass with language used that was unsuitable for the children in the congregation and a sentiment that was completely tone deaf to the very real and heartbreaking circumstances that other listeners have faced. I don’t think we need a pro life rant from the pulpit to tell us that the church is advocating for a No vote (who honestly needs their priest to tell them the church is pro life??) and these talks are, at best, preaching to the choir and at worst turning people off the church. If you want to fight then go out there and fight. Fight for the lives of the unborn with marches and rallies and media involvement but I go to mass to be close to God and be reinvigorated as a follower of Christ who taught us to be compassionate and inclusive of those whose lives we may not understand or condone. As Christians we should be opening our arms to people, not using the church for political campaigning.
Many of the church-going Catholics that I meet, from different social backgrounds, are undecided how to vote in the upcoming referendum. Many of them tell me that had the government managed to come up with a more restricted abortion proposal they would have had less difficulty in voting ‘yes’. For them – and I am supposing this group is wider than those I have personally met- the contested rights between a woman’s bodily integrity and those of the foetus represent what the ACP statement refers to as a ‘grey’ area, not something ‘black and white’.
Given this reality – and the damaged moral authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland – it is important that pastors and parish councils consider how the Eucharistic pulpit might be used in a way that is not just ‘appropriate’ and ‘sensitive’, but also that is not counter-productive. This is not a question of avoiding the link between faith and politics, or Eucharist and justice, but of making this link more fruitful. The idiom of information and persuasion is arguably more effective in the context of intelligent adults who will mostly be open to hearing what the Church teaches but will not welcome being put in the position of a ‘captive’ congregation being told how to vote. Coincidentally, the current controversy about the lack of transparency around the results of cervical smears leaves many women even more fearful about the way they perceive their bodily integrity and autonomy being ignored and perhaps even less open to what they may perceive as a teaching which does not sufficiently address their own concerns.
There are surely other ways to proceed. I am aware of a third-level institution which held a day-long seminar on the topic, with inputs from experts in theology, philosophy, medicine and law. There was plenty of information and room for discussion. This approach has been transferred in different ways into parish settings – I know of one parish which has set up a 3-week discernment process, with inputs from a theologian on church teaching, a legal expert, and a panel of women with different experiences. All this is in a context of prayerful openness to the truth, with small-group discussion and sharing, and then an open plenary, with skilled faciltation. Another parish I know has given information and questions for discussion in the parish newsletter, and the PP has given advanced warning that he will preach on the topic on Pentecost Sunday. These approaches – and I am sure there are many others – respect the freedom of individuals, are up-front about church teaching, allow discussion and sharing of experience, and point to the exercise of the conscience of each participant as their right and duty of citizenship.
Since the 70s the Irish Episcopal Conference – following on Vatican II, in particular the Declaration on Religious Freedom with its reflections on appropriate church/state separation and the primacy of conscience- has been nuanced in its teaching on issue of public debate. They have outlined the morality of the issue in question, distinguished between morality and law (as had Augustine and Aquinas before them), and then given the prudential reasons for why and to what extent the Catholic position ought to be enshrined in the social policy and law of the particular liberal democracy that is Ireland if the requirements of the common good were best to be met. This prudential judgement, they made it clear, was subject to the conscience of each individual, acting as citizen in a society of believers and unbelievers.
It is often objected that conscience needs to be ‘informed’, with the seeming conclusion that an informed conscience will always come up with the same answer as the teaching that is proposed. Catholics will want their teaching to be informed by the viewpoint of the church, but other influences will also come to bear, and in any case, as adults, their final judgement is their own and its dignity is sacrosanct.
It is of some interest that this debate is taking place at a time when the International Theological Commission has issued a new document on synodality and the voice of the laity in the church. The document stressed the importance of listening to the ‘sense of the faithful’ and having appropriate ecclesial structures to allow this voice to be heard. When this voice is contested, the way forward is discussion and open debate, and ultimately discernment. We have long suffered in our church from the lack of this kind of culture of open debate and discernment, and the vacuum is particularly evident at a time like this. It would be good to take whatever small steps we can at parish level between now and the referendum to remedy this defect and provide space for people to make wise decisions.
A referendum forces us all to decide which side we are on.Yes or No. I am heartened that so many people are trying to make an honest effort to look at all the issues involved in such a complex question . At the end of the day a Government should try to find the best solution that serves the common good. I can clearly see arguments on both sides of the debate and why people are so passionate about their own view. That said because I am a woman and have been pregnant many times both planned and unplanned , have suffered the aftermath of miscarriage and stillbirth and I also have the benefit of hindsight , I consider that abortion should definitely be a last resort as it is an instant solution to a temporary problem that cannot be reversed. When it is necessary to save the life of the mother during a medical emergency this is not considered to be an abortion . The gift of life should not be treated casually. A woman may not know for many years whether or not it was the right decision. I can remember vividly the trauma of the aftermath of miscarriage and find myself thinking every now and then what age would he or she be now. One last thought it is far easier to procure an abortion than to erase the memory from ones mind of the event and of what might have been. The brain has no delete button. People are never going to agree on this but as I said if we are going to vote it has to be yes or no.
Well said, Gerry O’Hanlon @ 35. Wise words indeed. We need to listen
“to the ‘sense of the faithful’ “ and to have “appropriate ecclesial structures to allow this voice to be heard.” Open debate and discernment. How long have we been yearning for this? It is the only way forward towards true inclusion and to creating a real sense of belonging.
There are too many harsh, strident voices on both sides of this debate, and ultimately there is only one judge who can know the circumstances of a woman’s decision as to what to do when faced with such a heartrending decision. There is a gentle and a kind way to persuade one of one’s sincerely held beliefs. Bullying does not work. I think the seminars Gerry mentions are an excellent idea. ( one in Gardiner Street, I believe?) Give people a sacred space in which to listen and to speak in freedom. I am relieved in a way that I don’t have a vote. This is not an easy decision but needs much prayer and discernment. Every baby should be wanted and every mother supported but let us listen to all voices and opinions in charity and kindness. Kindness , tenderness and gentleness will reap a richer harvest than belligerent self righteousness.
I had been concerned that the leadership of the ACP might feel bullied into reconsidering their wise and sensitive statement given the intemperate nature of some of the comments above and I was on the point of preparing a further comment. However, having read the enlightened and excellent contributions from Rachel and Gerry above @34 and 35,(and previous to that Joe and Nessan), I realise there is absolutely no need for any further comment from me. Thank you both for what you have said. Surely, Gerry has now said it all and that should be the matter closed. Our Church at home in Ireland is so fortunate to have priests of the calibre of Gerry O’Hanlon. I keep bragging to my priest friends here in Scotland about our scholar priests like Gerry and about our ACP –an organisation we could certainly do with in Scotland.
Thank you Rachel Lanbe @34. I am sure you speak for the silent majority of mass goers in this country. They too go to mass for the reasons you mention. At mass they can leave behind, if only for a while, so many strident voices. Mass should be a time for prayer, worship and peace.
The fact that the ACP statement is eliciting such a large number of comments from diverse points of view seems to me to be eminently positive. The website administrators are to be congratulated for facilitating open and honest discussion.
I agree wholeheartedly with those who suggest that, in the context of the upcoming referendum, the best case scenario would be a carefully considered programme of prayerful reflection on all aspects of the key issues, ideally with input from theologians, medical professionals and others. Such a project would be a lot easier to implement if our existing parish structures resembled the ‘basic Christian communities’ found in some other parts of the world. But that is not where we are right now. I suspect that very few parishes or other Church-related institutions have been able to offer anything resembling a carefully structured programme of instruction and prayerful reflection on the many complex issues involved in the referendum. In some cases, the necessary resources may not be available locally. In others, a scarcity of personnel, time and energy may make such an undertaking seem utopian. Furthermore, precisely because some priests may decide that they are not best placed to speak on the issues involved in this particular referendum, their only real options may be either silence or an invitation to whatever ‘pro-life’ speakers are available.
While far from ideal, I think inviting input from one of the ‘No’ groups is a very modest effort to maintain some balance in the debate. I agree that a Party-political mode of presentation should be avoided. Any input should be calm, sensitive, fact-based and, ideally, the starting point for further discussion. I can’t see how that amounts to telling anyone how to vote! On the contrary, in a situation where an overwhelming majority of politicians, media, celebrities and other opinion-makers are lined up on the ‘Yes’ side, hearing an alternative point of view may, at best, encourage some people to think (and, hopefully, pray!) a little more before marking their ballot paper.
Is the Eucharist an appropriate setting for input and reflection on such a crucial issue? I believe so. If only previous generations of Mass-goers had been encouraged to link Eucharistic worship with a practical response to real-life issues (Industrial Schools, Magdalene Laundries, homelessness, discrimination, corruption, etc.), the Irish Church might be in a very different place today, with its credibility on social and moral issues far more intact.
The field of human conflict
When I arrived at seminary to teach I wanted to teach about preaching, and I did, but I was also asked to teach medical ethics that I was not so keen to do. Important subject though it is, it did not appeal to me. I was very aware of how much I did not know rather than what I did know, but I knuckled down to read and study and the subjects of euthanasia and abortion and the value of human life were all there facing me.
As I read about the subject of unborn human life and abortion it began to dawn on me that the two opposing sides will never meet because they are ‘seeing’ different things. It also began to appear to me that the centre of the argument was different for each side. The Church, if you will, was centred upon the absolute value of a human life from conception. The World, if you will, was centred upon the suffering of women and the historical abuse and devalued importance of woman in a male dominated society.
Stand back from these two positions and the first thing we need to do is to recognise the ‘value’ that the other is trying to uphold. Both sides have very good things to say about how we care about and care for one another. When faced with an opponent, with someone who thinks very differently from oneself, the first step in making progress to a meeting of minds is to acknowledge the good that the other is trying to promote. People will not listen to you if you give them the impression that you do not value their point of view at all.
Our faith is a ‘way of seeing’ the world and you cannot make others see what you see. We can all grow in our ability to see and to understand one another and that process can only happen if we begin by an acceptance of the other and by a sympathy, a reception of their point of view.
In all human conflict, for example between the West and North Korea, it is a great temptation to ‘demonise’ the other as evil, and to promote oneself as the only good. This is a foolish and most unhelpful thing to do.
My time teaching medical ethics was short but my days trying to preach the gospel have been long. The education I received after leaving priesthood, in the world of mediation has taught me how vitally important and challenging is the daily task of being able to speak to one another and to listen graciously to the other, especially to some one who differs entirely from my own point of view. Every day we are faced with a variety of human conflicts. The Gospel story of Jesus, on every page, is a tale of his encounter with opposition and his brilliant ability to engage with everyone, friend and foe alike. We are easy with our friends, but woefully poor when it comes to engaging with our foes and our opponents.
Underpinning all arguments about human freedom and the right to life is the daily call from the Lord to befriend all human beings and all stressful situations and to witness to the love of God by ‘loving your enemy’.
Trying to sort out my own mind on abortion some years ago (I have always considered my self to be “pro-life” though I have never liked this title as there is the inherent suggestion that others are “anti-life” or even “pro-death”, which obviously is nonsense and this kind of arrogance does the cause no good at all), I found this piece by Fr. Charles Curran, the eminent Catholic theologian and, at the time, I thought it was the best piece on the subject I had ever read. He is referring to the US bishops and the situation in America. But I think it does have relevance to this debate as well especially as some of our bishops were using the word “criminality” over the week-end.
Most of the people who have responded to the ACP statement above seem to be very clear in their viewpoints. I feel I want to share where I am in all this.
I once read what was actually a throw away remark in an article “I wish I was a Catholic. They don’t have to think for themselves!” Down through the years that remark has stayed with me and caused me quite a bit of unease every time I’m faced with a “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation.
As a child it was clear and easy – I accepted “This is what your Church tells you is right.” Truth be told, I allowed that childish response to continue well into adulthood. I didn’t take the time or trouble to look into my OWN heart and soul to discern what I felt to be the right response somewhere deep inside. Any niggles of conscience I felt were dismissed by a “Sure what do I know! Who am I to think I know better than my church teachings!” (The idea that I should question ANY teachings of my church was firmly established in my young mind as the sin of pride.)
I now deem that to be a combination of deep indoctrination and personal laziness on my part. But it was certainly a comfortable, secure way to approach moral and ethical dilemmas. I’m a Catholic so I respond in the way my Catholic leaders tell me to respond.
It hasn’t worked for quite a while now. The moral bankruptcy of the church leadership, revealed over the last number of years has ensured that I can no longer be led – I have to find my own way through the dilemmas that life throws up.
The current situation where I have to decide whether to vote Yes or No in the upcoming referendum is probably the most difficult moral dilemma I’ve ever faced. I envy those who are crystal clear in their viewpoints – those who have no difficulty in deciding how to vote. I have read, listened to, reflected and prayed until I’m blue in the face and I STILL find myself swinging like a pendulum!
I understand both sides. I understand those who firmly believe that life begins from the moment of conception and that the destruction of that life is killing. I understand that they firmly believe that they HAVE to protect that most vulnerable of lives by doing all they can to ensure a NO vote.
But I also understand that pregnancy is not something that is a glib, superficial, short-lived little inconvenience. It is a life-changing event. And so it should be. A wanted baby is the most precious treasure on earth (I know! I have two of them – now all grown up.) Having a life growing inside your body is incredibly wonderful when it is your heart’s dearest wish – and it’s just as well it is! Because pregnancy and childbirth are no picnic for most women. The pregnancy is sickness and exhaustion and discomfort and feelings of vulnerability and ugliness and childbirth can be sheer agony.
And that’s followed by a life where your autonomy and independence are gone for years. No decision can be made without putting your child first. This is as it should be. It is the natural order. It is right and joyfully welcomed and accepted when a child is wanted. But it is not something that is easy and pain free even for those women (and men) who wanted and loved their child with every fibre of their being from the moment they knew they were pregnant.
I HAVE to think about women who find themselves in an unwanted pregnancy. I HAVE to consider their anguish at the prospect of having their bodies and their lives altered permanently in ways totally outside of their wishes or even their control. I HAVE to think about those for whom what is growing and developing inside them is not a life, but a growth that was forced on them. I HAVE to think about those who know that by going through the whole process of pregnancy and childbirth again they cannot give the care and love needed to their existing children. I HAVE to think of those who know that the life growing inside them will not survive much beyond childbirth.
Is it MY place to decide for those women what they should do?
But then the pendulum swings again! The fertilized egg has its unique DNA. It is the most vulnerable of lives. Life is sacred. If we allow for the destruction of this most vulnerable life we are opening the lid of Pandora’s Box and the sanctity of life will be gradually eroded so that other vulnerable lives can be terminated too.
There are no easy answers. Whatever decision I make, I will never know if it’s the correct one. All I can do is keep on reflecting, allowing the pendulum to swing back and forth until it comes to rest somewhere and I tick a box on May 25th.
In the meantime, I would ask is that people who are passionate on either side would try to understand that the likes of me are trying to inform and form our own consciences and refrain from strident, emotionally charged judgment on us and on the people “on the other side”.
This is a brave and wise statement from the ACP leadership. The problem for the Church is one its leadership has created for it: it now lacks any moral authority. So when it advocates for a no vote, it will only encourage a yes vote. Therefore, the best it can do, in this referendum, is to say nothing and it is doing reasonable well so far in this regard. The purpose of an election or referendum campaign is to persuade not to teach. Clearly, the ACP leadership knows this. But it seems many of the commentators here do not.
Iggy @17 is correct. “The constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means.”This is the problem with law. It does not mean what the citizen using common sense thinks it means. It only means what the courts, generally working in luxurious conditions, far removed from ordinary life, decide it means. But life itself is not lived under ideal conditions. Life is messy.
This is a crazy legal system which has resulted in many doctors not knowing the law on abortion in Ireland. The problem is that irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, many doctors still will not know the law. One thing is very clear from the referendum campaign so far: doctors are in general very ignorant of the law and it is not their fault.
Tom @ 11 is correct regarding the law, I think, provided the courts do not question the concerned doctor’s “sound medical assessment.” The problem here is that the courts can and will continue to do whatever they wish irrespective of the outcome of this referendum. This is the problem which our mediocre political leadership has allowed to develop. This referendum, irrespective of its outcome, will sadly solve nothing.
Therefore, in my view, and I am deeply conscious here that I am not a woman, the best we can do is to vote no. What is required is a complete change of both our legal and political systems where both become truly accountable to the people. But this is not what is on offer here. Also, a Church where the voice of the Spirit, as expressed through all its members, is heard and acted on, is necessary for the Church to claim any moral authority to teach.
Also, Nuala @31 is correct. Where indeed is she @27?
Thanks Jo @43 for your honesty.
Letter to The Irish Times,
May 11th 2018
The front page of the New Scientist this week (May 5th 2018) carries a photograph of a burger with the caption that “no animals were harmed in the making of this meat.” The photograph and the article inside the magazine calls attention to the fact that many people are beginning to have ethical problems about killing animals to supply humans with meat.
In the campaign on the referendum on the 8th amendment, I have noticed that many posters focus on individual rights even when that means terminating the life of the embryo. Pope Francis in his thoughtful encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home broadens the discussion and writes that “since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient that may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of that new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away” (No 120).
Fr. Sean McDonagh,
Fr. Seán McDonagh (letter to Irish Times, comment no. 45 above) reflects well on “..many posters focus on individual rights even when that means terminating the life of the embryo.”, linking it to Pope Francis’s love poem to the planet, in his seminal encyclical, ‘LAUDATE SI-ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME'(June 2015). Therein, the Pope eloquently articulates the interconnectedness of all life: a truly holistic context founded on the realistic of Nature, framed around evidence-based science, Catholic Social Teaching and Christian theology: a theology of Integral Ecology.
Francis’ call to Integral Ecology in ‘LAUDATE SI’ has largely been ignored by the Irish hierarchy and many clergy, with little or no roll-out of pastoral programmes a local level; only sporadic groups of laity have embraced it, in any pastoral sense. Crticially, LAUDATE SI offers a radical and robust counter-cultural weight to prevailing media-driven unravelling of genuine Gospel values in Irish society.
Because fundamentally, that’s what this Referendum is about, not any Solomonistic conundrum around crisis pregnancies and well-intention government ministers calls for compassion, although compassionate action we truly and desperately need in Irish society.
Informed consciences we also need. But wisdom we need more, and in that regard, I’m deeply uncomfortable with ACP statement. Wise it is not; foolhardy it certainly is. And in it foolishness, it seems ultimately self-delusional and self-defeating. It betrays a delinquency of apostolic responsibility and prophetic vision.
In an age when we need truly prophetic clerical and non-clerical voices to radically-challenge Ireland drift into atheistic secularism and hedonism, ACP has abandoned it previous well-worn courage. Irish society has improved in many ways. But on spiritual and moral matters there are serious grounds for concern regarding commonly-held values. On what ‘post-Catholic foundations’, do we now build Irish society?! Aborition on demand?
All around we see ‘the baby being thrown out with the bathwater’: once civil values of self-restraint, neighbourliness, modesty, courtesy, self-respect, good manner, kindness, respect of elders, care of the vulnerable and powerless – are being overrun by hyper-capitalism with all its ills of ultra-consumerism and over-consumption. These ills are manifest in our multiple political, social, economic and environmental crises (after all, environmentalism is a ‘minority sport’ in Ireland – the Irish are adolescent in that respect!), whether it’s in the dysfunctional, unjust health service, the despicable failures in housing and homelessness failures, in employment (the gig-economy/precariat, and our disgracefully-despoiled urban and rural environments.
In all this, the ‘rights mentality’ prevails – mé-féinism, me-me-me, my-this, my-that (my land: was J.B Keane’s ‘The Field’ so insightful?). The extreme feministas are honest in their intents. Across Irish society and in the ‘YES Campaign’ we’re witnessing an overweening sense of entitlement to satisfaction and gratification, where ambitious ‘bodily integrity’ trumps right-to-life of the foetus.
And be in no doubt, the market will provide: it seduces and supplies self-gratification. Abortion is and will be no different: Pandora awaits to open her box in Ireland.
The naivete of ACP is disappointing and glaringly obvious. ACP leaders seem to be playing into the hands of those who would bravely bring on total abortion rights in our parliament. That’s a sad reflection on their apparent lack of political nous.
The political and media-elite and marketing twitterti are seeking to force those of a religious-spiritual sensibility out of the public square and into what they claim is a purely private, privacy matter. No longer is there – in this supposed increasingly ‘equal-tolerant Ireland’ – a place for values-based convictions. Those of religious beliefs and none, who value life from cradle to grave and dismissed as zealots, as unrealistic and cruel to pregnant women. How unjust, infantile and ultimately self-serving.
Sadly, it seems the ACP is capitulating to the lazy option of pulling its punches and retreating into that private space; cravenly following the neo-liberal ethos and ignoring the lessons of Liberation Theology and its powerful links to Eucharist (comment no. 10 by Kevin O’Higgins S.J above). It’s a cowardly retreat and once that does no justice to the once radical practices and principled statements of ACP.
I doubt if liberation theology and ecological theology really support the “No” cause in the forthcoming referendum. Liberation has to take into account the needs of women worldwide and the condition of children born of unwanted pregnancies or into a society that cannot feed them.. Ecology has to note the deleterious impact of overpopulation, and also the fact that Nature itself aborts a huge number of embryos. (Wiki: Among women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is roughly 10% to 20%, while rates among all fertilisation is around 30% to 50%.) I am not aware that there has been any serious airing of such questions in Irish debate, least of all in religious circles. In the absence of such discussion, voters may well prudently choose to maintain the status quo.
Thanks, Joe,@47, that is a very well-balanced and very pertinent point. This is such a complex issue.
The Referendum is not about whether one is in favour or not of abortion. I am surprised that so many of the contributors here have misunderstood that.
This is refreshing to read. Well done for acknowledging that life is not black and white. I cherish babies and children but will be voting YES as I almost lost my life due to ectopic pregnancies. The attitude and mindset of this piece is what is sorely lacking in Catholicism in 2018.
With exit and other polls rolling in,the Yes side have won by a landslide. Shows that the eight was a blunt instrument which should never have been inserted into the Constitution,which is a basic statement of principles and cannot cater for the many complexities that arise in matters such as this area,resulting in cases such as X case and a clinically dead pregnant woman being kept alive while courts decided the matter.No one expects the Church to teach anything but its own teachings,but handing over pulpits to militant type lay people was a step too far-many of those softened their views in final days of campaign to cater for “hard cases”,but where were they for the past thirty years? Some good religious people think they can tell the church how to behave and expect the priests to roll with if not encourage them,I have in mind places like Knock and other areas.Despite the presence of the eight we had abortions in Ireland, just that we exported them having an English solution to an Irish problem,and also bear in mind that in past Refs we gave the right to travel and information! The church will survive this,maybe a bit leaner-the skies did not fall in after the PLDP Act 2013, or the Divorce Ref 22 years ago.
Archbishop Martin to address the result of the referendum at Maynooth today.