‘more tolerant, open and respectful’ – really??

Sometimes when there’s internal conflict, it can be helpful to find an external voice that can cut through the mess of allegation and counter-allegation, and pick out important points that we might need to consider. Above all, someone who can be trusted to be fair-minded.

George Mitchell famously filled the role as he gradually and patiently edged both sides in the North of Ireland, knee-deep in conflict, towards the Good Friday agreement.

No such middle ground was available in the recent abortion referendum, so there was no chance of creating a meeting of minds between the polar opposites of ‘right to life’ and ‘right to choose’.

So maybe the most we can hope for is a clear still voice from outside that can, with the benefit of hindsight, adjudicate on a difficult campaign that divided families, communities and the country.

At first sight, Matthew Parris, the columnist in the London Times, doesn’t fit the bill. He supports women’s ‘choice’ up until a late stage of pregnancy; he doesn’t believe human life is sacred and he doesn’t believe it’s always wrong to kill the born, let alone the unborn. Predictably, as someone whose moral attitudes could hardly be farther removed from the No campaign in Ireland, he welcomed the victory of the Yes side.

But strangely he has, I think, unmasked a certain mentality that has left the No side reeling, not just because they lost the vote but because their position, defeated in the poll, is being rubbished by the Yes side. The lack of respect being shown by the Yes side to the No side is palpable.

Parris noted the comment of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when the result was announced: ‘Today (we now) have a modern constitution for a modern people. And we’re saying as a nation that we trust women and that we believe that women should be respected. The burden of shame has gone’. Ireland, he concluded, was now ‘more tolerant, open and respectful’.

Parris pointed out that Varadkar’s remarks lacked, in themselves, tolerance and respect. Because if you read his words again what they are effectively saying is that the 33% who voted No, didn’t believe women should be trusted and that they had voted for shame, intolerance and disrespect.

Taoiseach Varadkar, as befits his position, could have been more generous. It was clear that the Yes side was going to win. He could have chosen his words more carefully. He could have decided, in Parris’ words, not ‘to stigmatise’ hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens whose beliefs were as deeply held as his own. Instead he chose the kind of moral triumphalism that unfortunately has characterised the response of the Yes side in the wake of what they see as a great victory over the regressive and reactionary forces of medieval theocracy.

An example was the discussion on RTE television some days after the referendum. A panel of six, four unapologetically on the Yes side, one half-hearted No and David Quinn, a confirmed No, debated the outcome. On it Fintan O’Toole lectured David Quinn on the importance, in the new dispensation, of folding up his tent and going away.  I carry no can for either the Iona Institute or David Quinn but if this is the new Ireland then God help those who disagree with the emerging consensus. It won’t hold a candle to the control and oppressiveness of the Catholic past, and that’s saying something.

Another straw in the wind of the new Ireland is the current belief that the populist swing that delivered marriage equality and abortion has created a momentum that will deliver other key elements of the new Ireland, like divesting the Catholic Church of any perceived role in education.

Interesting too that a campaign has been initiated on Twitter to expel from An Seanad, Senator Ronan Mullen, a robust activist on the No side. Imagine if in the wake of 1983 referendum the No side, who also won by a 2 to 1, had targetted Senator Mary Robinson then on what is now the Yes side. This is moral triumphalism and political totalitarianism and has no place in public discourse. We need our leaders to do more than watch what way the wind is blowing.

During the abortion debate, a contributor on Twitter asked whether what was at issue was deciding on an amendment to the constitution or dismantling the Catholic Church. It was a telling contribution.

The space that the vast majority of No voters now find themselves in is that they feel disenfranchised both by the media and the political parties. None speak to or speak for the vast majority of No voters. Indeed Alison O’Connor, on the same Claire Byrne programme referred to this when she posed the question whether in fact the majority of people who voted no in the referendum were happy now to have the Iona Institute represent them anymore.

Equally unlikely are they to be happy, with  Sarah Louise Mulligan, the chief executive of the website ‘Irish who love President Trump”, whom Sky News, invited to discuss with Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty the views of No voters, the day before the referendum.

The problem now for the non-extremists on the No side is that they have no place to speak their voice (no media) and no place to have their views represented by politicians (no representation).

Neither ‘Renua’ or ‘Alive’ are the answer to their problem. A parishioner verbalised this on the evening of the result when she pondered why it was that anyone who spoke up for God was now regarded as somehow extreme, old-fashioned or out of touch with the ‘real world’

In the vacuum the No middle ground are further alienated by being dismissed by the Yes extremists who are ticking off their perceived enemies and in the process effectively seeking to disenfranchise a third of the population. This is not just troubling but dangerous and fundamentally regressive.

More nuanced comments from Taoiseach Varadkar might indicate that being gracious in victory is just as important as being gracious in defeat.




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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Yes, it does seem as if the triumphalist YESsers have taken up a quasi-Cromwellian damnation of ‘To Hell or Donegal’ for the vanquished NO side. But since Donegal’s Referendum result of 51.9% to 48.1% exactly equalled the BREXIT vote of 51.9% Leave to 48.1% Remain, hasn’t Ireland’s most northerly county/constituency as good a right to secede from the new ‘Free’ State to seek an at least temporary home with the Wee Six? Unfortunately, their secession might not guarantee them any greater tolerance, openness or respect as leaders of the Wee Seven.

  2. Phil Greene says:

    Thank you Brendan for articulating how I feel these days.
    Your parishioner is also spot on , were all our parents extreme “holy Joe’s”.. ? It never felt like that , just part of the fabric of human life.. (until I felt uninvited to partake of the Eucharist).

    Can the Church pull it back.. if so what is “it”?

    How can young people relate, women and men..?

    When can old-fashioned male hierarchies be dismantled?
    There can be no credible conversations going forward once this form of organisational/ management structure remains in place.. the consequences of these structures have been too horrendous for so many. And Respect is completely missing from around the table for many people – and lags far behind respect for titles, politeness and objects of art and literature etc.. These structures are indeed old-fashioned.

    Will we see “it” happen in our lifetime?

    Does anyone else see the similarity to Easter Island.. tourists wondering around statues… and asking themselves how and why..?

  3. Brian Fahy says:

    I love to read John McGahern. After his earlier disturbing stories it is his final writings that bring a resolution to his own life journey and to his story of the Ireland he knew and loved. In recent days I have re-read Memoir, his beautiful recollection of life, of his adored mother and of his sad and brutal father. Now I am re-reading his elegiac novel, That They May Face The Rising Sun. This story paints a tender picture of old Ireland, even the Ireland of my simple romantic dreams, and yet it also contains the realism and the struggles of Irish life in by gone days.

    McGahern uses conversation between his characters to tell stories and reveal attitudes that people daily life. There is gentle humour and livid anger in some of his characters, mean-spirited souls and easy going ones. Jamesie is one of his easy-going characters, and in a conversation with the Ruttledges, the main people in the story, Jamesie describes a family where two brothers grew up. One, Patrick is given all the praise and glory, while the other, Edmund is overlooked and almost forgotten about.

    ‘That’s not right,’ comes the response, to which Jamesie replies, ‘Right or wrong, Kate? There’s nothing right or wrong in this world. Only what happens.’

    As someone trained in moral theology I was stopped in my reading by this comment. What does Jamesie mean? I answered this question this way. Right and wrong are important in life and all very well but what you have to deal with is what happens to people, not whether it is right or wrong. We can spend too much time and effort pronouncing on right and wrong and not anything like enough effort on responding to the people who need our assistance. Moral theology has its place but pastoral practice is the daily issue.

    If modern Ireland is the son who now gets all the praise, then the Church in Ireland is the son who is now overlooked and largely forgotten. It may not be right but it is what happens. Many people will feel that it is only too right, given the stories of past failings and serious errors.

    John McGahern’s stories begin with dark and troubled times, very much like his own life under the harsh tyranny of a sad and intolerant father. He was castigated for his trouble by the Church-run Ireland of his youth, who laid down the law about right and wrong when the writer himself was writing about ‘what happens’. But through his writing McGahern came to peace in his own life and helped Ireland to look at herself in a more honest way. As McGahern came out of the shadow of his father’s rigid intolerance so Ireland is coming out of the long shadow of a dominating Church. That is clearly proving to be a liberating and also painful experience for many.

    I write as an outsider, an Irish-descent boy who has always loved Ireland. I do not know it like an insider, nor do I suffer as insiders do now. But I trust that as McGahern found peace through unravelling the twisted knots of his life, especially in his stories, so too the people of faith in Ireland will also come to a bright new day and be able to rest and to face the rising sun.

    Brian Fahy

  4. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    What the Taoiseach said on the Referendum result is certainly ones-sided and lacking in nuance. It is also remarkable how he responded in an interview of nearly 20 minutes with Seán O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1 on 18 May, a week before the Referendum. I downloaded the podcast to be sure of what I heard. Of several questionable responses of the Taoiseach, I will address just one matter.
    Seán O’Rourke opened by putting it to Mr Varadkar: “Effectively you’re talking of a proposal that involves taking lives.” The Taoiseach responded but did not address that point.
    Seán O’Rourke came back right away, quoting Nuala O’Loan on a woman’s right to choose: “They rarely speak of what she is choosing to do. It’s all about the woman, not about her little boy or girl whose life is being terminated.”
    The Taoiseach again did not address the substance of the matter, but said: “The view that I would take and I hope the majority of people in the country will take is that this really is a personal and private matter… Everyone has the right to their own individual sense of morality. ”
    Seán O’Rourke tried a different angle: “Do you regard it as dealing with two patients rather than one?” The Taoiseach gave no straight answer.
    Seán O’Rourke tried a fourth time: “You haven’t answered either the question, Do you agree that abortion is taking a life?, or: Do you believe that you are dealing with one patient or two?” The Taoiseach talked around the second question: “The patient you’re dealing with is the patient in front of you. That’s the woman… Obviously at a later stage in pregnancy beyond viability or if the pregnancy is wanted, in that scenario it is two patients.”
    The first question: “Do you agree that abortion is taking a life?” still remained unanswered.
    It’s not that the Taoiseach does not know the answer. He is a medical doctor. In addition, he and his government published a draft of the legislation which would follow the passing of the Referendum. The definitions under Head 1 say: “’termination of pregnancy’ means a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus.”
    He could have said: “Yes, it involves ending lives. It is regrettable, but sometimes it is necessary.” At least it would be an answer. Instead, he repeatedly evaded the question.
    It leaves us with the question: Why did the Taoiseach, leader of our government, not speak the truth?

    1. Brian Fahy says:

      Right and wrong

      Tom Selleck plays a strong, straight-talking cop, Jesse Stone, police chief of a small coastal town called Paradise. But even small, coastal towns called Paradise can be anything but and Jesse Stone finds his work cut out with all the usual troubles that haunt and hinder ordinary people in the living of their lives.

      In a conversation with a troubled teenager who hates her violent father, Jesse Stone explains that he deals with the legal and the illegal, not with right and wrong. Lots of things, right and wrong, go unaddressed and unpunished, and this girl’s life is unfairly oppressed by the cruelty of her father. But Jesse has this to say to his troubled teenager. ‘Most people know what is right and what is wrong. It’s just that doing it gets a little complicated.’

      Most people know that abortion means the ending of a life, the terminating of something that has begun to grow, but other factors, human situations, sorrows and confusions crowd in to make abortion a seeming solution to sudden problems. The immense story of women’s suffering and relegation in the uncaring world of men has brought us to the place we find our selves in today.

      Most people say that abortion is a regrettable procedure and in so doing we acknowledge an instinctive recognition of the rights and wrongs of the matter, but as Jesse Stone points out, knowing what is right and being able to do it can be quite a difficult thing.

      For those who believe in God the issue is a matter of acknowledging the beginnings of life in the body. For those who believe that this life is all there is, then the individual freedom to do what I can to direct my own circumstances seems to be the first right we might claim.

      We need to keep listening to each other’s stories and to draw closer to one another. Gamaliel of old counselled his contemporaries against using hostility and pressure to persecute the nascent followers of the Lord. Powerful influences are all around us and we are all affected by the spirit of the times and the strength of the wind that blows. But I find Jesse Stone’s insight a great help in dealing with life’s everyday problems.

      ‘Most people know what is right and wrong. It is just that doing it gets a little complicated.’

      Brian Fahy
      16 June 2018

  5. Con Devree says:

    I think the writer of # 3 and # 5 might take the opportunity to qualify the conclusions drawn in those contributions. For instance the analysis of # 3 is not adequate to address the issue raised in #4.

    In John 19:11 Jesus informed Pilate that “Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin.” Is it not the case that trumping truth with pastoral practice independent of truth is what Christ contradicted here, as he also did in his discourse with the Samarian Woman? (John 4) Addressing issues of right and wrong is central to the good of those “who need our assistance.”

    In # 5 the quotation ‘Most people know what is right and wrong. It is just that doing it gets a little complicated’ is true. But the statement dilutes the fact that grace is intended to bring nature to the supernatural end for which God created it. To quote St Basil “We have received interiorly beforehand the capacity and disposition for observing all divine commandments.”

    Speaking as one who has been involved in prolife activity since 2012, it’s best to draw a line – the referendum is over and it is time to move on. One recalls St Paul writing, from prison no less, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) The Catholicism of those seeking to be faithful to Church teaching has not taken a hit. We have the Holy Mass, the sacraments, the Magisterium, the Bible, the saints in heaven. There is trouble ahead, outlined by the then Father Joseph Ratzinger as far back as 1969. (Available on the internet)

    It should be apparent that the assumption that the Church has to “get with it” if Catholics are to sow the leaven of the Gospel in the postmodern world was/is a mirage. Lowering the sign of contradiction facilitated the “yes” responses outlined in the article above. It’s no surprise. Grasping for approval from people whose lives manifest their disdain for the Catholic idea of the sacred and the Church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person did/does not constitute evangelisation. It merely signals that we’re not really serious about the stuff the cultural elites find objectionable in Catholicism.

    I finish with an excerpt from a note received from the Bishop of Elphin, post referendum:
    “I believe that, in addition to redoubling our prayer, there are three things in particular that we Catholics must do now. We need to takes steps to ensure that each of our parishes is
    • a community of evangelisation – a place where the Gospel is preached, celebrated and lived with integrity
    • a community of reconciliation and healing, so that those who are on the margins are drawn into
    • a community of care for women, for unborn children and indeed for all the other people whose lives we are pledged to respect and protect
    It’s a big task for a “minority”, but the Church of the Apostles was also a minority. What worked for them was their faith in Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Their authentic love for one another was what attracted others to join them.”

  6. Paddy Ferry says:

    “but if this is the new Ireland then God help those who disagree with the emerging consensus. It won’t hold a candle to the control and oppressiveness of the Catholic past, and that’s saying something.”

    Brendan, I don’t think so.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Padraig, Varadkar’s answer is pragmatic “The patient you’re dealing with is the patient in front of you. That’s the woman… Obviously at a later stage in pregnancy beyond viability or if the pregnancy is wanted, in that scenario it is two patients.”

    Teasing out the ontology, he probably (now) believes that a full human individual life is not present until viability, but the potential human life represented by a foetus can be treated proleptically as such a fully formed human life.

    I think everyone agrees that abortion is an “act of death” as the French bishops described it in pre-John Paul II days, but it is wrong to equate fetal death with homicide.

  8. Mary Vallely says:

    Brendan Hoban’s wise words are always worth reflection. There is such polarisation in the country after the Referendum which is why it is so important that we continue to dialogue, to listen with respect to each other.
    Armagh Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission is organising such a conversation on Saturday 7 July in The Carrickdale Hotel just across the border in Louth. Details on the ACI website. You are most welcome. http://www.acireland.ie

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    Catholic thinking on the moral and ontological status of the fetus was quite fluid in relatively recent times, as is indicated by a wiki page:

    “While Liguori mentioned the distinction then made between animate and inanimate fetuses, he explained that there was no agreement about when the soul is infused, with many holding that it happens at the moment of conception, and said that the Church kindly followed the 40-day opinion when applying the penalties of irregularity and excommunication only on those who knowingly procured abortion of an animate fetus.”

    “A disapproving letter published in the New York Medical Record in 1895 spoke of the Jesuit Augustine Lehmkuhl as considering craniotomy lawful when used to save the mother’s life.The origin of the report was an article in a German medical journal denounced as false in the American Ecclesiastical Review of the same year, which said that while Lehmkuhl had at an earlier stage of discussion admitted doubts and advanced tentative ideas, he had later adopted a view in full accord with the negative decision pronounced in 1884 and 1889 by the Sacred Penitentiary, which in 1869 had refrained from making a pronouncement….

    “Craniotomy was thus prohibited in 1884 and again in 1889. In 1895 the Holy See excluded the inducing of non-viable premature birth and in 1889 established the principle that any direct killing of either fetus or mother is wrong; [only in 1889?!?]

    in 1902 it ruled out the direct removal of an ectopic embryo to save the mother’s life, but did not forbid the removal of the infected fallopian tube, thus causing an indirect abortion.”

    Doctors implementing the 8th Amendment were supposed to know that an ectopic pregnancy could be terminated under the “double effect” rule. But was this clarified in political (as opposed to episcopal) discourse? In fact it is a very recent church teaching. Thirty years before the 1983 referendum it was still unclarified: “An ectopic pregnancy is one of a few cases where the foreseeable death of an embryo is allowed, since it is categorized as an indirect abortion. This view was also advocated by Pius XII in a 1953 address to the Italian Association of Urology.”

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Padraig, Sean O’Rourke’s line of questioning is based on the presupposition that “human being” (e.g. fetus) = “human person.” But “rhe modern magisterium has carefully avoided confusing “human being” with “human person”, and avoids the conclusion that every embryonic human being is a person, which would raise the question of “ensoulment” and immortal destiny.” The fact that most zygotes are aborted by Nature herself influences the Magisterium’s restraint here.

    The CDF in Donum Vitae (2009 seems, however, to assert that even a zygote is a human individual and as such necessarily also a human person:

    “This Congregation is aware of the current debates concerning the beginning of human life, concerning the individuality of the human being and concerning the identity of the human person. The Congregation recalls the teachings found in the Declaration on Procured Abortion: “From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a new life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. To this perpetual evidence … modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has demonstrated that, from the first instant, the programme is fixed as to what this living being will be: a man, this individual-man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of a human life, and each of its great capacities requires time … to find its place and to be in a position to act”. This teaching remains valid and is further confirmed, if confirmation were needed, by recent findings of human biological science which recognize that in the zygote resulting from fertilization the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted. Certainly no experimental datum can be in itself sufficient to bring us to the recognition of a spiritual soul; nevertheless, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of this first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person? The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable.”

    I’m still unclear how they can say the zygote will be “this individual man”, since it can split into two, and two can fuse into one, during the first two weeks of existence.

  11. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Joe #8:
    “Varadkar’s answer is pragmatic.” Interesting word. Could suggest: “Whatever will get me the result I want”, or, “Whatever will help me avoid trouble.”
    Pilate’s response was pragmatic. Tiananmen Square got a pragmatic response.

    The clear answer to the first question was: “Yes, it is ending a life.” The clear answer to the second question was: “Yes, there are two human lives in front of me: two patients, one carried within the other.”

    “It is wrong to equate fetal death with homicide.”
    Is it wrong to equate patricide or matricide or infanticide with homicide?
    Is it a useful question to pose? What does “equate” mean in this context? If we take the Latin word “homo” to mean any human being, then feticide is homicide, however we may decide to deal with the matter.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Declaration on Procured Abortion of 1974 honours the classical distinction between the foetus which is not yet ensouled and the ensouled foetus which is a human person, and it admits that no one knows when the foetus becomes a human person. It warns against the RISK of murder, rather than taking the absolutist position that all foeticide is murder.

    Also it sounds quite nuanced on the issue of legislation, so much so that I am left wondering if Catholic doctrine actually would forbid a Yes vote in the recent referendum:

    19. The moral discussion is being accompanied more or less everywhere by serious juridical debates. There is no country where legislation does not forbid and punish murder. Furthermore, many countries had specifically applied this condemnation and these penalties to the particular case of procured abortion. In these days a vast body of opinion petitions the liberalization of this latter prohibition. There already exists a fairly general tendency which seeks to limit, as far as possible, all restrictive legislation, especially when it seems to touch upon private life. The argument of pluralism is also used. Although many citizens, in particular the Catholic faithful, condemn abortion, many others hold that it is licit, at least as a lesser evil. Why force them to follow an opinion which is not theirs, especially in a country where they are in the majority? In addition it is apparent that, where they still exist, the laws condemning abortion appear difficult to apply. The crime has become too common for it to be punished every time, and the public authorities often find that it is wiser to close their eyes to it. But the preservation of a law which is not applied is always to the detriment of authority and of all the other laws. It must be added that clandestine abortion puts women, who resign themselves to it and have recourse to it, in the most serious dangers for future pregnancies and also in many cases for their lives. Even if the legislator continues to regard abortion as an evil, may he not propose to restrict its damage?

    20. These arguments and others in addition that are heard from varying quarters are not conclusive. It is true that civil law cannot expect to cover the whole field of morality or to punish all faults. No one expects it to do so. It must often tolerate what is in fact a lesser evil, in order to avoid a greater one. One must, however, be attentive to what a change in legislation can represent. Many will take as authorization what is perhaps only the abstention from punishment. Even more, in the present case, this very renunciation seems at the very least to admit that the legislator no longer considers abortion a crime against human life, since murder is still always severely punished. It is true that it is not the task of the law to choose between points of view or to impose one rather than another. But the life of the child takes precedence over all opinions. One cannot invoke freedom of thought to destroy this life.

    21. The role of law is not to record what is done, hut to help in promoting improvement. It is at all times the task of the State to preserve each person’s rights and to protect the weakest. In order to do so the State will have to right many wrongs. The law is not obliged to sanction everything, but it cannot act contrary to a law which is deeper and more majestic than any human law: the natural law engraved in men’s hearts by the Creator as a norm which reason clarifies and strives to formulate properly, and which one must always struggle to understand better, but which it is always wrong to contradict. Human law can abstain from punishment, but it cannot declare to be right what would be opposed to the natural law, for this opposition suffices to give the assurance that a law is not a law at all.

  13. Paddy Ferry says:

    Joe. I can only say I am so impressed with your posts @10 and @11.
    We are all so fortunate to have your incredibly well informed contributions to debate on this site.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    I’m not well-informed at all — just catching up. I think we’ve all been kept in the dark and misinformed for a long time, and it is women who have borne the brunt of our naivety.

  15. Con Devree says:

    “The Declaration on Procured Abortion of 1974 … warns against the RISK of murder, rather than taking the absolutist position that all foeticide is murder.”

    The declaration is as close to absolute as makes no difference.

    The first relevant text from The Declaration reads: “From a moral point of view this is certain: even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder. ‘The one who will be a man is already one.’” (Par 13)

    This quotation in effect expresses a doubt as to whether any doubt exists “concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person.” The effect is to make the risk of murder all the greater. (a word I don’t use myself)

    This risk is further reinforced in footnote 19 to wit: “it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.”

    The Declaration buttresses this philosophical conclusion by declaring that “The least that can be said is that present science, in its most evolved state, does not give any substantial support to those who defend abortion. (Par 13)

    Furthermore paragraph 7 establishes that irrespective of ensoulment, abortion is an objectively a grave fault:

    “In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine – the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods. But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault. This condemnation was in fact unanimous.”

    In terms of whether “Catholic doctrine actually would forbid a Yes vote in the recent referendum” paragraph 22 states that: “man can never obey a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion. Additionally “It is at all times the task of the State to preserve each person’s rights and to protect the weakest.” (Par 21) And “in reality, respect for human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins. (Par 12)

  16. Joe O'Leary says:

    Well of course the CDF condemns abortion in all circumstances, but in the passage I quoted there is quite a nuanced discussion that could be invoked to say that a Catholic would not be obliged to vote No in the recent referendum; to repeat: “In addition it is apparent that, where they still exist, the laws condemning abortion appear difficult to apply. The crime has become too common for it to be punished every time, and the public authorities often find that it is wiser to close their eyes to it. But the preservation of a law which is not applied is always to the detriment of authority and of all the other laws. It must be added that clandestine abortion puts women, who resign themselves to it and have recourse to it, in the most serious dangers for future pregnancies and also in many cases for their lives. Even if the legislator continues to regard abortion as an evil, may he not propose to restrict its damage?
    20. These arguments and others in addition that are heard from varying quarters are not conclusive. It is true that civil law cannot expect to cover the whole field of morality or to punish all faults. No one expects it to do so. It must often tolerate what is in fact a lesser evil, in order to avoid a greater one. One must, however, be attentive to what a change in legislation can represent. Many will take as authorization what is perhaps only the abstention from punishment.”

    Note that bishop Doran did not say those who voted Yes should consider going to confession, but only that those who voted Yes willing abortion positively should do so.

    Note also the silence of the Vatican.

    There still remains the enigma of trying to claim a just conceived zygote is a human Person, since the zygote can become two or two fuse into one. The document avoids coming straight out an making the implausible claim, instead resorting to a quote from Tertullian. “Irrespective of ensoulment” admits that the Vatican does not know when the soul begins to be present.

  17. Eddie Finnegan says:

    World media, including this site, often welcome Pope Francis’s off-script off-the-cuff obiter dicta, in so far as they may reveal the real Francis, even if his Vatican handlers rush in to tidy them up and tell us what he really meant. On Saturday, however, he wasn’t on a return flight fielding questions from reporters and there will be no great welcome from this or other media nor hasty handlers’ clarifications of his analogy with Nazi eugenics of the 1930s-40s: “Last century, the whole world was scandalised by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves.” Francis was addressing the Italian Family Association in what may be a sort of dry run for an August script for Dublin Castle, Croker or Phoenix Park. Leo and Mícheál, Mary Lou, Michelle and the rest of us who have quite recently flipped our convictions shouldn’t be too surprised.

    Francis is saying no more than he has already said in New Year Greetings to diplomats in 2014 and 2018, and no doubt on other occasions. There he couched his remarks on abortion and euthanasia within his frequent theme of “our throwaway culture” and within the wider “consistent ethic of life” which the late Cardinal Bernardin developed from Pax Christi co-founder Eileen Egan’s ‘seamless garment’ or ‘seamless robe’ metaphor of nearly half a century ago. “When human life is considered cheap or easily expendable,” as Bernardin put it, ” eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.” It’s a womb to tomb business, stupid. Not only the Irish Catholic Bishops, in drawing up strategy for their newly announced “Council for Life”, but all members of the Oireachtas and of Stormont in ALL their future social legislation, need to adopt that consistent ethic of life. The ACP and ACI could be leading persuaders in that regard for both Church and Society.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    I stumbled on an excellent article on abortion in the Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (2000), which pleads convincingly for a middle ground amid the clash of absolutisms. If Pope Francis starts comparing Irish women, doctors, and politicians with Nazis he will let slip the dogs of moral civil war, which the recent referendum debates wisely kept in their kennels. Of course the protection of life from womb to tomb is a Christian cause, which is why abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. We should protect the zygote as far as is humanly possible — but I don’t hear anyone urging the church or governments to step in and do something to save the millions of zygotes aborted by Nature. We should also protect the life of those who are dying as far as is humanly possible, but it is not protection to subject them to torture on their deathbeds.

  19. Con Devree says:

    “Well of course the CDF condemns abortion in all circumstances.” Good. That is the core of the Declaration.

    As a part of Church teaching it facilitates looking forward. It provides one of the pathways provided by God to pursue the search for Him in the context of the ambient culture in Ireland. In terms of sociology, and eschewing moralism, the said culture has largely not “lost” the faith, but freely given it up. In an accelerated fashion it has increasingly taken steps to prevent the Christian heritage from being legally heard. The very idea of a hearing is itself increasingly rejected.

    Those Catholics who seek to be faithful to Church teaching can learn from St Benedict and his monks. They were not interested in looking back in terms of mea culpas and of blame games. They had no interest in reviving a culture from the past, nor indeed of designing and creating a new one. One of the primary aspects of those monks’ practice to learn from, in simple albeit general terms, was to seek to be brought into conversation with God by God Himself through His Word.

    There are two essential concepts (inter alia) of the Jesus involved here. One is that of Him who commands the winds rather than simply being in tune with them in the mode of an exemplary modern.

    A second is that of compassion, a mistaken but fashionable perception of which was commandeered by the exemplary moderns in recent years. Operating by itself, in isolation from the other virtues, compassion can motivate every manner of evil—the extinguishing of prenatal life in abortion and of the disabled and the frail elderly in euthanasia. At all times and in all places compassion requires the presence of the other virtues. The virtues are integrally connected to one other. Deficits in the other virtues can create a conviction that compassion a la kindness calls for variations of life extinction.

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    “as far as is humanly possible” — I’d add, “as far as is humanely possible.” Note that some embroyos may be condemned to torture in the womb, with no chance of survival. So “safe” could be not just for the mother (the many women taking unsupervised abortion pills for example) but for the fetus.

  21. Con Devree says:


    Human beings as human beings distinguish between death by natural causes and death at the hands of another human being. Historically humanity has expressed a natural drive to find cures for those processes of nature which left to themselves cause death. This applies to any stage of development of the human being, from zygote to dotage. But humanity has not yet found the cure for all the processes arising from nature that cause death, and as recent cases in the United Kingdom illustrate, humanity tends to recognise when such incapacities arise.

    However humanity would not use this failure to find cures to justify one person gratuitously terminating the life of another, irrespective of the stage of development of that other, zygote to dotage. It is not in the gift of the state to make such termination legal. The process is never safe. In the times we live in it is not rare. The triune objective of “safe, legal and rare” as it pertains to abortion is nothing more than an attempted social construct.

    Natural intelligence prescribes that solutions to human problems be addressed in the context of life. Seeking to solve the problems of some peoples’ lives in the context of the death of others is not intelligent. Seeking the middle ground is so often laudatory but the said middle ground must situate itself in the context of life.

  22. Joe O'Leary says:

    The context of Pope Francis’s impromptu remarks is abortion of foetuses with conditions such as Dowm Syndrome. I think it’s a mistake to invoke Nazi eugenics here. First, we are dealing with the free choice of the potential parents, not with a State imposition; second, we are dealing with abortion not infanticide; third, the motive would not be a racist ideology but the understandable choice of potential parents who just do not feel capable of taking on the burden. It’s all a very troubling and upsetting matter, and therefore not one to be discussed with parallels that do not fit.

  23. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Historically humanity has expressed a natural drive to find cures for those processes of nature which left to themselves cause death. This applies to any stage of development of the human being, from zygote to dotage.”

    Can you give any example of anyone trying to stop the natural abortion of millions of zygotes? Has the Church ever expressed interest in this?

  24. Con Devree says:

    # 25
    Both sentences you quote simply refer to the natural tendency that humanity has historically shown to address, diagnose and seek to cure illness in people where possible at any age of stage of development of the person concerned. I intended “zygote to dotage” to be figurative.

    Both sentences also counter an assertion that might be made that just as nature aborts zygotes, human beings similarly have freedom to imitate nature and abort them. Just as humanity does not seek to keep adults alive at any cost when life reaches a stage that death from natural causes is the only rational outcome, neither do we seek to correct the forces of nature that are not approachable by us.

    The Referendum is over. Tucking into His pastures is already providing a tonic.

  25. Margaret Hickey says:

    ‘Abortion isn’t infanticide’.Both are acts of killing a human life. Arguments around ensoulment are like counting angels on the head of a pin. What we can ascertain is whether or not a living human being exists. Pregnancy begins at implantation in Irish law and presumably all other jurisdictions. Abortion can only happen post implantation so your discussion about zygote science does not apply in this discussion. While you are correct in saying that Nazi parallels are wide in that abortion does not differentiate racially you must know that it differentias on grounds like gender and disability. You forget that the actual process of abortion is barbaric and you are wrong to suggest that it is more humane than delivery at full term (in cases of FFA to use the questionable phrase)

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