Some Reactions to the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment

Bishop Kevin Doran, Elphin and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Dublin

A leading bishop has called on Catholics who voted ‘Yes’ in the abortion referendum to “consider coming to confession”.

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said today that those who want to come to confession “will be received with the same compassion as any other penitent”.

When questioned by Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One, Bishop Doran replied; “Voting ‘Yes’ was a sin.”

Bishop Doran’s comments come after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the church’s influence in Ireland is under threat after the landslide victory for the ‘Yes’ campaign in the abortion referendum.

Dr Diarmuid Martin told mass-goers yesterday morning that many will see yesterday’s vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment as an indication that the Church is now widely regarded with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of culture in Ireland.

He also said he Church may be seen as “lacking in compassion”.


Michael Burrows, Church of Ireland  Bishop of Cashel, Ferns, and Ossory,

A Church of Ireland bishop has welcomed the Yes vote in last Friday’s referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Michael Burrows, the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns, and Ossory, said “I personally feel a genuine satisfaction at this time to be a citizen of a Republic which faces uncomfortable truths about itself, and which allows women in particular to tell their stories with candour and clarity.

“There will be those who will see the referendum result somehow as a rebuke to the voice of faith in our society. I react very differently… I do not sense that as citizens that we are taking leave of our moral compass, or ceasing to recognise the complex balancing of factors that lies at the heart of ethical decision making.”

Bishop Burrows said that, for him, there was “an exhilarating challenge in presenting the faith in a fresh way to a changing nation.

“We are now placed in a society which asks hard questions, dislikes hypocrisy and will offer attentive respect only to those who earn it through the integrity, depth and courage of their contributions to public discourse.”

An tEaspag Fionntan Ó Monacháin, Chill Dalua

Dúirt an tEaspag Ó Monacháin gur ceist chasta í ceist líon na gCaitliceach a vótáil ar son na haisghairme ach nach aon chabhair é a bheith ag caint faoi dhaoine a dhíbirt ón Eaglais toisc gur vótáil siad ‘Tá’ sa reifreann ginmhillte.

“Is ceist fhíordheacair é sin.  Is Eaglais é agus tá go leor daoine le tuairimí difriúla agus caithfidh muid glacadh leis go bhfuil sé mar sin.  Ní dóigh liom gur cabhair é a rá nach féidir leat a bheith i do Chaitliceach, mar bheadh go leor daoine imithe ansin.  An dearcadh a bheadh ag an bPápa ná má tá aon dóchas ann go mbeidh daoine go mbeidh creideamh acu agus go mbeidh siad ag leanacht rialacha Íosa Críost, gan iad a chaitheamh amach ar fad as an Eaglais… Ach tá sé deacair an teannas sin a choinneáil agus an dá thaobh a choinneáil le chéile,” a dúirt an tEaspag Ó Monacháin agus é faoi agallamh ar an gclár Adhmhaidin ar RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta inniu.

 Thomas Reese S.J.

The overwhelming vote in Ireland in favor of allowing access to abortion shows that the pro-life movement needs a new strategy. Trying to preserve anti-abortion laws or trying to reverse the legalization of abortion is simply not working.

In almost every country where abortion has been on the ballot, abortion has won. Rarely have pro-choice laws been reversed. This trend is not going to change. To think otherwise is simply ignoring reality.

The American pro-life movement still holds out hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade, but even if that does happen, most Americans will still live in states where abortion is legal. Those who don’t will be able to travel to a state where it is, just as Irish women have long traveled to Britain.

The reality is that most Americans think that abortion should be legal even if they think it is immoral. There is no indication that this thinking will change. In fact, opinion is moving in the opposite direction, thanks to the attitudes of younger generations. The Pew Research Center shows Americans under 50 are more likely than their elders to support abortion in all or most cases. Likewise, in Ireland, younger people voted more strongly to change the law. Time is on the side of the pro-choice movement.

If making abortion illegal is an impossible goal, what should be the pro-life strategy for the foreseeable future?

The answer is simple and obvious: work to reduce the number of abortions.

When women are asked why they are having an abortion, the main reasons given are that having a baby would interfere with their education, their work or their ability to care for the children they are already raising, or that they simply cannot afford another child at the time.

Pro-life activists must take these reasons into consideration when developing a new strategy.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, Armagh

Like many others who advocated a NO vote in the referendum, I am deeply saddened that we appear to have obliterated the right to life of all unborn children from our constitution and that this country is now on the brink of legislating for a liberal abortion regime.

I am very concerned about the implications for society of interfering with the fundamental principle that the value of all human life is equal and that all human beings, born and unborn, have inherent worth and dignity.  At a time when scientific and medical evidence is clearer than ever about the beginning of life, we have effectively decided that some human lives – in this case the lives of the unborn – are less significant and deserving of protection than others.

We have elevated the right to personal choice above the fundamental right to life itself.


Tina Beattie, Professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, London,

“The “yes” vote is not a cause for celebration. It is a “yes” to respecting the freedom of conscience and moral autonomy of women in situations that no woman or girl should ever find herself in, whatever the conditions of her conceiving and whatever the reasons for her not wanting to carry the child to term. I only hope that now, those who use the language of killing and murder will pause for thought, and I say this particularly with regard to my co-Catholics. How might Catholics accommodate this decision within their moral understanding and church teaching?

“Catholic moral teaching is rooted in reason and in a fundamentally positive anthropology. Human beings by nature are good, even though distorted desire can get us into situations of deep sin and wrongdoing. But also, Catholic teaching upholds the common good and the just society by distinguishing between morality and legality. The law should only be used to protect the common good – not to police people’s consciences. So even if I as a Catholic believe that abortion is gravely sinful, that alone does not justify criminalising it. But there are limits with regard to moral autonomy, and those limits are and always have been decided around issues of the common good and shared social values in the western tradition.


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  1. William Herlihy says:

    What planet are the Bishops living on?
    Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran says people who voted Yes ‘knowing and intending that abortion would be the outcome’ should consider attending confession.
    The people who voted yes,followed their God given conscience and voted accordingly.The majority of whom do not attend Church,never mind going to confession.
    The Catholic Church in Ireland is dying,just take one example:
    first Holy Communion, has become a one day pageant,the majority, of the children will not attend church again until Confirmation.
    To quote Fr James Mallon,if the Church continues on its present course.
    It is simply managing decline.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    As the Irish Times points out, it’s not all the bishops who live on that “planet”; only one!

    “That collective moan you may have heard reverberating across Ireland on Monday morning was from Ireland’s Catholic bishops. It was not delayed reaction to the results of last Friday’s referendum. Instead, they were listening to RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Sean O’Rourke and it had been announced that Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran was a guest.”

  3. Frances Burke says:

    The IT were well aware of what they were doing when they contacted Bishop Doran for a comment. And boy did he deliver another clanger for them to fill their column inches.

    Is Bishop Doran aware of the how he is being played by the media? Is he aware of the negative effect his proclamations are having on the Church?

  4. Patsy McGarry says:

    Frances (Burke),

    …for the record, The Irish Times did not contact Bishop Doran nor did he make those comments to our newspaper.

    He did so on RTE Radio 1’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme…

  5. Con Devree says:

    Those who have been active in pro-life activity either recently or over the years should be grateful that they had the opportunity and took it to fight against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. They should be grateful to all the leaders who facilitated them. Their involvement will always be a source of personal affirmation.

    Supplanting a culture of life with a culture of death can never in logic or reason be termed a victory. Ireland has moved a bit closer to China in terms of human rights. The overall culture has been diminished.

    Whereas the media encouraged and promoted a pro-repeal overall position, I don’t not blame them for the outcome. Those who adopted the culture of death did not need pushing.

    The losers are the cherry-picked unborn and the women. The latter for two reasons. Abortion has serious downsides for many women’s health. And already some female commentary reflects secular sociological studies which show that abortion on demand benefits men who do not want to commit to marriage and/or those who like to “play the field.”

    In time Catholicism will benefit as it declines in numbers, differentiating itself from its ambient culture, escaping from a single culture nucleus to a more multicultural faith-based one. Hopefully Bishop Doran has started the ball rolling in this latter direction.

  6. Frances Burke says:

    Patsy @4

    Apologies. I stand corrected and wish to withdraw that remark.

  7. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Why has no one noticed the significance of the ‘IF’ in Bishop Doran’s statement?

    He did NOT say “Voting ‘Yes’ was a sin.” as flatly stated above. He said, according to the Irish Times verbatim:

    “IF you voted Yes knowing and intending that abortion would be the outcome then you should consider coming to confession.”

    This clearly implies that Bishop Doran is allowing for the possibility that there could be OTHER reasons for voting ‘Yes’ than support for abortion per se.

    It is not clear what other reason(s) he may have had in mind, but all of us can supply possibilities, e.g.:

    Being totally fed up with ‘patriarchy’ and anxious to play a part in ending it;

    Doubting that the continued criminalisation of the practice by a male establishment could be effective in ending it – if that strategy seems more effective in alienating the most obvious ‘first responder’ to the cause of the child in the womb, viz. the woman carrying it;

    A more fuzzy desire to show solidarity with women generally;

    Total alienation from half-a-century of Irish Catholic denial of dialogue between clergy and laity over issues of sexuality and procreation, beginning in 1968 with Humanae Vitae.

    In the course of the ‘No’ campaign did ANY ‘No’ supporting Irish Catholic bishop ever raise the possibility that ‘Yes’ to repeal of the 8th amendment could mean anything other than ‘Yes’ to abortion?

    If not, why exactly is Bishop Doran alone being pilloried for implying such a possibility now?

  8. declan cooney says:

    Well done Bishop Doran. A true pastor to his flock and not a hired hand who runs away when he sees the wolves coming to eat the little lambs.
    We need more like him to fight this evil of abortion (40 m worldwide according to WHO ! Shocking !!) and its politico-media slaves.

    1. Brian Fahy says:

      Life and logic

      There is a catholic logic, which is clear and simple according to its own parameters. If God is to be worshipped and this is the highest good, and if Mass is the worship of God, and you miss Mass deliberately, then the bottom line is ‘mortal sin’. It makes pure and simple sense. It is simple arithmetic and we were taught that long ago. Then followed all the reasons why for most people it is not mortal sin at all, due to lack of understanding or reception of this knowledge. But the church had a brilliant way of damning you first of all and then letting you off with a warning.
      In the same way the terminating of the conceptus is the wilful ending of a human life in its very beginnings. Human life is the highest value, and so to end it by any intervention is the gravest sin. And by extension, to vote for a law that allows this is cooperation in that sin and so a sin also. So everyone who votes for the legislation has sinned. The logic cannot be clearer, but this logic is far removed from what human life is actually like.

      We act according to our understanding of things and our responsibility is to be faithful to the understanding that we have. I think everyone in Ireland voted for what they believe to be the kindest and most compassionate thing to do in this most fraught of social issues. The difference in the vote of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is a difference of perception of reality, a difference of understanding and evaluating the order of priorities and values to be upheld.

      Ireland is now unravelling the years of church and state entanglement and this is highly necessary. Living my Irish descent life in the UK I have always been familiar with the reduced status and position of the Church in British society. It is a far easier condition to inhabit. Even as a young boy I felt the oppressive over-lordship of the church in Ireland and on the Irish people. Ireland and its people will be far better off when this unravelling is fully achieved.

      Pope Francis has a great devotion of Our Lady as the un-tier of knots. All the knots that have tied people up in Ireland are steadily being undone. It will be a good and healthy result when the lines are clear again and the church can become leaven in the dough once more.

      Logic has its place in our thinking but logic was never able to be the measure of life or how human beings struggle to find their way. Moral theology is the story of how compassionate priests, for example Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, came to realise that strictness in attitude to people’s daily struggles is cruel and even heartless, whereas kindly understanding finds a middle way in which to challenge people and support them in all they try to do.

      God bless all the people in Ireland, north and south, in these fast changing days and help us to listen kindly to one another and to the way we see things.

      Brian Fahy

  9. Con Devree says:

    #10 “We act according to our understanding of things and our responsibility is to be faithful to the understanding that we have.”

    This is a robust justification for the action of Bishop Doran.

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    “This is a robust justification for the action of Bishop Doran.”

    No doubt he is following his conscience, but he would have done better to make explicit that he respects the freedom of conscience of Yes voters.

  11. Paddy Ferry says:

    At least Bishop Doran did not advocate the Cardinal Brandmuller solution.

  12. Con Devree says:

    But according to # 10, has he (Bishop Doran) not got the right “be faithful to the understanding” he himself has of anything, including conscience, and not be subject to the understanding of anyone else.

  13. declan cooney says:

    We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality. Quote by Ayn Rand. Sin is a reality and we ignore it at our peril, eternal peril. So any good pastor like Bishop Doran does justice to the Truth (God) by reminding his flock that “Thy (God’s) Will be Done” and not allow our personal opinion vote Our Heavenly Father out of the picture.

  14. Ann Keevans says:

    Maybe the Church should reflect now that while abortion will be legal in Ireland they still have not lifted the ban on contraception even though the majority of catholic women in Ireland and elsewhere ignore It.
    Also in the past many women had very large families regardless of whether they were physically , emotionally, or financially able to endure the lifelong burden of rearing, educating, providing for their children adequately over decades. Many of these women were forced to give up good careers due to the marriage ban.
    Today’s generation of young educated women and men make their own decisions and plan their families. Many older women and men agree with them as they themselves have lived and struggled to bring up families of anything between 6 and 14 children and they do not want their daughters to endure what they went through. We are now witnessing women finally taking control over their own lives.The Church teaches that abortion is wrong from conception to birth even in the early stages. At the same time the Church more or less ignores miscarriage as a non event even though thousands of miscarriages happen every year. There are no funerals for these lost babies. Only women truly know all the joys, sorrows and pain of childbearing and the toll that it may have on their health and well being. This is not a black and white issue.

  15. Margaret Hickey says:

    Joe @2A bishop preaching church teaching should not be something controversial, wherever his platform. So what if Bishop Doran of Elphin pulls hierarchical rank rather as Mary Lou McDonald, Leader of Sinn Fein, does in a political context when she sanctions party members like Peadar Toibin for opposing the party’s policy on abortion ?

    If everyone took the time to carefully register exactly what is was the Bishop said it can be seen that the Catholic Church is far more accommodating of individual conscience than political organizations like Sinn Fein.

    Bishop Doran said ‘ Catholics who voted Yes, intending that abortion would be the outcome… should consider going to Confession’. ‘ Intending that abortion would be the outcome’ is the key phrase. It is not beyond possibility that some Catholics, voted to repeal the 8th Amendment for reasons intended to actually have the opposite effect. Spokespersons for Choice, including Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Harris assured the electroate that providing abortion under Irish law, as opposed to British law, would have the effect of reducing the number of Irish women seeking abortion. Instances were given of EU countries with liberal abortion legislation, within a framework of care and support, where abortions rates were in dramatic decline. So anyone motivated to vote Yes by such arguments does not fall under the Bishop’s censure. Naivete is not a sin.

    The same would apply to people who voted on the basis of damage limitation. Given that there is no way of stopping women takaing abortion pills or taking the relatively short journey to Liverpool or London, offering them a safer alternative at home with what would hopefully be meaningful counselling within a 72 hour reflection time, might actually in the words of U2’s Edge,’ be the smart thing to do’. It does not mean such voters intend ‘ abortion to be the outcome’. It means they believe they cannot change the current reality and that allowing choice to be exercised at home under Irish law they can influence, is the lesser evil. So yes, it is possible that people who voted Yes did not intend abortion or at least more abortion than already exists to be ‘the outcome’ of their decision.

    Since abortion is and has always been regarded as a particularly ‘horrendous’ act of killing, to quote Pope Francis, it should not be surprising that a bishop would point out the need for self-scrutiny around a Catholic’s decision to vote Yes.. The fact that his views have called forth such strong if not vitriolic reaction shows arguably that the Church is far from being a spent force in public life. Why does it matter so much what the Church teaches its members if it is such an irrelevance ? Perhaps, it is because the Church continues to challenge new paradigms of relevance that threaten fundamental values? Fundamental values with roots deep in our culture and our personal psyche. What the church says or perhaps fails to say appears to matter. At times the church is condemned for speaking out, for interfering. Other times it is castigated just as loudly for not speaking out,not witnessing. This happened in the aftermath of the Second World War. In fact, the Church did use its moral influence to combat Nazisim but subtly and covertly. But there are many who criticized the Pope of the time, Pius X11, for his preceived acquiscence in the face of Nazi atrocity. Damned when they talk and damned when they don’t,it seems.

    The secular world cares about what the church says and believes. It bothers our politicians. Many of them have spoken out, as self-defined Catholics, rejecting the Bishop’s words. The times will test the metal of the Irish clergy and hierarchy and reveal whether there are more John Fishers or Thomas Wolseys among them. The pressure to conform will be great. For not doing so, the church has suffered persecution in the past. It may well have to do so again.

    It will be interesting to see just how much understanding and tolerance is in evidence when if a TD or Senator seeks exemption on grounds of conscience from supporting the forthcoming legislation on abortion. Will Mary Lou McDonald’s whip be more or less lenient than Bishop Doran’s crozier?

  16. Margaret Hickey says:

    Joe @15 there is no question about the freedom of conscience of Yes voters. The Bishop addresses those who voted Yes as Catholics. Same would be true is the vote was to remove the right to life from disabled persons or all over the age of 85 say.

  17. Joe O'Leary says:

    Con Devree, are you aware of Catholic teaching on freedom of conscience? Of course people have the right to ignore that teaching, but to suggest that a Catholic bishop would is rather odd. Declan Cooney, the bishop suggested there could be a sinful motivation for a yes vote, but he left open the possibility of a non-sinful motivation. The 8th amendment is just a hopelessly crude instrument and has caused needless suffering to women. Please make some attempt at discussion with those affected and with those who have carefully reflected before casting their conscientious vote.

  18. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #20 Exactly Joe!

    What up-to-date knowledge do we have on the reasons for choosing abortion in the midst of a ‘crisis pregnancy’ in Ireland?

    My guess is that the woman in such a predicament will feel isolated and maybe stopped in her career or educational course. In short she will lack a sense of support ‘out there’ – of social solidarity.

    Though Catholic Social Teaching has ‘solidarity’ as a core principle, what preaching have any of us encountered on the relevance of solidarity when it comes to crisis pregnancy? Our heritage of ‘not going there’ is still in play, I fear.

    For example although there is a ‘Cura’ poster in our chapel porch there has never been anyone from Cura at the ambo in my parish – to speak of that need for solidarity and of the basic counselling skills we all need for such a situation.

    In a culture that increasingly demands that everyone be self-sufficient the pressure to take the self-sufficient route in terms of ‘choice’ will necessarily grow also. Making a single issue out of abortion, and seeking to shame women out of resorting to it, can’t work in such a situation.

    Again, it’s high time for Catholic Social Teaching – and for room in church for discussing it in the present context. For how long will I have to go on hearing the celebrant telling me to ‘Go proclaim the Gospel of the Lord’ while making absolutely no provision for discussing how to do that these days?

    Is our church a family or not – a family that desperately needs to find out how to care for all ‘in trouble’ if it is to persuade the young it has any relevance? If so, why the continuing almost absolute reign of the half-asleep, half-an-hour Mass – followed by the rush for the doors?

  19. Con Devree says:

    #19 Fr Joe O’Leary
    1) “Con Devree, are you aware of Catholic teaching on freedom of conscience?”
    Father, to which of the possible two current contesting teachings do you refer?

    2) “Of course people have the right to ignore that teaching, but to suggest that a Catholic bishop would is rather odd.!”
    History is not bereft of the “odd” bishop who has availed of the right to ignore the teaching you may be referring to. Since Bishop Doran is not one such, it seems question 1 and statement 2 from #19 quoted above, when combined, reiterate the content of #11.

    The reference to the Eighth Amendment in #19 is not relevant.

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    The rights of an informed conscience are a well-established part of Catholic teaching. Margaret Hickey shows clearly why a vote for Yes falls well within the ambit of a reasonable exercise of that right by good Catholics. If Bishop Doran had explicitly said what she said that would have been a very valuable contribution to the guidance of the faithful. “Providing abortion under Irish law, as opposed to British law, would have the effect of reducing the number of Irish women seeking abortion”–as was the case in Italy and Holland.

  21. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brendan O’Connor in his front page piece on the new Middle Ireland in last Sunday’s Sunday Independent gets to the crux of the matter, I think, and that last line sums it up perfectly.

    “A gay Taoiseach could have been a fluke. And gay marriage a once-off. But now there’s a pattern. Women, men, old and all those young people showed us there is a new Middle Ireland. And it is a Middle Ireland that knows that a gay person in the family, or an abortion, are not things that happen to other people. These are their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their mothers, their friends. And sure we’re all liberal when it comes to our own.”

  22. Margaret Hickey says:

    Joe @23 Bishop Doran’s message should have been clear enough. I think the sad,unedifying displays post result in Dublin Castle should have given pause to any Catholics who voted Yes.

  23. Con Devree says:

    “The rights of an informed conscience are a well-established part of Catholic teaching.”
    True but not addressing the question posed in 22. Adieu Father.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    The vast majority of abortions happen for socio-economic reasons.

    These reasons are very pressing ones.

    Has Irish society the resources or the will to remove these socio-economic pressures and to generously fund every woman who is pregnant?

    The system of sending women to England for abortion or relying on illegal unsupervised abortifacients is a way of avoiding all responsibility for these women.

    I don’t hear any vibrant debate on how to create a society where these socioeconomic factors will weigh less oppressively.

  25. Paddy Ferry says:

    This is another very thoughtful reaction to the referendum result in last week’s Tablet under the heading ” Where the abortion debate was lost” Some of you will have already read this but I know there are others who will not have seen it.

    POLITICIANS AND the media on both sides of the Irish Sea have greeted the result of the Irish abortion referendum as if it were a triumph of good over evil – the enlightened cause of female emancipation and empowerment taking a giant step forward against the forces of patriarchal oppression. And it suits its enemies that the Catholic Church had positioned itself firmly on the losing side, so that it has just suffered a satisfyingly decisive humiliation. But this interpretation is tendentious, less than half the truth.
    The critical moment for the Church in Ireland is not the vote itself but the aftermath. All is not yet lost, but easily could be. All referendums seem to have a tendency to force moderate opinion to migrate to one extreme or the other, so that by the end of the campaigning, the centre ground is deserted. That is the ground the Catholic Church should now claim for itself. It needs to be reasonable, conciliatory, and – most of all – self-questioning. It needs to listen.
    This will take courage and honesty. There is a temptation to lash out at those who have disobeyed the official line. Isn’t telling women who voted for repeal that they have sinned and need to go to Confession, as the Bishop of Elphin has done, merely another example of the sort of “Father knows best” Catholicism from which Ireland is trying to escape?
    The leadership of the Irish Church needs the grace to be self-critical. It has admitted that the scandal of sexual abuse of children has grievously weakened its moral authority, and that nothing has happened since to restore it. But the problem goes deeper. It needs to be asked: did the Irish Church ever understand that the centre of this debate was the issue of choice? The issue was handled sensitively in the joint statement by the bishops of England, Wales and Scotland earlier this year, where choice was given a positive value.
    WHILE OPPONENTS of the repeal of the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution repeatedly stressed the “right to life” of the unborn child, they said much less about the duty of a pregnant woman to protect the life within her. Rights bring obligations with them. Was the reason they did not take such an obvious course that it would have positioned them on the side of choice? Does it not follow that that is where the Catholic stress should be placed in future, now the law is being relaxed? A pregnant woman could only exercise that duty of protection towards her unborn child if she had the freedom to do so, and therefore the freedom not to. Instead, the Church left the heavy lifting to the law. Choice was outlawed. Was the implication that women could not be trusted, and so had to be coerced? Do female consciences not count?
    Many women see the prohibition of abortion by the Irish Constitution as anti-feminist. Indeed, coupled with the Church’s official opposition to contraception, it causes many to dismiss traditional Catholicism as inherently misogynistic. The Church is seen as refusing to trust women with control of their own fertility, and insisting that they must remain under the tyranny of their own biology. This is difficult territory for an unmarried male hierarchy, but the effort to listen with empathy to the voices of women is urgently necessary.
    Are there other aspects of the debate that the Catholic Church needs to look at more closely? The very concept of the “right of the unborn” is not taken from Catholic moral theology – where rights hardly exist – but from the secular vocabulary of human rights, which has become all-pervasive in the last two or three decades. It has become so familiar it is hard to remember that it is a relatively recent construction. Has it led Catholic thinking into a category mistake? Can foetuses really have rights from the moment of conception, when they are incapable of having obligations? Legally, they are not citizens. No population census ever counts them in its total. Their very existence is unacknowledged by the state, except with regard to abortion. We acknowledge the humanity of the growing baby in the womb, a fragile person-in-waiting, to be cherished and protected but, by universal custom, the beginning of someone’s life is marked from their date of birth. These familiar cultural features frame the habitual ways Western cultures treat those not yet born. This does not imply that the foetus has the same rights and status as adults from the moment of conception. Does it not imply, instead, that the unborn have a unique status, one that is about becoming fully human rather than already being fully human? That is an ancient belief, still current for instance in Orthodox Judaism.
    THIS IS NOT what the Church teaches, but has it done anything like enough to contradict these cultural assumptions by its actions, for instance by treating foetuses as fully human in its everyday pastoral and liturgical life? There are no Catholic funerals or official prayers for foetuses which have been spontaneously miscarried. Why has it not encouraged or invested in medical research to prevent spontaneous miscarriages and stillbirths, which its teaching would imply are a grievous loss of human life? Does it really believe that? It was only in 2007 that the Vatican conceded, tentatively, that there was “reason to hope” that unbaptised infants (including those where a pregnancy had miscarried) could go to heaven, calling in question the doctrine of limbo. Does that suggest the Church has always fully recognised a foetus’s moral equivalence to an adult? Is it not instead a tacit intuition that human life develops through stages, culminating in birth? That is when citizenship begins – membership of society – and the possibility of baptism – membership of the Church.
    New life begins at conception. But the notion that the human person comes into being at conception, and is instantly entitled to the same protection as an adult, is counter-cultural to a degree. It is not easily woven into the fabric of existing cultural assumptions. Against this headwind, the Church needed to work hard to embed its teaching in the faith of the people. Why was it so unsuccessful? Did it rely exclusively on obedience? Did it understand and believe its own teaching? It appears that the majority of Catholics in Ireland, maybe including many clergy, do not. And is this where the abortion referendum was already lost, before it even appeared on the political horizon?

  26. Mary Vallely says:

    Thanks for sharing that very thoughtful reflection from The Tablet, Paddy @28. Let us hope that the hierarchical Church heeds that call for the need “to be reasonable, conciliatory, and – most of all – self-questioning” and to really listen.

    I think we all need to give ourselves time to reflect and to listen to all those who hold different opinions. There is a great need for conversations in a safe setting as there is such polarisation in the country and the fear is that we will become a smaller Church. There are those now who would be happy with that, those who feel that Catholic should no longer mean universal but strictly orthodox with members thinking exactly along official Church lines but there are huge numbers of practising Catholics struggling more and more with whether they can remain in a Church which alienates itself from the new marginalised. The LGBTQI community and Pro- Choice voters are two examples.
    If you feel as strongly as I do that we need to correct this injustice please sign the petition below.
    Petition · Petition to Pope Francis: CHANGE CHURCH LGBTQI LANGUAGE ·

  27. Brendan Cafferty says:

    Now that its all over it is my opinion that the skies will not fall in.People will no go crazy as they did not after Divorce Act or Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013.We all hope that terminations in specific cases where necessary will be safe and rare.I also believe that the RC Church will live with this and are possibly in a better place today,strange as that may seem. Just imagine if the Referendum had been narrowly lost,the church would bear the brunt of the blame,and it would not go away. No one expects the church to preach anything other than what it believes,my local bishop had a pastoral letter on the matter before the vote,it set out the church teaching but did not tell anyone how to vote.
    Going back to the ACP statement on the question of allowing lay people to take over the pulpit I think they have been fully vindicated in the matter.Some of the adherents of the No side were not always they most charitable and in fact may have put a lot of people off with their absolutist positions.The Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg a committed RC,recently took on an interviewer on TV who questioned his faith as a politician. He took her on asking her how dare she,and would she ask that of a Muslim or any other belief,adding that his RC church has a rich antiquity and history of which he was proud.So say all of us,and even if the RC church has fallen down in many areas,it does not alter those facts.The future is not totally bleak,leaner and changed maybe but still with a lot to offer.

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