News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

David Quinn: Bishops' intervention is simply the normal business of democracy

Published 11/01/2013 | 17:00

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THE Catholic bishops appeared before the Oireachtas hearings on abortion yesterday. To be more precise, Bishop Christopher Jones and Fr Tim Bartlett appeared.

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Both performed very capably, Fr Bartlett to such an extent it's a wonder that he is not yet a bishop.

This is simply the latest intervention on the issue of abortion from the Catholic hierarchy since the Savita Halappanavar story broke.

In the last few weeks, we have had a good strong statement on the issue from the four Catholic archbishops. This occasioned Bishop Leo O'Reilly's comment that permitting abortion on the grounds of suicidal intent would be "the first step on the road to a culture of death".

We have had Cardinal Sean Brady's reference to the matter in his Christmas message and the Papal Nuncio's mention of it in a homily on New Year's Day. We had the Pope's indirect comments about the abortion debate here on Monday.

Of course, these interventions only anger those on the pro-choice side. Indeed, at the hearings yesterday various politicians fired anti-clerical cheap shots at the Catholic representatives to the effect that male celibates know nothing about women.

The bishops' interventions will probably have little effect on those in the middle ground on this issue. But the people they are really aimed at are ordinary Mass-going Catholics, of which there are still many.

They need to be mobilised, to wake up fully to the fact that Ireland is about to cross a moral Rubicon, to authorise for the first time ever in Irish law the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life.

We can argue till the cows come home about how many abortions will take place under the new regime, but however many there are, a change of moral regime will have taken place in Ireland.

No law-maker should ever authorise the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life. Permitting the suicide ground for abortion will do this and for no remotely good reason, because pregnant women who are suicidal can always be offered an alternative to abortion.

When a state is about to introduce an unjust law, what kind of language should we use in voicing our opposition? Never abusive language, obviously, but if strong and robust language can be used to oppose budget cuts then it can certainly be used to oppose abortion.

Bishop Leo O'Reilly was attacked by, among others, Pat Rabbitte, for using "strident" language in saying that permitting abortion on the grounds of suicidal intention would be a "first step on the road to a culture of death".

But in what way was Bishop O'Reilly inaccurate? The term "culture of death" was popularised by Pope John Paul II. He was referring mostly to legal and social trends that permit the killing of unborn children and of old and infirm people.

In Britain, 200,000 abortions take place every year. If that is not a "culture of death" then what is? And, of necessity, isn't there a first step we take on the road to such a culture? And isn't what the Government is about to do not that first step?

Political correspondent Stephen Collins has attacked the bishops' stance as "confrontational". It is in its own way, but no more so, and probably less so, than the position often taken by the trade unions, business organisations, the farmers, etc towards government policy.

But Mr Collins went much further, also accusing the bishops of mounting a "direct challenge to the authority of the electorate and the Dail".

Mr Collins is not normally given to hyperbole but one would think from the above that the bishops are trying to overthrow the Government.

All they are trying to do is change a government policy, which is something countless other organisations try to do all the time.

Far from this being a threat to democracy, it is simply the normal business of democracy.

In fact, if there is a silver lining in the current debate about abortion it is that the bishops appear to be slowly regaining their nerve and are starting to show clear and decisive leadership to ordinary Catholics again.

Yesterday's appearance at the abortion hearings was a further sign of that.

Irish Independent

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