David Quinn: Martin must show leadership now, even if it costs him moral capital
Published 14/12/2012 | 05:00
HAVE the Catholic bishops been offering the necessary leadership on the abortion question since the Government flagged its intention to implement the X Case ruling? The short answer is yes, but they need to go further.
On the credit side of the ledger, they have issued several statements on the matter and various bishops including Leo O'Reilly, Denis Brennan and Diarmuid Martin have appeared on programmes to speak about the topic.
In the diocese of Cork and Ross, Bishop John Buckley had a specially written statement read out at all Masses last weekend.
In addition, the bishops organised an initiative called Choose Life, which among other things included a pro-life prayer that was supposed to be read out at Masses every Sunday for a month.
On the debit side of the ledger, they haven't challenged the Government strongly enough.
The statement said: "We strongly oppose such a Bill."
It urged everyone "who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their MPs clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others".
Nothing this direct has been contained in any statement from our bishops. That is, they haven't directly stated their opposition to government proposals to implement the X Case ruling and called on pro-life voters to contact their TDs about the matter.
We may not know precisely how the Government intends implementing the X Case ruling – and by doing so introducing direct abortion to Ireland for the first time – but we do know that is its aim.
We also know that the only thing which will stop is it a big and concerted campaign of opposition.
It is entirely possible that the bishops and priests underestimate their strength, which in the present climate is easy to do.
They are aware that the scandals have enormously undermined their moral authority and are probably worried of a backlash if they become too vocal.
However, thousands of voters took part in a pro-life vigil outside Leinster House last week at short notice and without any real media build-up.
Imagine how many would turn up at a demonstration if every parish in the country promoted it? It would be huge, and the Government would have to take notice.
In France, the Catholic bishops have thrown themselves fully into the battle against plans by the Francois Hollande's government to introduce gay marriage.
Partly as a result, hundreds of thousands of French people have taken to the streets against the Hollande plan. This in a country where less than 10pc of Catholics go to Mass each week, as against the almost 40pc who go weekly or daily here.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin appeared on 'The Frontline' on Monday night. He spoke about the Budget, about the abortion issue and about gay marriage and on all three issues he seemed to be overly concerned about causing offense or of sounding like a doctrinaire bishop of old.
There is a world of difference between sounding doctrinaire and offering clarity. He has to offer clarity, even if it might mean some of our liberal opinion-formers turn against him.
Labour's Colm Keaveney has sounded far more passionate in his opposition to some of the Budget cuts than our bishops have so far sounded in voicing their opposition to abortion.
They have to sound like they mean it, without becoming strident.
Would it have been so hard on 'The Frontline' for Archbishop Martin to say clearly and unmistakably to the Government that it must not legislate for the X Case and that it would be wrong and immoral for it to do so?
Would it have been so hard to call on Catholics to contact their politicians about the matter as the English and French bishops have done?
Archbishop Martin can hardly expect TDs and senators to break the party whip and put their political careers on the line if he himself sounds less than passionate about the abortion issue.
It won't be lost on Archbishop Martin that he has more moral capital than any other bishop in the country.
He has this capital chiefly because of the way he has addressed the scandals, but also because of the fact that he tends to 'horse-whisper' Irish secular liberalism (with what result?) rather than attack it.
However, there comes a point when plain speaking is needed and some of your moral capital needs to be spent rather than hoarded.
That time has arrived.
Archbishop Martin and the hierarchy need to build on what they have already had to say about the abortion issue by directly telling the Government it would be wrong and unacceptable for it to implement the X Case ruling, and to ask Catholics to contact their politicians with the same message.