independent

Monday 22 September 2014

Supreme Court and Catholic Church have a lot in common

Published 06/08/2013 | 05:42

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I discovered something during the past week which surprised me in its simplicity. The Irish Supreme Court and the Catholic Church have a lot in common. Both make decisions that are infallible and cannot be challenged in future. Both make pronouncements that are set in stone and must be obeyed by all. What is decided upon in the past, is binding for the present and the future.

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What am I talking about? Well on his plane journey to World Youth Day Pope Francis gave a wide ranging interview to reporters. When asked about women priests Pope Francis said: 'We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more. But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed.'

He was referring to a dictum of the late Pope John Paul II saying the ban was an infallible teaching of the Church, and could not be changed. A decision that was made in 1994 banning the ordination of women remains the last word on the subject.

Similarly, when it came to the abortion legislation that was rammed through the Oireachtas by means of the party whip system, the government said that they were merely legislating in line with the Constitution on what was already decided by the Supreme Court in the X-case Judgment in 1992.

The Supreme Court Justices came to a decision and made a ruling, which must be obeyed for all eternity. There was outrage among the Irish media when there was the slightest hint of excommunication for Catholic politicians who legalised abortion, but not a murmur of protest when Enda Kenny denied Fine Gael members the right to vote according to their consciences.

And all because of a decision made by small group of people over 20 years ago. Surely isn't a good way to be? At the very least let us have a conversation, a discussion, a debate. Let us look at the arguments for and against, and lets see what we come up with. Many will be in favour of legislating for abortion and many will be in favour of allowing women priests. Likewise many will hold opposing views.

The government, like Pope Francis, has decided that the door is closed for discussion. But my problem with that is that it's authoritarian and even totalitarian. A decision made 20 years ago should not be binding for all time. Throughout history the opinions of one person, or of a small group of people, have been imposed upon society through dictatorships and totalitarian regimes.

You have to give credit to President Michael D. Higgins who decided to sign the Bill into law. Had he chosen to refer it to the Supreme Court, that same small group of people would be the ones deciding once and for all whether or not this legislation is good. Instead, President Higgins has left the door open for constitutional challenges to take place, and for discussion and debate.

Maybe these constitutional challenges will expose the flaws in the current legislation, and maybe there will be new legislation formulated which will offer proper protection to women's lives in pregnancy. Maybe the discussion and debate will come to the conclusion that this legislation is the right legislation for Ireland right now.

Likewise Pope Francis should allow for a discussion about the role of women in the Church. Maybe the result will be the same and we'll have a resounding affirmation of the status quo and ordination of women won't be approved. Maybe we'll come up with even better ways of allowing women leadership roles in the Church. And maybe nothing will change. But, in a free society, at least allow us the right to express our opinions and enter into discussion. Surely that's not asking too much?

Wexford People

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