Liberalising abortion 'will lead to killing of elderly and those with disabilities', senior bishop warns
Kim Bielenberg on Bishop Kevin Doran, who warns that liberalising the abortion law will lead to killing of the elderly
It remains to be seen if the Catholic Church can mount a sustained campaign to save the Eighth Amendment, the constitutional ban on abortion.
Most senior churchmen do not seem to have the stomach for these battles anymore, but it was no surprise in recent days to see the Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, leading the charge against moves to liberalise the laws.
Dispensing with any hint of moderation, the outspoken Dubliner warned that if abortion laws are loosened, similar arguments will be used to "justify ending the lives of frail elderly people and people with significant disability".
Doran warned in a pastoral message: "This is the final frontier. If we cross it, there will be no easy way back."
Over the past decade, Bishop Doran has emerged as the Church's leading hardliner, stepping forward to defend Catholic orthodoxy against the oncoming tide of secularism.
Doran is regarded as an intellectual heavy hitter in the Church. After his schooling at Christian Brothers College in Monkstown on the southside of Dublin, he went to UCD and after studying at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome became a Doctor of Philosophy.
Before becoming Bishop of Elphin, he has had a number of important roles in the Church.
A former university chaplain at UCD, he has been a key adviser to the bishops on medical ethics and has held other high-profile posts such as national director of vocations.
In recent years, he has seldom steered clear of controversy.
During the same-sex marriage referendum, he was heavily criticised when he suggested that gay couples who had children were not really parents at all. When an interviewer put it to him that gay and lesbian couples in Ireland were already parents, he responded: "But they're not parents. They might have children but, that's the point - people who have children are not necessarily parents."
That prompted the LGBT activist Ailbhe Smyth to tweet: "Bishop talking through his pointy hat. Am definitely mother of my daughter - hand-delivered."
Soon afterwards the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, appeared to slap Bishop Doran down. He described his remark as "an unfortunate phrase".
Bishop Doran expressed regret for the hurt his comment about gay parents had caused. But tact is not a quality normally associated with the cleric. In the same interview, he seemed to liken being gay to being born with a disability. When it was suggested to him that sexual orientation could be something that God intended, he replied: "That would be to suggest that if some people who are born with Down syndrome or spina bifida, that was what God intended."
He first found himself at the centre of national controversy in 2005, when he delayed cancer drug trials at the Mater hospital - because they would have required the women involved to use contraceptives.
He was one of a three-person sub-committee at the hospital that halted clinical trials for the chemotherapy drug, Tarceva, which later became a frontline treatment for lung cancer.
Members of his committee said the use of contraceptives contravened the hospital's ethos and the trial was held up for several weeks before a meeting of the full Mater board allowed it to go ahead.
He eventually resigned from the Mater hospital board in 2013 after the hospital said it would comply with the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allowed for abortion in certain cases.
His main concern when he quit was that women would be allowed to have abortions when they were suicidal, as a result of the new legislation.
Bishop Doran was once asked whether a woman who is raped and becomes pregnant as a result should have to bear the child.
"Well, the child is still a human being, that's the issue - you don't destroy a life in order to get back at the mother's rapist," he replied. On another occasion he compared abortion to the involuntary Nazi euthanasia programme carried out during World War II.
We can expect more attacks such as this, as he drives the pro-life message home, but his approach has left him open to the charge of intemperate scaremongering, and could prove to be a liability for the No side in the coming campaign.