State is sick to allow church rule wards
After a period of penance, the hierarchy is again testing its strength on legal abortion in a major hospital, Gene Kerrigan
It's important to remember that only a very small percentage of Irish Catholic priests raped and abused children. Though estimates vary, there are some that put the figure as low as around 4 per cent. A lot of entirely innocent priests were subjected to unwarranted suspicion.
It's equally important to note that the Catholic Church as an institution wholly and consistently covered up such crimes. It did so as a matter of policy, in a number of jurisdictions, repeatedly and over many years. Again and again, to sustain the reputation and maintain the political power of the church, the institution protected rapacious priests from the law and moved them to fresh fields, in which they could do further damage to children.
It says a lot for the resilience of the hierarchy that despite this disgusting record, so many of their flock remain stalwartly obedient. So much so that the Irish church retains a tight grip on education and health.
The church was caught repeatedly putting its own interests above the interests of abused children. This, surely, should have resulted in the church being immediately relieved of institutional responsibility for schools. Not out of anger, or revenge – simply as a prudent measure. To do otherwise is to gamble with the welfare of children.
Likewise, when a church – Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or whatever – insists on imposing its own "ethos" onto medical procedures, common sense demands that it be relieved of any influence over hospitals.
A great word, "ethos". It sounds solemn, profound, spiritual. However, it just means "our beliefs". Take this sentence: "In treating patients, the hospital must observe its Catholic ethos." It's just a posh way of saying, "medics must at all times obey our beliefs".
Like the banks, after a period of hand-wringing, the institutional church has begun testing its strength. During the recent abortion controversy, the hierarchy raised the threat of excommunication of TDs who disobeyed its will. Challenged on this, the bishops remained vague. The approach was: we're not going to actually say it, because it would make us appear somewhat mediaeval. So, we'll just let the threat lie there, frightening the bejayzus out of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs.
This was quickly followed by a decision to hold onto the compensation they owe the people exposed to abuse by the church's policies. And last week, we had a priest stating bluntly that the writ of the Oireachtas doesn't run in the Mater Hospital, where he is on the board of governors.
Amazingly, Fr Kevin Doran appears to have the backing of the hospital board on this. No one on the board, Fr Doran claims, demurred after he said in June that the Mater would not perform an abortion to save a woman's life. This was effectively confirmed last week, in the Irish Times. "A spokesman for the hospital said the board has not yet formulated a view on the legislation."
This implies the board may formulate a view that it will ignore the law. The board, it seems, takes an a-la-carte view of these things – we'll go along with that law, but not this one.
The Irish Independent pointed out that in 2005, a sub-committee of the Mater board advised that trials on lung cancer patients should be postponed. This was because it was a condition of the trial that women patients use contraception, to ensure they didn't get pregnant. So, the trials – involving people with a potentially lethal disease – were put back. The sub-committee, the Independent reported, consisted of Fr Doran, a nun and a lay person.
For historic reasons, the Catholic Church in Ireland gained huge political power. From 1922, the Government ran the country in an informal but very real partnership with the church. This continued until relatively recently. It can't be easy for the church to step back, to become one voice among many. For so long it didn't have to make a case, its hierarchy simply laid down the law.
Dr Peter Boylan, consultant obstetrician, asked of Fr Doran: "Would he prefer for both of them to die? For the baby and the mother to die? A lot of people against this Act miss the point that if the mother dies, the baby dies also."
The answer to Dr Boylan's question is Yes. The allegedly pro-life folk are quite explicit about this. They, according to Fr Doran, "will never facilitate or tolerate the deliberate termination of human life, at any stage". There are no exceptions.
If this results in the mother dying, it is God's will. If it means that the baby dies too, it is God's will. Better they both die according to God's will than that there be "the deliberate termination of human life".
This is the church that for years fought against the provision of condoms in Africa as a protection against the Aids virus. It is God's will if sperm should make a woman pregnant. To use a condom to protect the woman against a deadly virus interferes with God's will.
"Pro-life" people sometimes aren't actually pro-life. They are pro their own "ethos". And it's not enough that they follow their ethos, they insist that the State force the rest of us to do so as well.
Catholics who seek to prevent medically required abortions should have no more sway in a hospital than a Jehovah Witness who might seek to enforce their ethos on blood transfusions.
In the 17th Century, Irish Catholics suffered the Penal Laws. Mass had to be said in secret, a rock serving as an altar. Such suppression of religious freedom is intolerable. It came about when the Protestant religion had the wholehearted support of the State – and the religious and state forces joined in suppressing those elements that offended their "ethos".
Until such time as the State acts to prevent any religion imposing its ethos on secular services – be they education, medicine or any other – so long will we have to push back against the church's efforts to reassert its political power.
EMER O'KELLY, Page 26