Catholic Church has no right to be ‘State’s moral compass’, Dáil hears

Tánaiste says church has every right to express its view but its comments on abortion legislation are ‘exaggerated’

Independent TD John Halligan: called on the Tánaiste ‘to condemn the Catholic Church for attempting to intervene in the running of this State’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Independent TD John Halligan: called on the Tánaiste ‘to condemn the Catholic Church for attempting to intervene in the running of this State’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Thu, Jun 13, 2013, 12:29

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has refused to condemn the Catholic Church over its response to the legislation dealing with abortion.

He told Independent TD John Halligan he would not join him in condemning the Catholic Church or any other church.

“It is my view that the Catholic Church, all churches and all citizens of this State have every right to state their point of view to government on any issue which is of public importance.”

But he said in the Dáil he believed the church’s statements on the legislation were “exaggerated” and he added that “we should not lose sight of what we are doing”, whcih was to protect women’s lives in pregnancy.

Mr Halligan had called on the Tánaiste “to condemn the Catholic Church for attempting to intervene in the running of this State and I call on the Church to desist from harassing TDs faced with an already difficult time in making a decision on this legislation”.

In trenchant comments , Mr Halligan said the church “ has no right to be the State’s moral compass and is in no position to lecture anyone on human rights with the Catholic Church’s blood-stained history”.

He described it as an “organisation that is non-democratic, anti-democratic, that is historically anti-woman, has the most dreadful record of child protection”.

He referred to the “level of abuse and intimidation” that TDs are receiving from pro-life activists and the Catholic Church over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

The Waterford TD said he had personally been subjected to such abuse. “I’ve even had people come to my house after 12 o’clock at night. There’ve been several serious incidents of verbal abuse of TDs.

“Some have been ambushed outside their house. They’ve been spat at. They’ve been threatened with having their home burnt down and one has been threatened with having her throat cut,” he said.

“Last week, we had Archbishop Diarmuid Martin calling on the Government to do away with the party whip and no doubt you are aware of the attempts by the church to compare your Government to a totalitarian regime.

“On Tuesday the Catholic Bishops issued a statement claiming that people will be misled on the debate and that the Government is not obliged to legislate on the X-case.

“We now have senior Vatican officials calling on TDs who might be Catholic to resign if they support your Bill.”

But Mr Gilmore said Ireland was a democratic country. “People have the right to state their views to legislators, whether they are representatives of churches, ...or the pro-life movement... or of just their own private opinion.”

Their job as legislators was to legislate in a fair way on behalf of everyone. “But as legislators we have a responsibility to hear the points of view that are being expressed to respect those points of view and to respectfully disagree if that is what we do, with them.”

He agreed with the Independent TD that when people make protests and make their point of view, they should do so respectfully and not engage in harassment of public representatives.”

But, he added: “Let’s not lose sight of what this is all about. This legislation is about protecting the lives of women in pregnancy.”

And he said they should not “add fuel to the fire” in terms of raising the temperature of the debate.

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