Reaction to archbishop's speech leads to regret and review


The Dublin Diocesan Communications Office will be reviewing the debate on Archbishop Desmond Connell's speech on contraception and its implications, according to its communications director, Father John Dardis.

This follows the controversy generated by Dr Connell's remarks, and in particular his suggestion that the "planned" child "looks more and more like a technological product".

Following the initial response to Dr Connell's speech to students at Maynooth last Tuesday, Father Dardis issued a statement on behalf of the communications office saying that the archbishop had in no way suggested that children who had been "planned" were not infinitely loved by their parents.

He stressed that Dr Connell had raised the issue of children looking like "a technological product" in the context of in vitro fertilisation, genetic engineering and cloning, and that he had added tentatively "it may not be altogether absent" in the practice of family planning.

The statement continued: "Regardless of whether the method used is artificial or natural, if the mentality of planning takes over from the idea of a child as a loving gift from God, then the problems the archbishop talks about are liable to occur."

However, this did not defuse the controversy. Women, including the mother of children born following in vitro fertilisation writing in The Irish Times, some theologians and groups such as the Irish Family Planning Association and the National Women's Council of Ireland criticised his remarks, while he was defended by organisations such as Family and Life.

In an interview with Father Colm Kilcoyne in the Sunday Tribune yesterday, he admitted his language about "wanted/unwanted children" was unwise and not best suited to what he was trying to say. He said he regretted his wording both failed to express his meaning and managed to hurt.

He also acknowledged he had "no great research" and he "didn't know of any research" on his assertion that the planned child "no longer belongs to the family in a personal sense if it is radically a product rather than person . . . No child can be happy as a product; the child will find no meaning in a life produced by technology."

Dr Connell told Father Kilcoyne he was speculating on the consequences of a certain culture, and that his views on this were "tentative". He was seeking a debate on the relationship between the power to do something and the issue of whether it was morally right to do it.

It has further been pointed out that he was speaking in an academic environment at Maynooth so the tone of his speech was speculative. "He would have expressed himself differently in a homily," said a source close to the archbishop.

Nonetheless, the fact that he was speaking on this subject was brought to the attention of the media, and the text of his speech was posted on the Internet and sent to media organisations. It was inevitable it would be widely disseminated and commented on.

The debate has brought home to the diocesan communications office, which was set up in 1995, the fact that once the archbishop expresses his views on an issue such as contraception, which is so much a part of the lives of many people, it is likely they will cause intense controversy.

The communications office was established to bring the church's views on a range of issues into the public domain, and to engage in debate. This week has been a bruising one in that process.

As a result, the communications office will be reviewing its procedures, and will no doubt be considering very carefully all possible interpretations of future statements from the archbishop.