Concern expressed that CofI message on abortion ‘is changing’

Retired Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin John Neill notes absence of agreed position

Former archbishop of Dublin John Neill: “the issue of a modified constitutional provision . . . is neither the issue before the people of Ireland, nor is it in line with the position that the Church of Ireland has consistently taken”. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Former archbishop of Dublin John Neill: “the issue of a modified constitutional provision . . . is neither the issue before the people of Ireland, nor is it in line with the position that the Church of Ireland has consistently taken”. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

A retired Church of Ireland archbishop has challenged the stance taken by the church’s primate and Archbishop of Dublin on the Eighth Amendment referendum, saying it is not in line with the church’s agreed position.

Former archbishop of Dublin John Neill said “the issue of abortion should not be dealt with within the Constitution” and that the church’s “agreed position was always that the questions surrounding abortion should be addressed by legislation and not by constitutional provision”. He expressed concern that “the message from the Church of Ireland is changing.”

Archbishop Neill was responding to a statement last month by Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Richard Clarke and current Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson which said “unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept”.

They continued that “we suggested the possibility of a modification to the present constitutional position”.

Archbishop Neill said “the issue of a modified constitutional provision, as suggested in recent statements, is neither the issue before the people of Ireland, nor is it in line with the position that the Church of Ireland has consistently taken”.

He continued in a letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette that as “previously advocated by the Church of Ireland” the legislature “is the proper context in which to provide a legal framework surrounding abortion”.

Archbishop Neill, who retired as in 2011, said he was speaking “as one who followed carefully the discussion leading up to the passing of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983. And being a member of the House of Bishops under three years later when there continued to be much discussion of issues surrounding the interpretation and application of that constitutional provision.”

Meanwhile a group of 120 cross-denominational clergy and laity have agreed a No response to the Eighth Amendment in a pamphlet Is God for the 8th? They include, among others, 48 Catholic clergy and lay leaders, 16 Church of Ireland clergy and lay leaders, 15 Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist leaders, 39 Pentecostal leaders.

They have said “we, as Christians from different denominations, do not want to see abortion on demand being introduced to Ireland. Furthermore, even selective abortions on the basis of gender or disability are forms of discrimination.” They said “we stand at a crossroads for good or for evil. The Eight Amendment is the last bulwark against abortion in Ireland.”

Included among the clergy is the Catholic Bishop of Waterford Phonsie Cullinan, leaders of the main African church and Pentecostal network in Ireland.

Next Sunday Bishop Cullinan will celebrate Mass at Knock for the protection of the right to life of the unborn. It is expected to be attended by up to 6,000 people.

They will “implore the All Powerful to scatter the darkness and confusion in so many minds which are unable to see the humanity of the unborn and their right to life which is the most basic of all rights”, said Bishop Cullinan.

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