Referendum on Eighth Amendment ‘pivotal moment’ in Irish society, says Bishop

‘In our public commentary at the moment we are often forgetting the unborn baby’

The possible repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution is a "pivotal moment for our society and how we cherish life in this country", Catholic Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said.

“In Britain, where abortion was introduced with the conviction that it would only be in exceptional cases, today one in five pregnancies end in abortion,” he said, inviting the faithful “to be missionaries for the cause of life. It is a noble cause to uphold the sacredness of human life.”

Meanwhile the liberal Catholic We Are Church Ireland group has said people should be free to vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution "in accordance with their consciences".

In a pastoral message to the Catholics of Limerick diocese, Bishop Leahy said “any conversation around the upcoming referendum is not easy for people”. “While I too find it difficult to talk about it, nevertheless the Gospel and my conscience convince me that I am obliged to speak,” he said.


He knew some hearing his words “have had an abortion or know someone who has”.

“They may find the current public discussions upsetting. To them I say I do not wish to upset. Remember Jesus’ words: ‘do not let your heart be troubled; trust in God’, the God who loves you immensely and whose mercy embraces you like a mother.”

With all the discussion around the Amendment and legislation and what way politicians are going to vote, “we can become so distracted that we end up desensitised to the preciousness of the unborn baby”, he said.

“We do indeed need to love both mother and baby in pregnancy, but I believe that in our public commentary at the moment we are often forgetting the unborn baby. And we are talking about a baby. Make no mistake about it. It is a baby,” he said.

The We Are Church Ireland (WACI) quoted a statement from Pope Benedict XVI in defence of conscience on the matter. In a book published in 1969 he said that "over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority".

WACI spokesman Brendan Butler said that "while it is important that Catholics give due accord to the teaching of their Church in the formation of their moral judgement on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, they have the right and duty to follow their consciences as their final moral arbiters".

Having done so Catholics would be “in good standing with God and their Church”. Such freedom of conscience “equally applies to people who wish to retain this Amendment,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times