Tone of bishops’ language on abortion an echo of other days

Would that the bishops always had as much passion for protecting children

Bishop Christopher Jones and Fr Timothy Bartlett representing the Catholic Church at the  Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children last January. Bishop Jones described the 1992 Supreme Court judgment on the X case as “morally unacceptable”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Bishop Christopher Jones and Fr Timothy Bartlett representing the Catholic Church at the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children last January. Bishop Jones described the 1992 Supreme Court judgment on the X case as “morally unacceptable”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

So the Catholic bishops have spoken on the heads of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, published by the Government last week. So?

They are entitled to their opinion. Just as any other citizen or group of citizens. That’s democracy.

However, what’s involved here is more than the expression of an opinion.

The tone of the language in their statement last Friday was an echo of other days. Back when the Republic was a Catholic State for a Catholic people, where the beliefs of others were ignored in its laws.

In a statement that was a mixture of high dudgeon and threat, the bishops warned our politicians that “the Bill as outlined represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law and is unnecessary to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy”.

It represented, they said, a “tragic moment for Irish society”. We’ve had many of those where our major church is concerned over recent years.

In weekend interviews it was indicated that legal action against the Bill might be initiated. That would surprise many as the bishops have many times expressed less than faith in our judiciary as regards abortion law. The legal path now seems less likely.

Repeatedly, for instance, they have criticised as “flawed” the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X case, “parent” of the Bill announced by the Government last week.

What is most galling, though, is that they want their beliefs to remain part of civil law in the Republic regardless of what other churches and faiths think. But then they don’t have a good record when it comes to supporting the right of others to have their beliefs respected in Irish law.

We saw that repeatedly down the decades in, for instance, their utter opposition to making artificial means of contraception legally available. We saw it in their determined resistance to divorce. We have seen it again and again in their fierce opposition to abortion and despite the fact they are alone in this view.

Last January Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson told the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that his church opposed abortion on principle but acknowledged there were cases of “strict and undeniable medical necessity” where it was and should be an option.

Rev Dr Trevor Morrow, minister at Lucan Presbyterian Church in Dublin, said: “It is wrong to allow a mother to die. It is wrong to take the life of a child, but in some circumstances it may be necessary to choose what is least wrong ...”

Heidi Good of the Methodist Church in Ireland said her church believed a termination was permissible where the mother’s life was at risk and where there was risk of grave injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.

Representing Ireland’s Muslims, Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Dublin told the committee that “in the unlikely event when a group of competent trustworthy physicians confirm that the continuity of pregnancy jeopardises the mother’s life, abortion could be conducted as the last and only alternative to protect the mother’s life”.

Representing Ireland’s Jews, Rabbi Zalman Lent of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation said Jewish law permitted abortion in certain cases, “primarily when carrying the unborn to term would cause danger and risk to the mother’s life”.

The Catholic Church was represented at the Oireachtas Committee hearings by Bishop Christopher Jones and Fr Timothy Bartlett. Bishop Jones said what was needed were “appropriate guidelines which continue to exclude the direct and intentional killing of the unborn, or a referendum to overturn the X case judgment”. That 1992 Supreme Court judgment he described as “morally unacceptable”.

According to our Catholic bishops, then, the judiciary, the Government, all the other churches, as well as Ireland’s Jews and Muslims, favour what is, to them, “morally unacceptable”. They like that phrase.

Considering the revelations of recent years about their own behaviour where protecting children was concerned, this is outrageous arrogance and is in itself unacceptable. Would that they had shown as much passion for protecting children as they have done for the unborn foetus down the years.

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