I never imagined that “Catholic” Ireland could lose the referendum on the lifting of the country’s anti-abortion law, and that the last major pro-life bastion in western Europe would fall.
My chagrin was so deep that I compared it to David’s affliction on the deaths of Saul and his son Jonathan. His sadness was so immense that he chanted an elegy, and weeping he lamented: “Alas! The glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon the heights! How can the warriors have fallen?” (2 Sa 1-27)
This was my reaction listening to the triumph of the abortionists in Ireland. For me, Ireland was a Catholic country par excellence. Not anymore. Its Catholic practice is in fast decline - babies are rarely baptized, Sunday Mass is rarely frequented, and divorces have increased.
When I was in Rome, I liked to visit my good friends from the Emerald Isle – cardinals, bishops, priests, and families who were so steeped in Christianity which today has dramatically declined.
The battle to save the right to life of the unborn tragically collapsed and will resonate in Britain. If those who fought for the pro-life movement had won it would be a glamorous triumph, but it was the abortionists who were victorious.
Why did the pro-abortion lobby win? Because the government was very diligent in preparing. It did not want to delay the referendum and hold it past the end of May when many university and college students would be on holiday. These young men and women were interested in voting in support of the open and legal abortion they desired.
Another reason to have the referendum no later than May was the visit of Pope Francis scheduled to take place in Ireland at the end of August for the World Meeting of Families. Would his visit be a boost for the pro-life movement?
Pope Francis is popular with ordinary people, Catholic and otherwise. It is hard to believe his trip would not assist the pro-life cause even if he never directly referred to the referendum. This is why the government wanted to have the vote over and done with as quickly as possible.
The objective now is to remove the right to life by introducing abortion, but we would not attempt to abolish any other fundamental right in this way. Imagine a plan to annul the article guaranteeing citizens’ right to freely express their convictions and opinions being presented as a reform of Ireland’s excessive anti-censorship laws.
The word “abortion” does not appear within the Irish Constitution. The relevant text reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
The text is a kind of pledge, a recognition, of something that can be removed without any of the constitution’s primary content to be voided or destroyed.
Recently, the government unveiled its broad strategy. In effect, it will request a blank cheque from voters to allow law-makers the right to legislate for abortion as they fit, into the limitless future. The government’s preferred option is abortion “on request” up to 12 weeks.
And what did the Irish Church do to protect the rights of the unborn? Today, Mass attendance in Ireland is extremely low compared to the past, and the number of active priests may now be below 2,000. There has been a persistent pattern for decades of the Irish Church resenting interference from Rome and jealously guarding its ability to do things its own way, not to mention the abominable damage caused by the coverup of clergy pedophilia.
The bishops who returned from the Second Vatican Council found an Ireland alert to Church affairs in a manner never known in the past. The traditional loyalty of Irish Catholics to their faith was as strong as ever, but to this was now added an awareness of change – new emphases in doctrine, in the perception of other churches, and in attitudes towards the laity.
In Ireland, the first jolt for the post-conciliar Church came in 1968 with the publication of the encyclical of Paul VI, Humanae Vitae.
While the condemnation of artificial birth control drew protests from a number of lay faithful, the Irish bishops stressed the obligation on Catholics to make “a religious submission of mind and will” to authentic papal teaching. Although controversy continued, because the sale of contraceptives was prohibited by civil law in Ireland, the crisis did not at first assume the same proportion as it did elsewhere.
I hope that Ireland will rediscover its faith under the protection of St. Patrick, and abandon its attraction for forbidden sex, and the frequenting of whisky at the pubs.