The Church must take some responsibility for Ireland’s vote to legalise abortion. I’m not saying the issue is a purely theological one: humanists can also believe in the inalienable right to life. Nor would I want to infantilise the Irish, to suggest they are sheep in need of a strict shepherd. There’s a temptation for foreigners to see Ireland entirely through the prism of Catholicism, as though its identity is defined solely by obedience or disobedience to Mother Church.
All that said, let’s not kid ourselves: Ireland is repudiating Catholic authority. In the run-up to the referendum, a priest in Clogherhead, Co Louth preached during a First Communion Mass against abortion – and parents actually walked out in anger.
The problem is undoubtedly the creep of secularism that has been hidden for decades by the sham of “cultural Catholicism” (people who want the benefits of funerals, weddings and good education without the religious baggage). But, again, the Church has dug its own grave.
It’s widely agreed that prior to the Sixties, the Irish Church could be authoritarian, even cruel. Post-Sixties, it signed up to an establishment liberalism that claimed to be more generous but in fact maintained the same structures of power while eroding moral certainties.
No secularist forced priests to abuse children or have families out of wedlock. No secularist forced the Church to cover these things up. Every scandal contributed to the reckoning whereby when the Church’s authority was finally tested, the people would reject it. In the end, many clerics, perhaps knowing what was coming, chose to stand aside from the abortion referendum altogether. This is the way good so often perishes. Not with a martyrdom but a surrender.
But the Church should not shut up. It should go on and on and on about abortion until they lock us up for it, which they may well do. It’s the right thing for the faith. It’s the right thing for society.
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