Pastoral Letter from Dr Thomas Finnegan, Bishop of Killala

26 May 2001

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Thomas Finnegan

25 May 2001

Issued by the Catholic Communications Office on behalf of Bishop Thomas Finnegan, Bishop of Killala

The Gospel of Life: Pastoral Letter of Bishop Thomas Finnegan, May 2001

My dear People of Killala Diocese,

I share the growing concern about the delay in offering the Irish people the opportunity to restore by referendum the constitutional guarantee of the right to life of the unborn child.

10,000 submissions were made to the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Government’s Green Paperon Abortion. Out of these less than 50 supported the legalising of abortion; the others, over 9,950, supported the holding of a referendum.

Abortion is the fundamental human rights issue of today. It is not just a private issue. It is an issue which touches on whether we see the unborn child as deserving of inclusion and protection in the human community; but equally importantly, it is about what kind of care we want to provide for mothers in difficult circumstances. It challenges all of us to build the kind of society where no woman feels that her only or best choice is to end the life of her child. We need to ensure that those who feel that abortion is the only way out of a difficult situation are offered a truly life-giving

The Gospel of Life
“Those who are in a position to help and do not, cannot escape their responsibility”, says Pope John Paul II. “No woman should feel that she must face an unhappy pregnancy alone” (The Gospel of Life). In response to the Holy Father’s words some people may say: “I do not want to escape my responsibility. What more can I do?”

Your action should be two-fold. Firstly, to do anything practical you can in order to support those in crisis pregnancy. This might include volunteering for one of the agencies such as Cura, or it may mean taking action at a more personal level in your own circle of family or friends. Secondly, I suggest that you begin to express quietly to those you know, including our politicians and legislators, your opposition to legalised abortion and your desire for a constitutional amendment that would do two things:

(1) protect the right to life of the unborn child and
(2) recognise that an expectant mother must receive whatever medical treatment is necessary even when that treatment has a side effect that puts her unborn child at risk.

All of us are bound by the voice of our conscience and the precepts of the natural moral law which is engraved on the soul of each and every person. When we use the word ‘abortion’ we are talking about the direct, intentional killing of the unborn child. We are not talking about the necessary medical treatment of the mother which may result in the unintended death of the baby.

The X Case 1992
This was the case of a young woman (a minor) – referred to as X – who was pregnant as a result of unlawful carnal knowledge and was threatening suicideif she did not get an abortion. The judges of the High and Supreme Courts were asked whether or not the girl had a right to have an abortion. The Supreme Court in a majority decision judged that she had the right.

This is a seriously flawed decision. It permits one human being to take the life of another human being directly and intentionally, an action which, in addition to violating the natural moral law, is totally contrary to the Irish Constitution and to the tradition of Irish democracy whose core value is the dignity of the individual human person.Before arriving at judgement in the X case, the Supreme Court did not enquire into, or seriously explore, what might have been done to protect the life of the child as well as that of the mother. The judgement in this case introduced into Irish law the idea that it could be legal, at least under certain conditions, deliberately to kill an unborn child. In other words, the judgement authorised the violation of an innocent, defenceless human being’s most basic right.

The C case 1997
In this case a judge of a District Court was asked by the Eastern Health Board to sanction a young woman’s abortion (she was also a minor), the abortion to be arranged, supervised and paid for by the same Health Board. The judge of the District Court sanctioned that course of action, and this decision was supported by a judge of the High Court who reviewed the order of the District Court. The judges of both courts based their decisions on the X case. These two cases illustrate clearly how defenceless we were, and how helpless future generations can be, as unborn children. The unborn child of the young woman called C was killed on the authority of a District Court which based its decision on the judgement in the X case. That decision of the District Court was affirmed by the High Court which also based its decision on the X case.

Why we need a new referendum
The X and C cases highlight the reason why the Irish people should be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the right to life of the unborn child without further delay. There is an urgent need to remove two dangers arising from the X case.

The first is the danger that the decision in the X case would be allowed to stand as an authoritative statement of Irish law; the second danger is that the flawed principle on which the X case judgement is based, would be enacted into legislation in this jurisdiction.

Next month the Government will hold a referendum to remove the death penalty from the Constitution. I heartedly agree with that decision. It is not, however, an urgent matter as there have been no executions in Ireland over the past 40 years and the death penalty is already ruled out by statute law. The referendum on the right to life of the unborn child has more immediate urgency. Abortion is the only type of capital punishment allowed by Irish courts. It will take a constitutional amendment to overturn those court decisions to protect the unborn child from having his/her life deliberately terminated.

Side by side with remedying the legal situation, the Government and all of us must have an active concern for women in crisis pregnancy and provide positive alternatives and support for them in their situations. These stances are not opposed to each other, but are two sides of the same coin – proper support for women in crisis pregnancy, and a re-affirmation that abortion is never medically necessary.

During the public hearing before the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, Professor Eamon O’Dwyer of Galway said: “I was a practising obstetrician for over 40 years, and during that time I looked after over 9,000 women…..Not one of those 9,000 women died and I had never any reason to think that I could have done better if I had abortion”.


Further information:
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797