June 2006 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

15 Jun 2006


15 JUNE 2006


Following the completion yesterday evening of the June General Meeting of the Irish
Episcopal Conference in Maynooth, the following statement has been issued addressing:
* Supreme Court decision regarding the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935
* Human Trafficking
* Rural planning policy in Northern Ireland
* The decision of An Bord Pleanála regarding St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
* Council for Research & Development Vocations survey for 2005

Supreme Court decision regarding the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935
The Bishops discussed the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down as unconstitutional
the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935, on statutory rape.

The Bishops’ recalled the words published last year in Our Children, Our Church, the
child protection policy for the Catholic Church in Ireland, which state: “Each child
shall be cherished and affirmed as a gift from God with an inherent right to dignity
of life and bodily integrity which shall be respected , nurtured and protected by all.”

The Bishops also noted that Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child states that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the
child shall be a primary consideration.

The Bishops emphasised that the protection of the child, therefore, is our paramount
concern and therefore call on Oireachtas members to ensure that the necessary legislation
is put in place to protect young people. Nevertheless the Bishops also took the opportunity
to state their firm belief that it would be a grave wrong for any review of legislation
in this area would to seek to lower the age of consent which is the age at which the law
presumes a person to have the physical, emotional and intellectual maturity to make an
informed adult decision to enter into sexual activity.

The Catholic Church sees sexual activity as part of the sacred vocation of marriage and
therefore it is a calling given personally by God to every married couple, to cooperate
with Him in his work of creation, redemption, and sanctification. For this reason the
Bishops strongly oppose the lowering of the age of consent as this can only increase the
likelihood that young people will be drawn into premature sexual experiences, thus ultimately
setting back the goal of a mature and loving sexual relationship within marriage.

All of us, whether in Church, in civic life, as parents or as youth leaders, we all have
a responsibility to do our best to ease the burden of societal and peer pressure on young
people today to become sexually active before they are ready to assume the attendant duties
and responsibilities.

It would be a sad irony that, by way of our effort to protect young people, we ultimately
undermine their human dignity by robbing them of their childhood and placing upon their
shoulders burdens which can only truly be borne by mature adults.

The Bishops reviewed the issues which have been raised in relation to CURA. The Bishops
commended the effort of all those involved in the ongoing dialogue with CURA and the Crisis
Pregnancy Agency.

Human Trafficking
The grave issue of human trafficking is a matter that concerns us as Bishops. The recruitment,
transfer and sale of vulnerable people – women, children and men – is a gross violation of
human rights.

Trapped through various forms of coercion or deception, trafficked persons are kept restrained
by their captors, frequently under appalling conditions. They are powerless to escape. In
this “trade”, human life is reduced to a commodity.

Exact numbers are impossible to estimate as this problem is kept hidden. However, reports
indicate that this ranks third among organized transnational crime, after drugs and firearms.
[1] Conservative estimates suggest that 2.4 million people are trafficked across international
borders each year.[2] Recent reporting confirms that we should be concerned about the numbers
of people who are trafficked to Ireland.[3]

We would hope that all concerned people in this country will assist in finding a means to
eradicate this immoral and criminal behaviour. We all have a serious Christian obligation
to care for those who have become trapped in this way.

Already, members of religious and missionary societies have set up a Working Group with the
objective of raising awareness about this issue and challenging the Government to introduce
appropriate legislation and provide essential services to trafficked persons.[4]

We would not wish to see our country fall short of our moral and political responsibilities
regarding this issue. We call on the Government to ratify, implement and incorporate into
Irish domestic law the following:

* The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially
Women and Children (UN Convention 2002, Palermo);
* The Council of Europe’s Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings
* The EU directives relating to Trafficking – following on Treaty of Amsterdam (1997).

It is a matter of urgency that legislation be put in place which regards the trafficked person
as the innocent party, and which strengthens criminal proceedings against traffickers. It
is important that Ireland co-operates fully in international efforts to address this modern
form of slavery.

[1] Athens Round Table of Business Community Against Human Trafficking, Report January 23,
2006, p5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] E.g. Ruhama Biennial Report 2003-2004; Prime Time Investigates, May 8, 2006

[4] Submission by the CORI-IMU Ad Hoc Working Group Against Human Trafficking to the Joint
Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, May 25, 2006.

Rural planning policy in Northern Ireland
The Northern Bishops discussed the subject of rural planning policy in Northern Ireland.
The Bishops said that a balance should be struck between creating sustainable, rural
communities and protecting the environment and heritage of the countryside for the benefit
of all in our society.

Thus the British Government’s policy on building new homes in the countryside must include
a commitment to the sustainable development of social, economic, community and family life
in rural areas in the North. It is an approach which can best be based on transparency
in policy-making, consultation in decision-making and fairness in application.

Rural communities face increasing challenges. Opportunities in higher education and employment
inevitably attract young people to urban areas. There are few factors encouraging their
return. Thus the social cohesion of some rural communities faces increasing strain.

In addition, agricultural policies, agreed by the European Union, indicate that existing
economic practices in rural communities will face massive transformation within the next
decade. The expected changes in farming will impact on all aspects of rural life.

Thus the British Government’s policy on physical planning in the countryside must be framed
in the context of an overall development strategy for rural communities, so that the fabric
of social and family life can be maintained.

The Church does not have a policy on residential planning – that is for a government to
formulate. But what the Church does have is a social teaching about the goods of this earth
and their use for the common good.

The Church’s Compendium of Social Doctrine teaches that the planning capacity of a society
orientated towards the common good is measured above all on the basis of employment prospects
that it is able to offer. Thus the countryside cannot become merely a desirable residential
area for those who can afford to live in it. It must be home to vibrant communities, built
on economic activity and social cohesion.

Economic activity must be based on social responsibility so that the economy can truly be at
the service of humankind. A very important and significant example in this regard is found
in the activity of co-operative enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses.

The Church also has commitment to the development and preservation of family life as the
foundation of rural communities. Our strongest rural communities are built on the principles
of Christian teaching in the practice of daily life as often exemplified in rural parishes.
They have a sense of identity in our wider society and a sense of place in a culture of increasing globalisation.

The protection and growth of such communities must form an integral part of the process of
government policy formulation.

The Church teaches that because the countryside represents a scarce resource in our society,
it must therefore be used for the common good. The scarcity of resources in nature requires
each society to come up with a plan for their utilisation in the most rational way possible,
following the logic dictated by the ‘principle of economising’.

Public expenditure must be applied with a view to efficiency in provision of services such
as electricity, water, sewage, transport and telecommunications. These strategies also
require the protection of the environment for the benefit of society now and in the future.

Unchecked new building in rural areas will not necessarily guarantee that efficient use of
resources and thus there is a need for government policy on residential planning. But that
policy must reflect all aspects of the needs of rural society It must represent an integral
part of the continuum of good government across many facets of public administration and,
above all, it must foster the growth and development of traditional rural activities and

At all times it must be respectful of the unique countryside environment which has been
given to us by God. The Church teaches that an economy respectful of the environment will
not have the maximisation of profit as its only objective, because environmental protection
cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefit.

Most rural communities have as their centre a village or some similar settlement which must
be respected as the focal point for the sustainable development of the rural way of life.
It would therefore be of immense value if government were to provide positive leadership
in the planning and development of villages in such a way that they can provide the social
and economic facilities essential for the growth of rural communities.

It is a concern if government intends to ban any extension of living in the countryside as
a one-dimensional policy. The Bishops appreciate that regulation is needed to allow for
good planning of rural housing for the common good. However, the decision to effectively
ban future rural housing is of concern to all if it is merely an attempt to force rural
dwellers off the land and into urban communities.

The decision of An Bord Pleanála regarding St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh

The Bishops’ Conference has noted with grave disappointment and concern the decision of
An Bord Pleanála to refuse planning permission for the liturgical reordering of the
Sanctuary of St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh.

The direction and order of the Board to refuse planning permission is being studied.
The extensive report of the Board’s Inspector, who conducted the oral hearing (28 February,
1-2 March 2006), and who recommended approval for planning, is also being studied.

Council for Research & Development Vocations survey for 2005
The Bishops’ Council for Research & Development published its annual vocations survey
for 2005 which is available is on www.catholiccommunciations.ie. A summary of the survey
is as follows:

– The survey involved 179 questionnaires and these were sent to 26 diocesan offices,
39 provincial houses of clerical religious orders as well as 114 houses of sisters’
and brothers’ orders.
– 19 priests were ordained in 2005, an increase of four on 2004. 14 nuns and brothers
were finally professed* in 2005, an increase of six on the previous year.
– The total number of ordained and finally professed personnel in 2005 is 16,322, a drop
of 2.6% on the 2004 figure of 16,770.
– In 2005, the largest increase in ordinations and professions is recorded amongst
clerical religious orders.
– The total number of departures for 2005 was 43, down from the previous year’s figure
of 47.
– In 2005, there was a net loss (i.e. departures and death) of 35 diocesan priests. This
is the lowest net loss since 1997.
– In 2005, there were 90 applicants to orders and dioceses. 56 of these, or 62%, were
accepted as entrants. This is highest percentage of entrants to applicants in the last
10 years.
– 1n 1995, seminarians accounted for 59% of all departures but they accounted for only
33% in 2005.
– There are 2,439, or 78% of all diocesan priests, in parish ministry.
– The profile of diocesan priesthood is getting older. 43% are aged between 50 and 69
years and there are steady increases in the numbers of those aged 80 and over.
– Amongst those studying for the diocesan priesthood, almost two thirds are studying to
degree level.
– There were 3,036 priests and brothers in clerical religious orders in 2005. Of these,
60% of these are based in Ireland and the balance live and work abroad.
– In 2005 there were 15 ordinations and final professions amongst the clerical religious
– There were 9,248 finally professed sisters in 2005, 86% of whom are based in Ireland.
– 65% of applicants to sisters’ orders were accepted in 2005.
– There were 700 brothers in 2005, 82% of whom are based in Ireland.
– The declining numbers amongst brothers’ orders is primarily due to the low number of
entrants and final professions as well as an ageing profile.

* Finally professed refers to men or women who are definitively incorporated
into a religious community. Of the men who are finally professed, some are
subsequently ordained priests and some are not.

Further information:

Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)