24TH FEBRUARY 2007
Address at the 30th CURA Annual Conference by Bishop of Killala and President of CURA, Bishop John Fleming Corrib Heights Hotel in Renmore, Co Galway Saturday 24 February 2007
I welcome the opportunity to address you at your Annual Conference. The fact that CURA was founded thirty years ago allows us the opportunity to reflect on the changes which have taken place as we prepare ourselves for the future.
Thirty years is seen as the span of years between one generation in a family and the next. In the past, thirty years saw change take place in a measured way which ensured that the values, experiences and beliefs of one generation were passed on to the next, without too much difficulty or change. The past thirty years have been different. The rate of change seen in the span of a generation in the past is now measured in a decade at most.
Many factors have caused this. Among these are the recent revolution in technology, the experience of uninterrupted peace in Europe and the changes that have taken place in the institutions of Church and State. At the core of this is the fact that the truths which stood as protective barriers for society have, for the greater part, fallen and in a real sense society all over Western Europe is now in danger of free fall. In general, our young people are growing up in a world which is not deeply rooted in the past but one in which fast data, instant feedback and the delete button on the computer have become part and parcel of the thought process of our time. Many of them have never known the relative certainty, stability and slower pace of life in which people of my generation grew up and made decisions. All the institutions which provided us with the security and guidance, the Church, the police force, teaching, medicine and even the law, have all come under the scrutiny of the microscope of honesty and trust and many have been found wanting. In all of this the danger of relativism faces us. For a few moments, therefore, let me take you through some of the changes which now affect us most in CIJRA.
What has changed?
When CURA was founded in 1977 the Catholic bishops recognised the difficulties which some women experienced in their pregnancies and decided to provide care and support for them. For almost twenty years through the hard work and dedication of the volunteers, the Bishops built up this organisation on their own. In the mid 1990’s the Eastern Health Board, as it was then, recognised the significant contribution made by CURA to Irish society and decided to offer some financial help. In 2000 the Government recognised that a pregnancy could be a crisis for some women and established an All Party Oireachtas Committee to examine this issue. Following the Report of this Committee, the Crisis Pregnancy Agency was established and its brief formulated. The offer of handing to CURA from the Eastern Health Board was then channelled through the newly established Agency.
Nowadays, therefore, with regard to the resources it needs, CURA is heavily reliant, first of all, on your freely given time. And then it relies jointly on the Catholic Church and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency for financial support.
The second change which took place was the introduction of new legislation in the 1995 Regulation of Information Act. Under this Act, in very specific circumstances, it became lawful to give contact details for abortion. Together with the revolution which has taken place in the easy access to information through technology, this has greatly influenced the context in which CURA provides its service today.
Another major change which has taken place in the past thirty years is the attitude of society to the issue of abortion. Mary Kenny, in a recent article in The Telegraph (16/02/07) reviewed the change which has taken place in England and Wales during the forty years since abortion was legalised. In particular she noted the belief in the mid- 1960’s that if abortion was introduced it would solve the issue of children being put into care, which stood at 5,000 at that time. Today, that figure stands at 50,000. Forty years ago English society was alarmed because there were 4,000 teenage mothers in England. Nowadays England has the highest rate of single teenage mothers in Europe and it is estimated that one third of all births are to single parents. Britain’s official abortion figures, according to Mary Kenny, now increase by more than two per cent each year and it is estimated that 186,000 abortions were procured last year alone. These changes in attitude which have taken place in our sister island have also influenced us and CURA now works in a very different context to that in which it was founded.
Another change that might be mentioned is the need for all professions, service providers and each of us individually to be more professional, transparent and accountable in all that we do. This imperative ensures that the world in which we work has changed greatly from that which existed in the late ‘70’s. Our approach in CURA needs, therefore, to be informed by the highest standards of professional practice in every aspect of our work as well as in our open adherence and fidelity to the ethos which guides us.
These are some of the changed circumstances in which CURA now works. And yet much remains the same.
Thirty years on unplanned pregnancies still occur. Despite all the changes of attitude in society and the apparently more understanding culture in which we live, some women still experience pregnancy as a crisis in their lives and still feel the need to talk to someone in an environment which they feel is caring, secure and non-judgmental.
In particular, a recent report on concealed pregnancies has shown that the desire to keep a pregnancy secret has not changed for some, despite the apparent openness of our society to single parenthood, adoption and fostering. For some people, of whatever age or circumstance, the fear of telling family and friends about a newly discovered pregnancy seems to have remained a constant during the past thirty years.
The demand for post-abortion counselling nowadays – by both men and women – also serves to underline the potential long term effects of abortion not only on the mother but, quite often, on the father as well. A recent call to a CURA Centre from an elderly man began with the question: “Do you help fathers? Nobody has ever asked me how I feel after all these years.”
In 1977, therefore, the client was normally the woman for whom a pregnancy was a crisis. Today our client base is much wider. The circumstances in which the crisis is encountered are much broader, therefore, while the human fears and feelings remain the
“CURA Cares” has become our password. “Thanks for listening to me and asking no
questions” was the comment passed by a relieved woman after a recent meting with a CURA counsellor. “CURA listens when no one else does” was another sentiments
expressed recently. And the truth of the proverb “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is verified.
After thirty years, therefore, through your work and dedication, the Catholic community in Ireland still cares for those who find themselves in this unhappy or even crisis situation. In fact, I think it is fair to say that the issue of a crisis in a pregnancy is as pressing today as it was thirty years ago when the Irish Bishops responded to this need and established CURA.
CURA has provided, and continues to provide, that care and that secure environment which is still so desperately needed. On its thirtieth birthday I want to express to you the gratitude of those for whom you have cared and continue to care. And on behalf of the Irish Bishops of today I also want to thank you for you selfless dedication and continued generosity.
A very important aspect of your work also that has not changed is your fidelity to the ethos of CURA. CURA has an equal care for the woman who experiences her pregnancy as a crisis and for her unborn child who, at that particular moment, has brought this element of alarm into her life. It is that equal concern for the welfare of both the mother and her unborn child that distinguishes the particular contribution which CURA makes to crisis pregnancy counselling and which is of such importance in the society in which we now live. I believe that the common good of our society demands that this distinctive
contribution be respected and supported. In the pluralist society in which we now live it is appropriate, therefore, that the work which CURA has done for the past thirty years would be valued by society and enabled to continue.
As we look to the future and to the future of CURA in particular, many of us are
struggling with the question of how to promote more effectively a culture of life in our
society; how to put in place in our midst a “civilization of love” and “culture of life” about which Pope John Paul II spoke and wrote so eloquently. Let me reflect briefly on this point.
Christ, is the real teacher and promoter of the culture of life. He is the one who has much to say to us in our ministry of care today. In his life He taught us to speak with our actions as well as our words. He taught us to show empathy and he asked us to respect and love each other by being sensitive to the unique needs and circumstances of others.
In our care for each other, the simple but profound truth is that there is no efficient or effective substitute for the private, personal, time-intensive conversations that translate beyond words into the most life-saving message of all: “You are a beloved child of God. No matter what mistakes you may have made or sin you may have committed, you are infinitely valuable and precious in God’s sight.” This was His message and it is the truth expressed and often unspoken in the counselling which you undertake.
Like Christ, CURA’S counselling does not condemn the individual but, equally like Christ, it is not value free in the sense that CURA is totally committed to caring for the life both of the mother and her unborn child.
I compliment you, therefore, on your determination to remain faithful to the vision of the Bishops in 1977 and those who assisted them in founding CURA. In particular, I want to take this opportunity, therefore, to thank all of you for your unswerving loyalty to CURA.
I am aware of, and share, the great pain which many of you have felt during the past two and a half years as CURA struggles to remain faithful to its ethos on the one hand and to engage with the rapidly changing culture in which we now live on the other. Despite the difficulties which you have experienced, you have remained loyal to CURA and faithful to the direction of the Irish Bishops. I compliment you on this. I thank you for it and I assure you that it is greatly appreciated.
When CURA was founded the world in which it worked was supported by a culture much of which has changed. A whole range of factors have brought this change in society about, many of them unpredicted and unexpected. One which touches your work most importantly is, as I indicated earlier, that of the easy access to instant information provided by the mobile phone and the internet. People today, young and old, urban and rural, native Irish and foreign national, all of us can access the kind of information nowadays which was simply unthinkable in the world of the 1970’s when CURA was founded.
Another factor which influences us is the growth of the debate industry. In this, issues in general are discussed in the public forum and, in particular, in the media. In the past issues of public concern were debated but not widely reported. This is not the case today. Suddenly we find ourselves the focus of public debate and I know how painful you have found this in particular. The crisis pregnancy counseling, in which you work, is at the cutting edge of the engagement of the Church with the modern world. It faces issues of fundamental concern to the Church and of great importance for society. It is inevitable, therefore, that we are the subject of public debate as we continue to do our work and engage with the greatly changed modern world.
For over two years now, you, the volunteers, the NEC and the Irish Bishops have been facing this reality of the engagement of the Church with modern world in the area of crisis pregnancy counselling and, in particular, we have been examining some of the complex moral issues which accompany it. Looking at this issue in all its complexity has taken a good deal of time but I want to assure you today that there is a determination on the part of all involved to see this matter brought to a conclusion without delay.
I also want to state clearly my appreciation of your patience and your loyalty to CURA in circumstances which, by any standards, can only be described as extraordinarily difficult. I also want to put on record my gratitude to you for your fidelity to CURA as we grapple with the complex issues placed before us by the changes which have taken place in society.
Even more importantly, I want to place on record my admiration for the manner in which you have not allowed the difficulties through which we have lived to distract you from keeping the focus of CURA where it must always be: with the person who is experiencing a crisis in a pregnancy and her unborn child. You could easily have been distracted by the difficulties you faced and the pain which you experienced and not have focused on the pain experienced by those for whom you care. Through your courage and generosity, CURA can hold its head high and say that, despite all its difficulties, it has never ceased to provide the care and support of those for whom it was founded.
CURA and the Culture of Life
Christ, in each of His parables, showed us how to engage with others where they are not where we would prefer for them to be. When He spoke to an audience of farmers, He addressed them on their terms. He spoke of tilling the soil and pruning dead branches. When he spoke to shepherds, He spoke of leading a flock to safety and the joy of finding one lost sheep. In essence, He was able to translate His eternal truths into the familiar language of their own life circumstances. And, through this, He challenged them and lead them.
Notably, He bore witness to the truth through His actions and almost always to one person at a time. For every miraculous incident where Jesus fed the masses with a few loaves and fish, there are far more instances where He healed a certain leper, cured a chosen blind man, and forgave the sins of a specific sinner. He repeatedly expressed His love through concrete, tangible actions. He refused to keep a safe distance from His subject whether in word or action. Instead, He reached out and touched one broken, hurting person at a time.
In the work that you do your healing words too, spoken and unspoken, help build a genuine and lasting culture of life. They ring true and find their way home in every wounded human heart. And when enough voices like yours proclaim this truth. with genuine compassion and unwavering courage, Christ’s love will become the leaven in the bread of new life that will, indeed, “renew die face of the earth.”
As we look to the future let me leave you with the words of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae 90:
“Volunteer workers have a specific role to play: they make a valuable contribution to the service of life when they combine professional ability and generous, selfless love. The Gospel of life inspires them to lift their feelings of good will towards others to the heights of Christ’s charity; to renew every day, amid hard work and weariness, their awareness of the dignity of every person; to search out people’s needs and, when necessary, to set out on new paths where needs are greater but care and support weaker.
If charity is to be realistic and effective, it demands that the Gospel of life be implemented also by means of certain forms of social activity and commitment in the political field, as a way of defending and promoting the value of life in our ever more complex and pluralistic societies. Individuals, families, groups and associations, albeit for different reasons and in different ways, all have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political and legislative projects which, with respect for all and in keeping with democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced.”
Thank you for listening.