23 February 2008
CURA Annual Conference 2008: Opening remarks by Bishop John Fleming, President of CURA
I welcome the opportunity to address you at the beginning of our annual Conference.
At the outset let me pay tribute to all of you, the Cura volunteers and the members of our National Executive Committee (NEC), for your patience, courage and commitment, especially during recent years. While discussions on complex moral issues were taking place in the Irish Bishops’ Conference, and between representatives of the Conference and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, you remained steadfast and faithful in each of your centres, caring for those who were experiencing a crisis in their pregnancy and carrying on the work of Cura. My words are an inadequate expression of my thanks but they are, nonetheless, sincere.
The new Service Level Agreement, which has been signed between Cura and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, formally recognizes and acknowledges the ethos of Cura, which, as an agency of the Irish Episcopal Conference, “upholds the right of every child to be born and to receive from society its consequent human rights” (Cura Constitution. n 2.) It also recognizes, in accordance with the law, the right of conscientious objection on the part of all those who do not wish to provide access to abortion information.
Furthermore, with the agreement of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, Cura is preparing a pre-counselling leaflet in which its ethos will be stated clearly. The leaflet will also outline the services we provide in Cura and the services which we cannot provide. Those who approach Cura, therefore, with a view to engaging in counselling will know beforehand what Cura offers and the services which it cannot provide. If they then decide to engage in counselling with Cura they will know that they will not be provided, under any circumstances, with access information to the provision of abortion services. The Service Level Agreement also recognises that, when a counselling process with a Cura counsellor has ended, if requested, the client may be referred to a General Practitioner.
Recently I began a schedule of visits to all 16 Cura Centres around the country. These visits will provide me with an opportunity to express the gratitude of the Irish Bishops for your work. They will also give me an opportunity to listen to your experience, your observations and any concerns which may arise. Through my working with you and, in particular, with your Spiritual Directors, this exchange will help to inform the work of Cura and create a forum in which any moral concerns which you may have can be discussed and addressed. At our heart our work will always present us with a challenge when providing a professional counselling service in a modern context while at the same time remaining true to our ethos and the fulfilment of our duty of care to the client. I am confident that these visits, together with our discussions at this conference, will help us to address this challenge.
I want to assure you that the NEC continues to make every effort possible to bring to final resolution all the issues which have arisen in recent years. As I said to you last year, the three volunteers in the Letterkenny Centre have been reinstated and a process is in place which I hope will lead to the resolution of this issue. I am unwilling to comment on this lest the final resolution of this matter is undermined in any way. I repeat, the NEC continues to work to bring about the resolution and closure which we all desire.
In the area of crisis pregnancy counselling, Cura provides a secure space in which those who faces a crisis in their pregnancy can confront their crisis, discuss the options open to them and determine the way forward. Secure in the knowledge that the right to life of their unborn child will never be put in danger, the person who engages with Cura for counselling can do so calmly, in a caring atmosphere and with confidence. The theme of this year’s Conference “Crisis Pregnancy Counselling: Working with Challenge” will provide us with an opportunity to revisit and explore the journey you make each time you engage with a client in Cura, whether face to face or on the phone. It will provide an opportunity to recall the core values which arise from our ethos as well as to look at the skills we use in our professional counselling work and the challenges we face. I would like to encourage each of you to participate fully in the work of the next two days. In my capacity, as President of Cura, I look forward to sharing in your work and to hearing the feedback from your deliberations. The feedback which you will give and the issues which you will raise will help to inform the work which we will do in the future as we continue to provide a professional counselling service which reflects our particular ethos.
The signing of our new three year Service Level Agreement provides us with an opportunity to move forward and offers the opportunity for new and exciting developments together with the ongoing provision of our current services. These new developments include the development of a post natal support service. In line with our duty of care, this service will provide us with an opportunity to support women who are experiencing difficulties or challenges after they have given birth, in their journey through the early months of parenting. We hope to commence this work in the coming months.
At present we are also engaged in the development of outreach services in a number of areas in order to ensure greater accessibility to the crisis pregnancy services provided by Cura throughout the country. Here, I would like to acknowledge the work that has already begun in this area and, in particular, I congratulate the Wexford Centre on the opening of their outreach service in Gorey. I would like to recognise the enormous work undertaken by Helen Murphy, Cura Coordinator in Wexford, and the team of volunteers who made this possible and I want to assure them of the continued support of National Office in these early stages of this development. I would also like to acknowledge the work of Ann Coffey, Coordinator in CURA Kerry, and her team of volunteers for the work they have undertaken in planning the development of services in Kerry and wish them well with the opening of their new outreach service in Tralee next month.
To the other Centres who are already involved in the early stages of planning for outreach services I wish you well in your work and look forward to hearing of your developments. In this regard I also want to thank Bishop Brennan of Ferns and Bishop Murphy of Kerry for their support at diocesan level for these new initiatives
A new energy is making itself felt within this organization. We are engaging with renewed vigour in the challenges presented by our modern, ever changing culture. Crisis pregnancy counselling will always present great challenges to those who work in this field on behalf of the Church. However, I am confident that with your support and commitment we can meet these challenges.
Finally, as I declare the 2008 Cura Conference open, let me thank all those who have made this week-end possible. In particular, I want to acknowledge the work of all those who were involved in preparation and planning for the Conference; including Helen Murphy and her fellow members of Cura Wexford, Louise, Claire, Christine, Charlotte and Noreen, the team from National Office, the Co-ordinators of all the Centres around the country and you, their fellow members, Father Tom Dalton, the Spiritual Director of Cura Wexford, the other Spiritual Directors present, Mr Gus Murray and all those who will facilitate our discussions.
I hope and pray that during these days together each of us will be renewed in the friendship we share with each other as well as in the discussion that take place between us.
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)