Spring 2013 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

06 Mar 2013

Spring 2013 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

The Spring 2013 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference concluded today in the Columba Centre, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  The following press release details subjects discussed by the bishops during their three-day meeting:

•    Prayers for His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus and for the cardinal-electors ahead of the Conclave to elect the 266th Supreme Pontiff
•    Protection of unborn human life – www.chooselife2013.ie
•    Cura
•    Safeguarding Children
•    Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter
•    Peace in Ireland
•    Share the Good News
•    Migration and the Solemnity of Saint Patrick
•    Trócaire’s 40th Anniversary Lenten Campaign
•    Vocations Sunday 2013
•    Episcopal retirement and ordinations

•    Prayers for His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus and the cardinal-electors
Bishops acknowledged the immense contribution of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, to the Universal Church and in particular gratefully commended the love and concern that he has always shown for the Church in Ireland.

Bishops ask the faithful to offer prayers in thanksgivings for his Pontificate, and offered him good wishes for his retirement.  Bishops prayed, and asked for prayers, for Cardinal Seán Brady and his fellow cardinal-electors as they meet in General Congregation ahead of the Conclave to elect the 266th Supreme Pontiff.

Special Masses can be celebrated during this unique time and the Roman Missal contains texts in its section on ‘Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions’.  An appropriate Mass may be celebrated on the weekdays of Lent at the direction of the diocesan bishop or with his permission.

•    Protection of unborn human life
Bishops continued their discussion on promoting and protecting unborn human life in the context of the Irish Government’s intention to legislate for abortion.  Bishops remain deeply concerned about any intention to legislate for abortion in this country.

Abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances; this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby.  The 2010 judgement of the European Court of Human Rights can be satisfied by appropriate guidelines clarifying existing best practice in our hospitals.

Bishops noted international experience which shows that legislative attempts to restrict abortion do not work.  Once abortion becomes permissible in a country, any limits to its availability become eroded over time.

As a Bishops’ Conference we have always held, with many others, that the judgment of the Supreme Court in the 1992 ‘X Case’ is not a basis on which to move forward on this critical issue.  In that judgment, the Court unilaterally overturned the pro-life intention and the will of the people in the 1983 referendum.  It heard no psychiatric evidence.  It implied that abortion was an answer to suicidal ideation, whereas current research indicates that suicidal ideation rarely relates to a single cause and that abortion itself can lead to suicidal ideation and mental health difficulties.

Concern was also raised about the potential effect of abortion legislation in Ireland on medical workers – midwives, nurses, doctors and consultants – who wish to conscientiously object to being party to abortion in any circumstances.

The Catholic Church – along with many other religious and ethical traditions, and human rights groups – believes in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice.  This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in our country.

Everyone committed to protecting unborn human life can view the personal testimonies, liturgical resources and pray the Prayer for the Child in the Womb on www.chooselife2013.ie

•    Cura
The bishops’ crisis pregnancy agency Cura will hold its annual conference in Cork on 8 and 9 March next.  The theme for the 2013 conference is ‘The Holding Space’ and will explore the skills and role of the crisis pregnancy counsellor including challenges, responsibilities and boundaries.  Bishops congratulated Cura’s 180 counsellors – representing fourteen centres and seven outreach centres – for their professional and compassionate approach to provision of services for women experiencing the challenge of an unplanned pregnancy or crisis during pregnancy.  In addition to its centres, Cura services can also be accessed through the national helpline 1850 622 626.

•    Safeguarding Children
A wide-ranging presentation of the current work being undertaken by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, was given by Mr John Morgan, Chairman, and Mr Ian Elliott, Chief Executive including the third tranche of the review process which involves both dioceses and religious congregations.  Bishops expressed appreciation for the essential work being carried out by the National Office, and for the valuable contribution that it is making to child safeguarding in the life of the Church in Ireland.

•    Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter
In this the season of Lent the call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for Easter.  Bishops ask the faithful to offer up their fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture and works of mercy during Lent 2013 for the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.

Penance is an essential part of the lives of all Christ’s faithful.  It arises from the Lord’s call to conversion and repentance.  Christians do penance: in memory of the Passion and death of Our Lord; as a sharing in Christ’s suffering; as an expression of inner conversion and as a form of reparation for sin.  Bishops specifically encourage the faithful and parish communities:
– to make the Sign of the Cross as they pass a church;
– to renew the long tradition of fasting on Friday;
– to promote the practice of ‘the Easter Duty’, whereby all the faithful of communicant age are encouraged to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion during the Easter season;
– to promote and engage in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and,
– to study and reflect upon the Gospel of Saint Luke during the remainder of the liturgical year, with the assistance of supporting materials available online or in Veritas bookshops.

•    Peace in Ireland
Bishops discussed the effects of violence on families and communities.

In the context of the current state of the Northern Ireland Peace Process two significant anniversaries occur in April: the 50th anniversary of Blessed John XXIII’s Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) “on establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty” on 11 April; and, the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April.

A reflection on the achievements of the Peace Process since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 should motivate us, as a society, to renew our efforts to address the remaining obstacles to peace and good relations throughout the island of Ireland and beyond.

Much has been done to remove the threat of sectarian and paramilitary violence, and yet, sadly, there are more peace walls today than in 1998.  With employment opportunities severely restricted by the current economic crisis, many young people, North and South, are seriously at risk of becoming involved in this type of violence.  This danger has been clearly demonstrated by recent attacks on members of An Garda Síochána, PSNI and prison officers.

Bishops expressed deep concern regarding other forms of violence which is on the increase in our communities.  In recent years families have lost loved ones in horrific circumstances through the violence of criminal gangs.  This development has instilled a heightened fear in our communities.  In some parts of Ireland people are living under the threat of violence, fearful for their future.  This threat needs to be addressed as an integral part of our peace-building efforts.  The peaceful future we so earnestly desire will not be achieved if one form of armed violence is simply replaced by another.

The impact of such violence in our society, and the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, provide us with an opportunity to reflect on Pacem in Terris which charts how the work of peace is progressed through a dialogue which crosses boundaries of religion, politics and culture, founded on a shared respect for the dignity of the human person.  A just and peaceful society needs to be founded on respect for human rights and – crucially – acceptance of the responsibilities arising from those rights.  A significant contribution of this encyclical was its emphasis on socio-economic rights, namely the importance of ensuring that people have the means necessary for a standard of living that respects their dignity and allows them to achieve their potential.

Human dignity and the protection of the common good are at the heart of the commitment to a shared future enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.  In this context, we wish to reiterate our longstanding concern that any reforms of social welfare – North and South – need to be carefully assessed in terms of the impact on the most vulnerable individuals and communities. The removal of vital safety nets for those at risk of poverty will have a damaging impact on social cohesion and, consequently, prospects for the achievement of a lasting peace.

Bishops urge public policy makers to give serious consideration to this reality in decisions on social and economic policy to prevent vulnerable young people being led down a path that will involve them in the destruction of life and the loss of their futures through death or imprisonment.

Finally, the coming together of these two anniversaries should serve as a strong reminder not to lose sight of the objective of reconciliation, explicitly named in the Good Friday Agreement.  Our ambition must extend beyond equal, but divided, communities, to the transformation of relationships in a spirit of understanding, forgiveness and mutual respect.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pacem in Terris, the Council for Justice and Peace will shortly publish a statement to encourage reflection on this important Church teaching.

•    Share the Good News
Bishop Kieran O’Reilly, Chair of the Implementation Committee for Share the Good News, the National Directory for Catechesis, reported on some examples of how Share the Good News is inspiring the work of groups of people all around Ireland.  The directory was launched in 2011 and is a ten year plan for renewal of the faith community in Ireland.

Bishop O’Reilly said, “Across the Church, from small groups of people to more complex strategies, the Directory is the ground upon which faith and faith community can be nurtured in Ireland into the future.  The faithful are interested to see the work that they already do reflected in the Directory.  The gift that it is, from the heart of the Church in Ireland, continues to give life to faith communities large and small.”

Bishop O’Reilly presented a new set of thematic presentations on Share the Good News focusing on seven of its themes.  These booklets are available in Veritas stores nationwide, and for purchase by emailing: [email protected]
–    Catholic Schools: Building Community
–    Adults Learning and Teaching Faith
–    Encountering God: Prayer in the Christian Life
–    Evangelise: Witness to God’s Love
–    In the Parish
–    Family Catechesis
–    Youth and Young Adult Faith Development

Bishop O’Reilly explained that the thematic presentations provide adults in educational and pastoral settings with a way into the directory itself.  Each one is an introduction to its theme and helps people to engage with the directory more fully.

•    Migration and the Solemnity of Saint Patrick
The Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants will host a symposium in the Capuchin Friary beside Saint Michan’s Church, Church Street, Dublin, on 14 March next entitled “Migration, Spirituality and the Human Journey” for the benefit of those working in migrant care organisations.

Traditionally Saint Patrick’s Day is a special day for Irish people living at home and abroad.  In 2013 we celebrate our national Saint’s day in the midst of a deep economic recession which has resulted in domestic heartbreak throughout Ireland for many individuals and families due to the pressure of unemployment and emigration.

The plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures.  Patrick was called to serve and bring God to a people far from his homeland.  Our national Saint was a pioneer in an inhospitable climate.

Saint Patrick’s Day 2013 in Paris
Ahead of Saint Patrick’s Day on March 16,  part of the Mass celebrated in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris will be prayed in the Irish language.  The pilgrimage Mass in Notre Dame de Paris will be the major event of this year for the Irish Chaplaincy in Paris and will mark both the Year of Faith and the Irish Presidency of the European Union in a significant way.

It is anticipated that pilgrims will come from Ireland for the Mass:  In particular, the Kildare and Leighlin Choir, under the direction of Father Liam Lawton and Marian Gaynor, whose music ministry will enhance the liturgy.  Monsignor Brendan Byrne, Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin will preach on this historic occasion while Bishop Noël Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, who is responsible for the Chaplaincy on behalf of the Irish Episcopal Conference, will preside at the Mass.

•    Trócaire’s 40th Anniversary Lenten Campaign
Bishops acknowledged the 40th anniversary of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Irish Catholic Church, and thanked the Catholics of Ireland for four decades of life-changing generous support.  Bishops reaffirmed that Trócaire’s pastoral outreach was underpinned by Christian love for, and solidarity with, our neighbour in need.

This special anniversary year for Trócaire was marked yesterday by the annual Lenten lecture entitled “Who is my Neighbour? – Building a civilisation of love in an unequal world” which was delivered by Brother Philip Pinto cfc, Congregational Leader of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, in Renehan Hall at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The pastoral letter to inaugurate Trócaire, published on 2 February 1973 by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, was guided by Pope Paul VI’s 1967 Populorum Progressio encyclical, which placed a fresh focus on the Church’s desire to help people striving to escape from hunger and poverty.  The pastoral letter recognised the structural injustices and inequalities that cause poverty: “We are a rich nation to some extent because others are poor.  Part of our prosperity is due to the fact that people in developing countries are not getting a fair deal.”

From the beginning, Trócaire’s aim was not just to feed the hungry, but to question why they have no food.  This search for justice and a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources has been the organisation’s driving-force ever since.

Over the last forty years, Trócaire has witnessed Irish Catholics stand shoulder to shoulder with our global neighbours during their darkest hours, from the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s, to the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the devastating Asian tsunami in 2004 and when drought struck East Africa in 2011.

The compassionate people of Ireland have enabled Trócaire to help millions of people to overcome a life of poverty and build a sense of hope for their future and their children’s future.

The 2013 Trócaire Lenten Campaign highlights how rural communities in India are working together to successfully petition their government to provide for their human rights to education, water, healthcare and basic infrastructure. “They are asking their government to share the country’s new-found wealth and through this address inequality,” said Justin Kilcullen, Executive Director of Trócaire. “They are speaking up and demanding justice. And for the first time, they are being listened to.

“Posters from Trócaire’s very first Lenten Campaign in March 1973 asked the question ‘Where’s my share?’ on behalf of the world’s poor. Today, vulnerable communities across the world are asking this question of their governments by themselves,” said Mr Kilcullen.

“Overcoming poverty is about being able to safely challenge governments and about every human being realising their right to a life of dignity that is free from poverty.  Communities in the poorest parts of the world have gained the strength to do this because Catholics from Ireland have supported them through Trócaire’s work and made an incredible difference.”

Trócaire’s Lenten campaign commenced on Ash Wednesday 13 February and runs to Easter Sunday on 31 March. To order a Trócaire Box or find out more, visit a local parish, log onto trocaire.org or call its national helpline 1850 408 408.

•    Vocations Sunday 2013
The 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be celebrated on Sunday 21 April on the theme: ‘Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith’.  While the Second Vatican Council was in session Pope Paul VI instituted this day of worldwide prayer to God asking Him to continue to send workers for His Church (cf. Mt 9:38).

Bishops ask the faithful to continue to pray for vocations to priesthood and to religious life, and to reflect on the theme of this year’s message for Vocations Sunday.  The full text of the message can be read on www.catholicbishops.ie.

•    Episcopal retirement, anniversary and ordinations
Bishops thanked Archbishop Dermot Clifford for his role as Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Cloyne and congratulated Bishop William Crean on his ordination as Bishop of Cloyne on 27 January last.

Bishop expressed their good wishes to Bishop-elect Brendan Leahy of the Diocese of Limerick and Monsignor Eamon Martin, Coadjutor Archbishop-elect of the Archdiocese of Armagh, in advance of their episcopal ordinations on 14 and 21 April respectively.

Bishops prayed and conveyed blessings to Bishop Gerard Clifford who retired as Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh on 27 February last, and to His Eminence Cardinal Desmond Connell, Archbishop Emeritus of Dublin, on the occasion today of the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination.


For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444