Homily of Bishop Leo O’Reilly Kilmore Pilgrimage to Knock, Sunday 16 June 2013
Earlier this year I asked all our priests to encourage people to take part in this year’s pilgrimage to Knock Shrine as part of their celebration of the Year of Faith. I am delighted to see so many people here today and also happy that our celebration coincides with a special Year of Faith celebration in Rome this week-end. Today Pope Francis leads a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life. This was Pope John Paul’s great teaching on the value of human life and the importance of promoting a culture of life. It’s message was never more relevant in our country than at this moment.
In the words of the bishops’ Statement earlier this week, this is a defining moment of our history. The government has just published the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill”. You would think that a bill with that title would be something to welcome and to applaud. But unfortunately it is not. The words are misleading. They are Orwellian words, meant to hide the real effect of this new legislation. This Bill does not do what it claims in its title. If it becomes law it will be permissible for a doctor to directly and intentionally take the life of an unborn baby.
Just a week ago tens of thousands of people gathered in Dublin to express their support for the equal right to life of mothers and their unborn children. Strangely, that gathering of up to 40,000 people scarcely got a mention, not to speak of a headline or a front page photo, in the newspapers the next day.
I was privileged to be part of that gathering. I heard the speakers – all but one of them women – speak passionately about their wish to ensure that mothers in difficult or crisis pregnancies receive the care and treatment they need during pregnancy. They were equally concerned that unborn children also get the care they need. They acknowledged the skill and efforts of our doctors, nurses, and other care professionals who have helped to earn Ireland’s place as one of the safest countries in the world for mothers and their babies during pregnancy. It’s safe because our Constitution pledges that both a mother and her unborn child have an equal right to life. It’s safe because the culture of medical practice has always been to care for two patients when they are dealing with women in pregnancy. This legislation, if passed, will fundamentally change that culture of medical practice in Ireland.
The Bishops’ Statement makes it clear once again that the Church’s position on abortion does not prevent a pregnant woman getting whatever treatment she needs: …where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible, provided every effort is make to save both the mother and the baby.
The statement goes on to point out that: This is different from abortion, which is the direct and intentional taking of the innocent life of the unborn. No matter what legislation is passed in any country, abortion is, and always will be, gravely wrong.
What is most alarming is that this legislation proposes abortion as an appropriate response to women with suicidal feelings during pregnancy. There are no time limits set on this so it could happen right up to and including the moment of birth. And all this, despite the clear psychiatric and medical evidence given at two separate Oireachtas hearings, that abortion is never a treatment for suicidal intent.
There is no medical or scientific basis for this provision, but it carries with it the danger that this will become the loophole that pro-abortion people need to introduce abortion on a wider scale. We only have to look at what has happened in other countries to see what could happen here. Offering abortion as a remedy for the threat of suicide carries with it the further danger, as pointed out recently by an eminent psychiatrist, that it may help to normalise suicide, make it a respectable option, at a time when suicide among young people is almost an epidemic.
The Bishops’ Statement highlights another serious concern, namely the right to freedom of conscience. It says:
Freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right. A State that truly cherishes freedom will respect the consciences of it citizens, including public representatives, on such an important human value as the right to life.
It goes on to speak about the position of medical people: It is ethically unacceptable to expect doctors, nurses and others who have conscientious objections to nominate others to take their place. Neither should any institution [a hospital or a clinic] with a pro-life ethos be forced to provide abortion services.
Finally, the Bishops call on people to make their views known respectfully to our public representatives and leave them in no doubt about where we stand on this issue. We condemn unreservedly those who resort to harassment or abusive behaviour of any kind in making their views known. Whoever these people are they do not represent the Church. We take no responsibility for their actions. Their actions should not be used to try to prevent responsible people exercising their democratic rights and making their views known to their public representatives.
You and I do not have a vote in deciding this issue. That responsibility, and it is a heavy one, falls on our public representatives. They are faced with a decision of the utmost gravity. We ask them to uphold the equal and inviolable right to life of all human beings, even if this means having to resist the pressures of party loyalties and make real sacrifices in the process. That will not be easy, so I ask you also to pray for our public representatives. They need the support of our prayers.
In this Year of Faith, as we reflect on the teaching of Blessed John Paul’s encyclical, the Gospel of Life, let us pray especially for mothers and their unborn children:
Some mothers today are facing difficult or crisis pregnancies. Other people who have had, or who have assisted with abortions, may be re-living what happened in the past. They deserve to receive all the love, support and professional care that they need.
Let us continue to say the Choose Life prayer at Mass and in our homes so that the dignity and value of all human life will continue to be upheld in our country and that our medical practice will be shaped by a culture of life in the future as it has been in the past.