My Dear People,
In anticipation of the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland I want to write to you on the question of the Right to Life. As Catholics we all hold to the absolute sacredness of all life from conception to natural death. Still, I know that this is a very sensitive, delicate and, indeed, painful topic for many. I offer my reflections with great respect for the integrity of everyone while wishing to make some points clearly and unambiguously.
You and I have a right to our life. It is not given to us by the Irish Constitution or by any law. We have it ‘as of right’, whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or sick. All human beings have it. For us as a society to now declare that any category of human beings should have that right taken from them is a seriously backward step. It effectively says that they don’t exist or, if they do, they do not count. That is a manifest injustice.
We can allow ourselves to be desensitised
When we change or delete a law we run the risk of blinding ourselves over time to the truth behind it even though all the evidence we need is before our eyes. In our day we see more clearly than ever before how everything begins at conception. There is no later stage in a baby’s development where we can say; “up until now the foetus was not a person and now it has become a baby”. At every point, from conception on, the baby has within him or herself the full potential to be whatever destiny might allow. All he or she needs is time and nurturing.
The Science is clear
The scientific evidence was never clearer than it is now. It is a great irony that we in Ireland are for the first time in history losing our clarity about the right to life of the unborn. Knowledge about the mysterious workings of DNA and the stunningly vivid evidence of ultrasound images of little persons in the earliest weeks in the womb should be making us more committed than ever to the protection of unborn life. Something is going on in the national psyche. Is it really what we want?
Life and Choice
The little human in the womb has life and potential. However, like all babies, before birth or in the early years, he or she has no choice. Powerless to claim their rights they rely on the rest of us to choose for them and to vindicate their rights. When we use the word ‘choice’ we need to remember that for the baby waiting to be born the choice is a matter of life and death.
Two Lives One Love
An expectant mother needs and deserves the care and support of everyone around her particularly if her pregnancy poses a serious crisis for her and her family. A mother may be informed that her baby faces serious challenges or is perhaps terminally ill. She might be pregnant as a result of rape. In such cases recommending abortion might seem like a gesture of compassion. Even in those tragic cases the unborn child needs to be loved and cherished.
A compassionate society will do all in its power to support and love the mother and baby, and encourage responsible support from fathers. This vision of life makes sense to people of all faiths and none. While it is enriched by our Catholic faith, it is our common humanity that convinces us of the right to life of every human being.
In the coming weeks I invite you to pray earnestly that the people of Ireland will “choose life” and that the lives of all women and their unborn children will always be loved, valued, welcomed and respected in this country.
· Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ is Bishop of Raphoe. This pastoral letter was distributed at Masses this weekend throughout the Diocese of Raphoe which includes the greater part of Co Donegal, has a Catholic population of over 83,000 and consists of 33 parishes.
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