LChurch of Saint Peter, Drogheda, Co Louth, Archdiocese of Armagh
· Threats to the value and sacredness of human life – domestic abuse, abortion and drug related violence – are symptoms of a society that is losing its moral compass
· I would be willing to mediate between different factions if that would assist to bring the feud to a halt … all of us have an obligation to help tackle the drugs problem which in turn is at the heart of so much of the criminal activity and contempt for life that is damaging our society
Today is the international ‘Day for Life’ Sunday, a day which is celebrated across the universal Catholic Church. On this day we are reminded of the need to respect life – our own life and the life of others. As we know from recent history there are many challenges to the Christian belief that all life is sacred from the womb to the tomb, and those challenges seem to be increasing each year. This year our Catholic bishops have designated the theme for Day for Life as ‘The Scourge of Domestic Abuse’.
Domestic violence and abuse, particularly against women and children, has, unfortunately, been an ever present factor in human relationships over the centuries. However domestic abuse remains as a very serious problem in our contemporary society and is a hidden form of toxic behaviour in some families throughout the world. In recent years we have experienced a number of terrible cases of domestic abuse in our own country leading to extreme violence and murder. Such awful events remind us of what can happen if subtle abuse and manipulation of a spouse is allowed to fester and grow into something sinister and threatening.
The latest figures outlined in the bishops’ pastoral letter, The Scourge of Domestic Abuse, indicate that one-in-four women and about one-in-six men suffer from domestic abuse during their lifetime. According to a 2018 report by Women’s Aid, almost nine out of every ten women murdered in Ireland were killed by a man known to them. Women’s Aid has stated that the dangerous patterns present in abusive relationships are often not taken seriously by others, and this can put a woman at risk of serious assault or homicide. Within or without families, violence of any kind should never be tolerated or justified. It is an offence against the dignity of the human person.
As Pope Francis wrote in his 2016 best-selling Encyclical Letter Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family): ‘the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected … are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.’
Today’s ‘Day for Life’ pastoral letter, The Scourge of Domestic Abuse, is a ‘call to action for our Catholic communities to reflect, learn and act together, so that we can help those suffering from domestic abuse … Knowing what to look for and spotting the signs means that, individually and collectively, we can make a real difference to people’s lives.’
The annual ‘Day for Life’ also gives us an opportunity to look at other issues affecting the sanctity and dignity of human life that we encounter every day in our own ministry locally, nationally and internationally. I wish to mention two of those important issues:
– Firstly, some of you may be aware of the situation regarding abortion in Northern Ireland. During the summer the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill was debated in the Westminster Parliament and before it was passed a number of amendments were added to it including the decriminalisation of abortion in the North. This in effect will mean that abortion up until 28 weeks will be allowed for any reason after 21 October. As a result Northern Ireland will have one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world. This is not only appalling in itself but also undemocratic as the citizens of the North have not been given any say in the development of the creeping policy.
The Catholic Bishops of Ireland, at their Autumn General Meeting this week in Maynooth, reiterated the Christian teaching on the value of all human life from conception to natural death. In our statement we stated that ‘human laws do not determine what is good or true … Every human life is a gift and a blessing and ought not be destroyed or disposed of at will.’ Bishops also stated that to ‘describe abortion as either healthcare or a human right is to twist language and to misrepresent the true meaning of those terms. An unborn baby is every bit as human as a growing toddler, a teenager or a grandparent.’
Next weekend is designated as a weekend of prayer for the right to life. All Catholics in the North are asked to contact their local politicians to express their dismay at the deregulation of abortion. Even here in the South there is an opportunity for us to contact political parties who have an all island presence to request them to do all that they can to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive so that this legislation, which is seeking to destroy the basic human right to life, can be stopped in its tracks.
– Secondly, on this ‘Day for Life’ Sunday, I want to mention the recent troubling rise in violence associated with the gang feud here in Drogheda and which led to the brutal murder of Keith Branigan on 27 August last. In my sermon in Carlingford, and Dillonstown, on Sunday 1 September, I appealed for an end to the violence and asked those involved to stand back and consider the futility of their actions. Seeking revenge for that terrible murder risks the lives of others. It was very fortunate that innocent bystanders were not injured or even killed in Clogherhead such was the disregard for life that was shown. I want to restate that appeal today and to say that I, or indeed any priest or religious in this area, would be willing to mediate between the different factions if that would assist to bring the feud to a halt. All of us have an obligation to help tackle the drugs problem which in turn is at the heart of so much of the criminal activity and contempt for life that is damaging our society.
These threats to the value and sacredness of human life – domestic abuse, abortion and drug related violence – are symptoms of a society that is losing its moral compass and which places little value on anything other than the individual’s right to choose in all matters even if those choices bring destruction on themselves or others. This ‘Day for Life’ helps us to reflect on this crucial issue and to today’s Gospel give us guidance when faced with difficult choices particularly in relation to the sacredness of life. Jesus calls on us to have faith in God at all times. Even a small amount of faith – faith the size of mustard seed – will get us through the most difficult of situations. Let us pray now for an increase of that faith so that we will have the courage, and the clarity of thought, that we need to counter the culture of death shadowing our world. Amen.
· Bishop Michael Router is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh. This homily was delivered at Masses in Saint Peter’s Parish, Drogheda, over this weekend.
· The ‘Day for Life’ online feature, which includes resources and PDF versions of the bishops’ pastoral message The Scourge of Domestic Abuse in English, Irish and Polish, is available on https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2019/09/26/day-for-life-2019-the-scourge-of-domestic-abuse/