Bishop Doran: “nothing – no law, no public policy can remove our right and indeed our responsibility to advocate publicly for those most vulnerable”

06 May 2024

Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin

Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at Newman University Church, Dublin, before the ‘March for Life’
People have been having babies since the dawn of creation, but for most of that time, we had very little understanding of what exactly was going on in the womb.  The biology of cells was discovered less than four hundred years ago, and it is only a little more than 150 years since the discovery of DNA.

Everything we have discovered since then has confirmed that, while pregnancy is a time of rapid growth and development, there is a radical continuity between the fertilised ovum and the child who is born at the end of nine months.  That is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of scientific fact.  Philosophers can interpret it, but they can’t change it.  A human embryo is an individual member of the human species; otherwise known as a person.

Against that background, let’s look again at the short passage from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.  Given that it was written two and a half thousand years ago, I think we can agree that it was never intended to be a scientific statement about the embryo or the unborn child.  In fact, if we listen to it carefully, the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah reads “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”.  In biblical language, “knowing” somebody means far more than having information about them, it is about being in relationship with them.  What Scripture teaches us is that our intimate relationship with God, which is His gift to us, begins even before we are formed in the womb.  It begins, not in time, but in eternity, and it endures for all eternity.

Pope John Paul II, writing in Fides et Ratio, tells us that there is no fundamental conflict between faith and science.   This is because, while their scope is different, both are seeking the truth.  Scientists are well aware, he said, that “the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the world or of man, is never-ending, but always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study, to the questions which give access to Mystery” (FR #106).  We who seek to promote a renewed respect for the inherent dignity of every human person, certainly need to distinguish between science and fake news.  We have no need to be afraid of science, but we do need to remember that science only goes part of the journey in understanding the human person.

The other element of the reading from Jeremiah, which is carried through into today’s Gospel reading is the call to be witnesses.  This is something I have been saying to the young people whom I am Confirming these days.  We don‘t know where we will be or who we will meet next week or next year, but we are called – in whatever we do or whatever we say – to be witnesses to the love of God made present in Jesus Christ.

For us, that inevitably means bearing witness to the inherent value of every human life from fertilisation, through all the stages of our existence, until the moment of natural death.  As Jesus clearly tells us, we may have to live with a certain amount of hostility, but that is why we are given the Holy Spirit, a Spirit of Courage and Reverence, whose fruits include peace, patience and gentleness.

Nothing – no law, no public policy and no peer pressure from neighbours or colleagues can remove our right and indeed our responsibility to advocate publicly for those who are most vulnerable, especially at the beginning and at the end of life.  While the Medical Council has no policy one way or the other on assisted suicide, and has entirely removed the section on abortion from its code of conduct, we still stand with our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who refuse to be bullied into participating in ending the lives of their patients.

We do this, not just because of what science tells us, but also because we believe in the inherent God-given dignity of every human life.  This is a dignity that does not depend on society or law, on wealth or nationality, on physical or mental health or ability, because before ever we are formed in the womb, God knows us intimately and loves us for all eternity.


  • Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin and chairman of the Council for Life of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  This homily was delivered today during the celebration of 12.45am Mass, concelebrated by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland;  Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA of Cashel & Emly, and Bishop Martin Hayes of Kilmore, at Newman University Church, Dublin, before the ‘March for Life’, from Saint Stephen’s Green to Leinster House.  The march has been organised by the Pro Life Campaign.