The Catholic church is behaving as if it knows it does not speak for the Irish people over abortion

Just a reflection or two on the issues of Mick’s post. When you see it written down so starkly out of the mouth of one Cardinal Burke from the real life perspective of the Roman Curia, the effect is breathtaking. Will  Catholics now rush to contradict him? I wonder. Many people seem to want to defy the Church silently. and this is mightily frustrating for the Church establishment. It’s as if they’re being ignored. More and more Irish Catholicism is becoming a private and personal observance rather than one governed by an establishment.

Even so the establishment  keeps fighting.  The weekly newspaper The Irish Catholic  reports 86% in favour of a poll on abortion and a big widespread demand for a free vote in the Dail in a poll conducted on behalf of  the anti-abortion Family and Life group .  The Taoiseach insists that  Protection of Maternal Life Bill published last week  clarifies but does not change the law which he and others maintain always allowed for a termination if the mother’s life was threatened. That is a mite disingenuous. Quite obviously  the state of the  law was unclear. Why else have a new Bill to “clarify” it?

Abortion for the threat to a mother’s health  however is still banned under the constitution.  While a constitutional bar is higher than a legislative one, we may be sure that this is not the last word on abortion. To that extent the Church’s fears are justified. There is a slippery slope here. But for now at least,  the issue has narrowed down to a crunch, thanks to the hysterical overreaction of the Church establishment. Is this the behaviour of a loser?

And two can play at polls. Witness last week’s in the Irish Times

Back in December 1997 an Irish Times survey showed just 23 per cent were in favour of allowing the Oireachtas legislate to bring the law on abortion into line with decisions made in the courts.

That figure has now risen to 71 per cent in today’s poll, with just 11 per cent of voters opposed to the Government’s decision to legislate..

In 1997, 18 per cent of voters said abortion should not be permitted in any circumstances. At that time 35 per cent were in favour when a mother’s life was at risk with just 14 per cent in favour where a mother’s health was at risk.

In the latest poll the number saying that abortion should not be permitted in any circumstances has declined to 12 per cent. The striking change has come about in the numbers who believe that abortion should be allowed in certain circumstances.

Now the number who say that abortion should be allowed when a mother’s life is at risk has more than doubled to 84 per cent, compared to 1997.

There is an even more dramatic increase in the numbers who say it should be permitted where a woman’s health is at risk – with 70 per cent now taking that view compared to 14 per cent in 1997.

For your delectation, from the interview with the aforementioned  Cardinal Burke…

The death of Savita Halappanavar is indeed tragic. It is, however, contrary to right reason to hold that an innocent and defenceless human life can be justifiably destroyed in order to save the life of the mother.

“The Irish people, and especially the Irish Government, should be very alert to the kind of argumentation which will be used by the secular media and by secular ideologues, in general, claiming that the destruction of the new human life in her womb could have saved the life of Savita Halappanavar and, therefore, would have been justified. Such an argument is absurd in itself. Even though, if the reports are correct, Savita Halappanavar requested an abortion, her request would not have made it right for the law to permit such an act which is always and everywhere wrong.”


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London