Bishop John McAreavey: “Political representatives must answer for their own position on abortion…”

As the BBC reports, Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey, MP for west Belfast, has apologised to the Catholic Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, for the misrepresentation of his views on abortion in “a letter written by local party members and distributed in west Belfast”.  Here’s the quoted apology in the BBC report – not yet available on the Sinn Féin website.

[Mr Maskey said the literature was issued by local representatives in west Belfast on the issue of abortion in response to queries from constituents.

“These letters seriously misquoted and misrepresented the position of the Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, in this fundamental area of church moral teaching,” he said. – Added from the Belfast Telegraph report]

In his statement, Mr Maskey said: “Sinn Féin accepts that references in the letter to Bishop McAreavey were inaccurate.

“These letters should have not gone out.

“I apologise unreservedly to the bishop for any hurt and distress caused.

“I can assure the bishop that all reference to him on this issue has now been removed from all print and electronic literature. Sinn Féin has also removed the offending comments from Facebook.”

[And the ‘letters’ already sent out? – Ed]  The statement from Bishop McAreavey has more details, including the fact that the “party political literature” in question was not issued in Paul Maskey’s name [So why aren’t those responsible apologising?! – Ed].  Indeed.  Here’s the Bishop’s statement  [added emphasis throughout]

When I became aware of party political literature which was jointly issued in the names of Sue Ramsey MLA and Councillor Matt Garrett of Sinn Féin, which stated that I “share” their position on the “termination” of unborn human life, I was appalled. This is an untrue and most damaging assertion. I cannot emphasise enough the seriousness of this action which has misused my good name and impugned the teaching reputation of my ministry as bishop.

Political representatives must answer for their own position on abortion and they should not try to misrepresent the pro-life position of the Catholic Church to their constituents. I greatly appreciate the interventions of Mr Martin McGuinness deputy First Minister and Mr Paul Maskey MP, West Belfast, on this matter and I accept the apology outlined in Mr Maskey’s statement.

But to be clear: this inaccurate publication does not represent the moral teaching of the Church nor does it add credibility to the political process. Because of the importance that the Catholic Church accords to the protection of human life, our position cannot be politically misrepresented.

By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life. Last year, in the context of the abortion act which was debated and passed in the Dáil, our pro-life message was vigorously promoted across the island. Therefore how any political party could be mistaken about the pro-life position of the Church defies belief.

Interestingly, as Alan noted, last year Sinn Féin rejected a motion which would have allowed a free vote for their TDs on the issue in the Dáil according to their own conscience.  Something that the Bishop had called for previously

The Bishop of Dromore was speaking after the Irish prime minister and leader of Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, said members of his own party would not be offered a free vote on the issue.

Dr McAreavey said: “When these issues come up in Westminster, members of parliament are routinely given a free vote because its regarded as a matter not purely of politics but also of serious morality.”

He added: “There are actually different values in conflict here, and the bishops are simply asking, as a matter of the common good and as a matter of respect for life, that the equal right of mother and child be respected.”

At the time, 19 Dec 2012, the Bishop also clarified the Catholic Church’s position

Dr McAreavey said the church authorities supported medical intervention to save the life of a pregnant woman, but not the “direct and intentional taking of the life of an unborn child, which is how we (the Catholic Church) define abortion”.

“It’s been the clear position of the Catholic Church that if a baby in the womb dies as a result of the treatment offered to a mother, whether for example as a result of cancer or any other condition, that is not an abortion.

“The intention there is to save the life of the mother and, provided the same effort is made to save the life of the child, doctors are absolutely justified in doing what they need to do to save the life of a mother,” the bishop said.

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  • carnmoney.guy

    Easter week, the faithful are examining their consciences, the election cards are being delivered, couldn’t come at a more inappropriate time for Catholics to be reminded of the forked tongue approach of Sinn Fein to abortion
    Didn’t think that the bishop has to use the phase – greatly appreciated the help of Martin mcguinness,
    Your excellency you are allowed to be furious

  • Five weeks is far too long to have any real impact on the Election over something as “parochial” (no pun intended).
    Nor will it do anyone any good to make too much of the issue.
    People who actually live in the Diocese of Dromore and are Catholic are generally very supportive of the Bishop.
    He has largely escaped the justifiable anger directed at other Bishops over the past decade or so.
    And he would not be overly bothered by the anti-clericalism of some in Sinn Fein or the broader anti-Catholicism of the chattering classes.

    Sinn Fein enjoys a curious Joxer Daly- Captain Boyle relationship with the Catholic Church. Many Sluggerites attended an event at St Oliver Plunkett Church hall last August during An Feile, when the Joxers (ex combatants) were in full flow.
    So it wont make a lot of difference.
    Bishop John has been gracious in thanking Paul Maskey and Martin McGuinness. Yes not a lot can be done about letters already issued. But thats how it goes.
    I cant see any advantage in labouring the point.
    What I DO see as interesting….Sinn Fein simply are not as sure-footed as they were five or ten years ago.
    And there is a certain arrogance and sense of entitlement underpins a lot of what they do.
    There is, I believe such a thing as a “mainstream nationalist” and they are not likely to look on this spat as anything beyond what it is…but there might just be a general concern at SF “entitlement”…..OTRs having get out of jail cards while SF talks about justice for others, and white tie and tails at Windsor Castlle.

  • Mick Fealty

    Can we not gloss over just how bizarre a claim it must have been in the first place? I’d put that firmly in the humongous ‘cock up’ rather than dark ‘conspiracy’ folder, though stranger things have happened at sea I guess…

  • Only in the sense that it speaks to an arrogance and loss of touch on Sinn Feins part.
    I think it is relevant that they didnt use to be so out of touch.

  • Granni Trixie

    I don’t think it’s just the chattering classes who have it in for the Catholic Church …there’s a bunch of people meeting quite regularly in Derry, then Banbridge asking for answers….I suspect they fit more into the “silent too long” category.

    You know you really will have to stop essentialising people you don’t like into neat boxes otherwise you undermine anything sensible you occasionally might say.

  • Gopher

    Cant believe anyone would mistakenly put that out its like Stephen Agnew saying Poots believes in evolution. Now maybe Poots after a few told Agnew he believed in evolution. Naughty thing to do to break the drinkers confessional. Off course all is fair at election time and a gracious apology into the bargain.

    If it’s not that they are completely thick and should resign

  • Yes, really bizarre and possibly infringing on libel territory. But the apology has already been given and accepted so I guess all is forgiven (that being his job anyway).

  • I think youve only read the bit of my post that suited you,
    I noted THREE distinct groups that might criticise the Catholic Church.
    The very first was those who “expressed justifiable anger over the last decade”. I would have thought this was the people to which you refer.

    The third group was those “republican athiests” who will of course have Catholic funerals but only “because my wife wants it…cos Im not a Catholic myself”. I dont suppose youve met as many as I have ….Ive been to a few funerals like that myself.
    As my Auntie Sheila would have said “aye they wont go to Mass on Sunday but they will be roaring for a priest before they die”

    The second category was the Chattering Classes, a more widely accepted and understood term than “Overclass”. You know the sort…”I was brought up catholic in Lenadoon but now Im too sophisticated and live in Carryduff”
    You must have met a few like that.
    I know that I have.

  • oakleaf

    Fitzjameshorse never far off the mark as usual. In the first category you mentioned of abused you will find a large portion who are still practising Catholics.

    Online you will find a sizeable minority of Sinn Fein activists/supporters who are quite aggorant and disdainful of anti abortion republicans. They aren’t so confident when it comes to election time and abortion is mentioned. Take Francie Molloy for example ducking out of the TV debate.

  • son of sam

    Given the perception of tight central control by Sinn Fein ,is it not surprising that such a letter would have been issued in the name of an M L A.Either it’s a case (as F J H has suggested )of the party losing its usual sure touch or else an attitude of arrogance that it can get away with almost anything.

  • Indeed….or maybe the loss of Sinn Feins “sure touch” is part of the fall out from Gerry Adams moving to County Louth.
    As I have often said Sinn Fein has weakened its own Stormont benches by too many second rate “co-options”.
    The same might be said of “co-opted” councillors.

  • Pete Baker

    [Mr Maskey said the literature was issued by local representatives in west Belfast on the issue of abortion in response to queries from constituents.

    “These letters seriously misquoted and misrepresented the position of the Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, in this fundamental area of church moral teaching,” he said. – Added from the Belfast Telegraph report]

  • Mick Fealty


    Here’s a copy so we can tell what we’re talking about:


  • oakleaf

    I don’t know how Sinn Fein have not been asked about Martina Anderson support for the Esteral Report which flies in the face of Sinn Fein official position. Her lack of discipline in contrast to the treatment of Peadar Tobin suggests to me they are hoodwinking a large section of their electorate and even some of their members.

  • Newman

    2 things. The decision by the SF party conference to refuse free vote on abortion is disturbing and matched only by the cynical machinations of Fine Gael with Lucinda Creighton et al. Oak Leaf has also highlighted a key issue. The Estrela Report which was ultimately narrowly defeated focused on reproductive rights and safe and high quality abortion services. How Martina Anderson squares party position with support for the report is a mystery.They certainly deserve to be pressed on the issue.

  • Neil

    FJH nails it. Arrogance. I defend SF on this site because of my own impression that they are often treated unfairly and subjected to scrutiny above and beyond that given to others. Most of the people I associate with in WB won’t vote for them now, for various reasons. Between the revelations (to me at least, and for my scepticism Mick I apologise) regarding the Irish language, and now this. Pretty disgusted over the space of a week at their double speak, and the feeling starts to take hold that they must view their own voters with utter contempt. It’s often the case that the people who think they are smart enough to lie, are too stupid to realise that everyone sees through it.

  • Gopher

    I probably come at this from a bit left field and very much pro choice, but reading the flyer, leaving aside the reference to the Cardinal which is nothing short of bonkers, I find it completely incredulous for a political party to reference its two political rivals that they give no credence to at any other time in an attempt to validate their own position. Is that confident leadership? Is SF scared votes will actually go to the DUP that they otherwise would have got because that is what the flyer says, its there in black and sepia.

  • I also find it a bit odd.
    In so far as Sinn Fein have so many canvassers that keep their finger on the pulse of just about everything going on in a community, they must realise that there are some people who just wont vote for them ever.
    There are very few people who are ever motivated by a single issue….integrated education, Equal Marriage, whatever.
    So what exactly happened?
    Never really a good idea to try and explain a nuanced position to single issue people.
    If canvassers are told that if anyone raises an issue on the doorsteps and you cant give an answer….make a note of it and tell them they will get a letter from a MLA and Councillor.
    That might work with “dog fouling” and a set of traffic lights….but absolutely no point with single issue people.
    And of course it compounds it when they get it so obviously wrong.

    A mission to explain or spin or just fight for every vote is all well and good but there are some votes who just wont get.
    Sinn Fein thought they had an open goal and still managed to score an own goal.
    Brilliant stuff.

    Thats carelessness as well as arrogance.
    SF cant really get away with the double speak.
    Cant really be convincing advocates for Justice issues like Ballymurphy…I lived there in 1971….when they negotiated their OTR letters….actually undermining the relatives case.

    Cant be advocates for residents when the new Parades Commission has made it more difficult for St Patricks.
    Cant boast of a Culture Minister when irish language activists are on the streets protesting.
    Cant point at SDLP in the House of Commons from a vantage point of Windsor Castle.
    Cant switch their personnel around co-opted to council one minute, resigning to work for the party in another capacity ..without any regard to the people who actually voted for them.
    (Rather than invite you to meet the candidate ….why not save time and introduce the person who replaces him/her in two years).
    A Renaissance Mayor who doesnt actually go to Church biut has ten chaplains including a San Francisco based Buddhist from Andytown who tells him to ignore negativity on Twitter.
    Isnt that what he told us in McHughs a couple of months ago?
    You couldnt make it up.
    but it looks suspiciously like those SF Tweeters and Press Officer/SpAd wannabees (the pnes with the Politics degrees) are just over-rated….not least by themselves.

  • stringer
  • Big Boss

    Big Boss

    I see this as basically the arrogance of Sinn Fein to put out a leaflet like this in order to lie their way out of a difficult issue. I donbt think for one second that SF believe someone in west belfast would research or indeed complain about this leaflet.

    I have been talking to many people who have all said that they will not be voting for SF again becauseof their pro-choice policy and I think this letter proves just how seriosuly SF are taking the issue, I think they are starting to detect all is not well. I think the SDLP should maike a bigger issue of this, though I doubt that would sit well with their labour wing.

  • Newman

    Analysis by FJH spot on. What is also occurring is that the party with the iron discipline and quasi military approach is coming to terms with the prosaic and the ordinary issues of life. . SDLP AWOL.

  • Mick Fealty

    Left hand not speaking to the right? I think it is one of those hazards of: one, running a two jurisdiction strategy; two, hiving all your senior support staff away from the north to support the leader in the south. It also suggests this is and probably always has been a constituency management issue for the party.

  • Its not all Left hand-Right Hand ….its much more basic.
    If a DUP canvasser turned up at a house and discovered that the occupant was a hippy, drinking fair trade coffee, while he waited for his vegetarian curry to have the right karma and listening to Sting sing about the Amazon Rain Forest…..and the hippy said that he was worried about the DUP stance on Fracking.
    What would the canvasser do?
    Report back to the Constitiuency Office so that a DUP MLA and Councillor could write out to the hippy, to explain the nuanced DUP stance on Fracking, how similar it was to others and how leading conservationists agreed with the DUP.

    The smart thing might be to say that the hippy can be ignored be ause he wont be voting DUP in a month of (Ballymena) Sundays.

  • Framer

    I have no idea of what the Bishop has previously said on the matter but is it not the case that Rome accepts that where the woman’s life is in danger – in those rare medical cases – a termination is permissible?

  • Pete Baker

    “I have no idea of what the Bishop has previously said on the matter…”

    You would have, if you had read the original post…

  • Its amazing, truly amazing, but those who have a ‘Christian’ side get themselves really worked up about abortion.

    there are ‘Christian’ MP’s from Northern Ireland who claim that they are anti-abortion, yet have voted for the retention and development of abortion weapons, and that just does not make any sense to me.

    Nukes when they detonate abort fetuses by vaporizing the mother, hundreds of them, totally indiscriminately. in an instant, but maybe it is only 1 fetus in 1 womb these mp’s think about, while having these weapons and calling the UK a Christian Country..

    One thing I would really need explained to me, is when in that period from conception to birth, human life really begins, Is human life when a baby breaths from our atmosphere, there is so much uncertainty. I know it does not start at conception, for between conception and the fetal stage there is an embryonic stage. there is something they can do with an embryo that the cant do with a living breathing baby and that is stick it in the deep freeze, so there has to be a difference there. the life that a baby has and the life in an embryo are 2 completely different things considering just the deep freeze issue.

    I really need more information on the issue, help me someone!!