Diocese of Ferns

Sermon of Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns

Ferns Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock

It would be difficult to come to Mary’s Shrine at Knock these days and not reflect on the sacredness and dignity of human life, this place which honours Mary, the woman who carried and gave birth to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since its beginnings Christianity has maintained a clear and firm teaching on the sacredness of human life. Abortion was rejected in the earliest known Christian document, the Didache.

Official church teaching insists to the present day that a just society protects life, before as well as after birth. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand.

One church document puts it like this, “The first right of the human person is his/her life……it does not belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in any form to recognise this right for some and not for others……respect for human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins.” (Declar. on Procured Abortion, CDF, 1974.)

Dr John Murray spells out graphically and in non-technical language what abortion means, “It robs that human being of all the rest of her life, of all her potential relationships, achievements, actions and experiences.

It robs the unborn of their freedom to choose anything any time…..it robs the human person of all rights, not just the right to life; none of us has any rights if we are dead!”

Christian teaching obliges us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who spoke and acted strongly and compassionately in favour of the most despised and vulnerable persons in society.

Our society today has many vulnerable persons…….including women in crisis pregnancies as well as unborn children whose lives may be legally ended in many places during pregnancy.

In the tradition of Jesus Christ Catholics have a responsibility to speak and act in defence of these persons. The Church’s mission to defend human life applies over the entire spectrum of human life, from conception to natural death.

This is why the Catholic Church has been a strong supporter of civil rights movements and a world leader in international relief and development efforts.

From a Pro-Life point of view we find ourselves in a strange place at the moment. On a life and death issue like abortion, an issue which is dividing the country presently, it’s surprising to say the least that there is no official Dail opposition to the Government’s plan to legislate.

Is this good for democracy? Can you have a healthy democracy if you have no real opposition? In the oft-stated mantra of the opposition parties, “It is our job to hold the Government to account.”

What happens if the opposition doesn’t do its job? And is joined by a largely supportive, compliant media? Who then holds the Government to account? Does this make it more likely that ‘group-think’ will occur as it reportedly did recently in RTE?

For this reason I have huge admiration for those Deputies who despite massive pressure to toe the Party line have voted, and will vote their conscience.

This is courage of a rare order, especially in the face of expulsion and the threat of being deselected at the next election.

I must confess to having a certain sympathy for the ‘whipped’ Deputies too, they should never have been put in a position where they have to choose between their future political careers and their conscience.

If any issue qualifies for a conscience vote it must be the legalisation of abortion. What are the Party leaders afraid of?

Tens of thousands of Irish citizens feel the heavy weight of state taxation at present while being denied the parliamentary representation that should in a modern democracy accompany it. Huge numbers of people are finding themselves in a ‘Boston Tea Party’ situation, having taxation without representation.

This is not good for society, nor does it do anything to encourage people to believe in, and participate in, the democratic process.

The conventional wisdom is that this Bill will pass into law. If it does, the irony is it will change everything—-and nothing.

Despite the Taoiseach’s assertion that it will change nothing legally, everybody knows that it will change a great deal. If it changes nothing legally why go to all the bother and expense of pushing it through?

However on the moral front it will change nothing. Morality is not a numbers game, especially when the electorate is so confined and has been whipped and pressurised into delivering the desired result.

Legal and moral are two very different realities. Our Irish history tells us that very clearly. Just think of the Penal Laws, nobody questioned their legality, but practically everybody questioned their morality.

No human forum, however big its majority, can square the morality circle. The direct and intentional killing of an unborn human being will be just as immoral the day after it has been “legalised” as it was the day before.

Nothing and nobody can change that. Human life is sacred. ‘Restricted abortion’ means crossing the line, after that we are in a new place morally and the numbers are academic.

As Dr John Murray says, “Take away moral absolutes and inviolable human rights go too, they are two sides of the one coin.”

Every human life is precious, every human life is beautiful, every human life is sacred.

That’s why we choose life!