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Catholics Counter Irish Bishops’ Antiabortion Campaign

May 30, 2013

The Irish bishops have made clear their opposition to any changes in the country’s abortion law. It’s also apparent that in taking this position they are in a small minority; the majority of Catholics in Ireland want abortion to be safe, legal and accessible. Rather than trying to convince people with reasoned arguments, the bishops have resorted to threatening politicians who will not do their bidding. This is bad religion and bad politics.

In letters to members of both houses of the Oireachtas and to Irish members of the European Parliament, Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien decried the actions of the bishops and outlined why it is entirely consistent with his Catholic faith to be prochoice.

“It is sad to see that the church hierarchy in Ireland has resorted to bullying as a way to intimidate and harass those who support this proposed law,” wrote O’Brien. “Threats of excommunication and of the denial of communion have been used time and again in many countries, but these have not stopped Catholic countries like Argentina and Mexico from passing more humane abortion laws than we see in Ireland. The simple truth is that you can be Catholic and be prochoice.”

The letter outlined three main points:

  1. Catholic politicians do not have to make policy in line with what the bishops expect, especially on abortion.
  2. Excommunication should be a last resort, not a political weapon.
  3. Denial of communion for prochoice legislators is not widely accepted among the church hierarchy.

To illustrate these points, O’Brien noted that church teachings on abortion are far more nuanced than is widely acknowledged and, along with church tradition and core Catholic tenets, leave room for supporting a more liberal position on abortion. In addition, the Vatican has acknowledged that it does not know when a fetus becomes a person and has never declared its position on abortion to be infallible.

“Naturally,” said O’Brien, “the bishops are entitled to speak out. But in doing so, they should not mislead people about the teachings of our church, nor should they resort to threats when their attempts to convince fail.”

O’Brien’s letter concluded: “As the discussion in the Dáil moves forward, we urge you to dismiss the noise and listen to your conscience. Catholics can, in good conscience, support access to abortion. We call upon you to show your support for Irish women and to reject calls from the church hierarchy and their ultraconservative allies to deny access to much-needed safe abortion services.”