May 28, 2018

Bishop of Limerick reacts to 'deeply regrettable' referendum decision

In a message read out at Masses across the Limerick diocese this Sunday, Bishop Brendan Leahy described the result of the referendum as “deeply regrettable and chilling” for those who voted no.

In his message, the Bishop also acknowledged that each person’s political position on the matter was “ultimately borne out of care.”

There will be people here who voted to repeal the 8th amendment and people who voted to protect the 8th amendment. As I said last week Ireland is a compassionate country, that we are a compassionate people. Those who voted no did so with compassion particularly for the unborn child. Those who voted yes did so with an eye particularly on the mother carrying that child.

Of course, the Church treasures life above all else and that extends to life in the womb.  That’s a core value Christians promote. Ever before the Referendum, it was a core value and it will remain so. The result, in that context, is deeply regrettable and chilling for those of us who voted “no”.  The final result of the Referendum is the will of the majority of the people, though not all the people.

It is a vote, of course, that does not change our position.  Our message is one of love; love for all, love for life, for those with us today, for those in the womb.

And God’s love is there also for those on both sides of the Referendum campaign.

I have already expressed my gratitude to all who were missionaries for life and actively gave of their time and energy to promote the cause of life. They dedicated themselves to the task with care, listening and sensitivity. I am grateful too that, in general, the debate was largely respectful.

Nevertheless, we have a society that has been very much divided by this referendum. I recognise that both sides on the divide ultimately approached the campaign driven by a sense of care.  We may not agree with each other’s position and while much analysis can and will need to be done, I acknowledge in general each person’s political position was ultimately borne out of care. We must try to recognise that commonality for the opportunity that it is. Yes, we have political differences on this matter but ultimately we care.  So let’s work unflinchingly to find a way to care together.  And let’s do so guided by Pope Francis’ words, “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!”. God knows how to draw good out of all situations.

During this debate we heard many stories of women who have made the stark decision to end life in the womb. They were women in crisis pregnancies or women in dreadful circumstances; victims of sexual violence or those who have been given dreadful news regarding the viability of the baby in the womb, a baby they dearly want.  Or women whose lives are put at risk by an imminent child birth.

While the Church’s position is that life in or out of the womb is to be protected, it is only right that we have heard these stories and got a sense of women’s immense pain and distress. So often, women were left on their own at that time, perhaps with the support only of a friend, perhaps immediate family. But not much else.

A message we can take, therefore, from the stories we’ve heard is that we have ultimately failed them as a society if we allow them to be isolated.  We need to engender more coherently a society of care, a society of support so that the default for women in these circumstances is to turn to that society and know that it wraps them in a blanket of love and support.  That it is there for them in this difficult time and that it does not judge them.

Something I felt absent from the conversation, perhaps understandable in the heat of a debate like this, is how are we arriving in a situation of so many unwanted pregnancies. It is a conversation for another day.

I ask you all to pray for healing in our society, for a coming together in love and care and compassion, for mothers, for babies, for young, for old. On this Trinity Sunday, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us the spirit of unity that we need.  We have unquestionably been divided in many respects as a society over recent years by pivotal political decisions but we must begin to heal and to remember that we are one, not two societies.  Together we are, indeed, better. We are a nation. And we are a family.

Which brings me to my final thought; the family.  We cherish family in Ireland today the same as we did on Friday.  We love family. We unite as a family. In August, we will unite as a family, to renew that sense of family when the World Meeting of Families comes here. We have the privilege of Pope Francis coming and today I cannot think of his visit being more timely; to come here and remind us of the importance of family, of the love we have of family, of the reality that, yes, families get bruised sometimes but they should never be broken. So we go forward to that moment, we look forward to the healing it will bring and how we will be renewed again in love and care for one another.