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Despite secularisation, Ireland remains repulsed by legalised abortion

A deeply pious and conformist Catholic country has become a secular one

By on Friday, 7 December 2012

Pro-life protestors at a vigil in Dublin

Pro-life protestors at a vigil in Dublin

Having parents who both came from Ireland (although in my father’s case it was via a Catholic enclave in Glasgow), I have been reading with interest a new book published by the Columba Press entitled Catholicism and Me. This is a collection of twenty essays by Irish people from all walks of life, describing their Irish background, upbringing and influences and how they now regard their faith. They include a bishop, academics, a writer, a couple of MEPs and The Catholic Herald’s own veteran journalist, Mary Kenny. Her contribution is an amusing distillation of a characteristic kind of “Irishness” in the form of 30 “proverbs” illustrating typical responses to the problems thrown up by life, such as “If you’re too sick to go to Mass, you’re too sick to go to the pictures” or “If you’re having a bad time offer it up. You’re in a valley of tears – get used to it.” Anyone acquainted with Irish people of the older generation will instantly recognise this outlook.

I use the phrase “the older generation” deliberately. In their introduction to the book, the editors, John Littleton and Eamon Maher, describe a country that has changed enormously in the last few decades, commenting that “the status of religion in an increasingly secularised society has deteriorated to a significant degree.” They go on to say, “From being a model of orthodoxy, a country where the various institutions of the State were strongly influenced by Catholicism, where loyalty to Rome or deference to the dictates of bishops informed the behaviour of people in their public and private lives, we have now reached the point where religion has been relegated to a private, personal concern.”

This transition from a deeply pious and conformist Catholic country to a largely secular one with, in some city parishes, a catastrophic decline in Mass attendance, was reflected by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, whose book, Everybody Matters I blogged about recently. From a close-knit and devout family in County Mayo, Robinson, who became a successful barrister in Dublin before entering public life, campaigned for the legalisation of divorce and contraceptives as an increasingly liberal agenda got underway in the 1970s.

She also relates in her book how hard it was for her parents to accept her decision as a young woman in the 1960s to stop practising her faith.

In Catholicism and Me the editors do make the point that “the disconnection between official church teachings and the way in which Catholicism is lived and practised by ordinary church members should not result in a denial of the cultural attachment that still exists in Ireland to the majority religion.” This attachment certainly still runs deep when it comes to pro-life matters. While a pro-life event in this country, such as the marking the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Abortion Act of 1967, cannot raise a significant number of participants despite all the hard work of the pro-life societies, in Ireland on December 4 over 10,000 people are estimated to have participated in a candlelight vigil outside the Dail (the Irish Parliament), calling on the government not to legalise abortion.

They petitioned the Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, to “keep his pro-life promise” which the Fine Gael party leader had made in the 2011 election. Several Catholic bishops also attended the vigil. A lawyer, Caroline Simons, a member of the Pro Life Campaign which organised the huge gathering, reminded the crowds that if the government did implement legislation “there is no going back….Any reassurance that you’re going to be given over the next two months that abortion won’t be introduced and they’re going to talk about medical intervention on limited grounds is false,”, she said. No doubt the pro-life campaigners in Ireland are acutely aware of what has happened since the passage of the UK’s Abortion Act: whatever is said to the contrary by ministers of health and others, we have abortion on demand, a situation that all the subsequent efforts of pro-life groups have not been able to change.

According to a report in CNA/EWTN News, controversy over the proposed government legislation exploded after the tragic death on 28 October of a young Indian woman in a Galway hospital; Savita Halappanavar died of an infection following a miscarriage after reportedly asking for an abortion. It now appears that “the first reported version of the story may be based on faulty recollection on the part of the woman’s husband.” Despite this, the pro-abortion lobby in the Republic was very quick to exploit the possibilities of the case for their own purposes. A member of the Irish pro-life group, Life Institute, appealed to “the media and the political establishment [to] look at the cynical exploitation of this tragic death of a young mother, and seek to find the facts.” An investigation into what actually happened at the hospital, as opposed to the slant given by pro-abortion campaigners, is currently underway.

Meanwhile, despite the increasing secularisation of the Republic, noted in Catholicism and Me, there is clearly still a strong groundswell of revulsion at the possibility of future abortion legislation.

  • paulpriest

    Now is the time to hit hard and fast with a massive anti-abortion Campaign using every available resource.
    I lived among the maniacally obsessed modernist heterodox professional Catholic clergy and laity in Ireland – and they make Call to Action look like the LMS…ideas which one would have thought would only emanate from extremist 1970s San Francisco were endemic amongst them [e.g. when they said at Vatican VI the Pope will bring her wives - They meant it!]
    I taught in Irish schools and the kids had absolutely no idea what abortion entails and saw it as an idealised  progressive form of liberalisation from the yoke of Ecclesial tyranny….these kids are now the  chattering classes in their 30s and on social networks they equivocate divorce and homosexual recognition with abortion rights and ‘social justice’

    Francis you may very well be right that the groundswell of the population may be against abortion but the ‘academic/professional’ elite are the ‘movers and shakers’ formulating ‘accepted public opinion’ via shanghaiing the media and misrepresenting what the real population want…

    …and they need to be countered and thwarted hard and fast.

    The last thing the Irish Pro-Life movement needs is to adopt the counter-productive futile strategies of our professional activists with their ‘sensitive -broadly secularising de-spiritualising softly-softly incrementalist – don’t rock the boat strategy’
    At present the Irish branch of the Good Counsel Network has the highest  ‘conversion from abortion’ rate in the world and the reason they have it is because they centralise on prayer/fasting and the sacraments and see this as a spiritual battle – it works!
    Ironically in Latin countries they saw havng a room devoted to prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as ludicrous and not part of their ‘secularised social justice pro-Life’ remit and thereby their success rate in counselling against abortion is a mere fraction of Irish and UK figures…

    Good Counsel Network here is strongly opposed to a secularised umbrella ‘all faiths and none’ Pro-Life movement because they realise the dearth within it of what is truly required to fight the culture of death…admittedly they wil work with anyone and everyone in the fight but they will not be diverted from their predominantly spiritual warfare against this malevolent evil…

    Ireland needs the same.

    Which is why the Church there and here needs to recognise its abrogation of responsibility and dereliction of duty when it comes to the Pro-Life cause and come out fighting – with every available financial and administrative and spiritual resource.

    Catholic politicians need to be truly informed of Colin Harte’s Solidaritist position and be made historically aware of Incrementalism’s strategic failure [as exemplified in Nellie Gray's speeches denouncing their misguided approach]

    ..and the schools and churches need to be engaging with the shock and awe tactics of the likes of Greg Cunningham…for we know by our own experience that the softly-softly approach has failed here and made the culture of death endemic over the past 45 years.

  • Timt-robertson

    I agree with paulpriest that it is a spiritual battle, and accordingly that prayer is  essential. Especially, I would simply add, the prayer of the Rosary, which Padre Pio used to pray continuously and described as his “weapon”. Catholics in Ireland can join the ongoing Rosary campaign for the consecration of Ireland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (already over 35,000 have registered) at

  • Cestius

    I get the impression talking to older Irish Catholics that something went horribly wrong with Irish Catholicism and the Irish Church long before its present troubles.  It was both strict and authoritarian, yet not faithful to the true values of the Gospel.  It’s not surprising things went so badly wrong, and yet I am heartened by the news that Irish people are still willing to put up a fight against the abortionists and their agenda. There is still hope for Ireland. As Jesus Himself said “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will never prevail against it.”

  • jaykay

    “the kids had absolutely no idea what abortion entails and saw it as an idealised progressive form of liberalisation from the yoke of Ecclesial tyranny..”

    Yes, paulpriest, I agree. This view was of course sold to them by people in my age group and older – I’m 52 - in (deliberate small c) catholic schools, where the priests and nuns and brothers have long since departed and badly-catechised teachers – or indeed those with an actively hostile agenda – are in the majority. The UK and US are of course seen as the acme of sophistication and Ireland’s Catholic heritage something to be got rid of, as redolent of the bad aul’ days, backwardness, poor-Paddy-at-the-plough blahdy blahdy blah. Cultural cringe, as the Australians used to call it before they got a good dose of national self-confidence.

    Actually in a way we’ve been here before, in the 50s to 80s, when great parts of Dublin’s Georgian heritage were deliberately destroyed in offically-sanctioned vandalism. It’s the same sort of mindset, really. When people are not taught the true worth of their heritage (and the Faith is of course so much more than just a heritage!) then passing fads and trends take over from true values and the good gets jettisoned, usually with a “good riddance to all that”. We have of course seen the same with the liturgy, but let’s not go there just now ;)

    While things are bad right now, I actually have faith that this current wave of secularist activism will pass, in that it will be seen for what it is – the leftist agenda so consistently rejected by the people in election after election. They do tend to overstretch – or oversell - themselves and people get tired of the constant manufactured “crises”, anger and whinging. Already there has been outrage over our national broadcaster’s outrageous conduct on two occasions in the space of one year. For better or worse there is a deep strain of cynicism in Ireland, but when it comes to a very clear view of the pretensions of our “betters” then I’m all for it. Because a lot of our soi-disant intellectuals are basically pretentious second-raters, taking their cues (and money in the case of the pro-aborts) from abroad, with barely an original thought among the lot of them.

    So I think they’re going to over-reach themselves in their gaderene rush for abortion “rights” but we’ve got to make sure that our side is put across fairly. Personally I support “Family and Life” – their latest campaign has just been launched.

  • chiaramonti

    Notice, please, how the future royal offspring is universally described in the media as a “baby”. Not for Kate and Wills a mere group of chemicals ready to be aborted on a whim – this is a baby! What greater example can there be of the gross unfairness applied to potential human beings. It all depends on who your parents are whether you survive to be born!

  • paulpriest

     The Church went trendy and chaotically self-destructive here in the late 60s/70s but over there it happened later and with much greater unrestrained ideological intensity among the – as jaykay says – ‘soi disants’…and secularism and atheism snowballed overnight [and you really do not want to know what the secular and religious clergy think and believe these days - their rebelliousness has become despondency has become negligent resigned indifference and desolation and replaced wth a sartre-esque 'well let's just make the best of a bad lot till the roof caves in']

  • rjt1

    I think you are right, Francis: while living there, I got the impression that even secularised Irish people have the right instincts about abortion but this is an unrecognised heritage from the Catholic past or at least it will not endure without the backbone provided by the teaching authority of the Church. The only long-term solution is the reconversion of Ireland to the faith.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    You are right about your impressions. For many years in Ireland, some of the clergy thought they was bigger than Rome and bigger than the Pope. Some of the things they did verged on heresy! 

    The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, and their lay counterpart, are imparting even greater damage by their laughing in the face of obedience to the Magisterium.

    The Holy Rosary is key to defeat evil, vice and heresy. Let’s recite this wonderful, powerful prayer before Holy Mass and at home with our families, our parishes and when we are stuck on a bus, on the tube, on the trams, in our cars.

    Any time is a good time for Our Lady.

    Our Lady of Knock, keep abortion OUT of Ireland!

  • Rizzo The Bear


  • LongIslandMichael

    Francis I enjoy reading your blog and so many others on Catholic Herald from here in the States. I hope and pray that Ireland does not continue down the slippery slope that both the US and UK and so many other Catholic countries have slid down in the last sixty years. Mary Robinson and so many other including the present PM have a lot to answer for as do many others in each of our respective countries. That said it absolutely so sad to see the land where family came from over a hundred years ago and to this day is still connected to by the Faith turn its back on Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. I pray that on this Holy Day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Mother that she will intercede on Ireland’s behalf and return the land of my family and so many others to Faith in Her Son. I pray for the consecration of Ireland’s to Mary’s Most Immaculate Heart.

  • John Mercy

    Ten thousand unite for Pro-life vigil against abortion in Dublin

  • JFJ

    Wonderful piece.  I wonder, has the British press looked deeper into this or are they happy to allow the incorrect nature of the story to stand?  I’m certainly not hopeful.

  • cullenD

    I was amongst the first to comment on this subject, and I’m sure I was honest. The utter disapointment of Irish people is important. 

    It took (in horrible circumstances) a mis-diagnosed, foreign woman to point out our problems with a good system. But where the system fails? Most terrible is that it took a foreign person dying, to allow Irish women to speak . And they have just been allowed a voice.  

  • teigitur

    Indeed Damo, and most Irish women are pro-life. At least you got that right over there.

  • Scott James Bell

    I respect the right to express your views but do you believe stopping abortions that would lead to deaths much like the Indian women is acceptable? This isn’t a major change just a sensible, whether pro-life or pro choice a human life is a human life. I’m not here to debate the what is a life but any definition shouldn’t mean a women will die and the child too. No-one should allow that to happen

  • timothy canezaro

    After the abortion battle, the secular politicians will be bringing gay marriage your way. It’s happening all over the united states right now: Rhode Island, Minnesota, and my very own Illinois. Here the politicians are doing this during a 1 week lame duck session before new lawmakers replace them. How nice, do. Things like this on your way out with no ramifications and surely not what these elected officials were put in office for. Funny how politicians want to make moral decisions for the people of our nations. Sent this to those illinois lawmakers last night;
    The state of Illinois should not attempt to redefine marriage. It is not bigotry or discrimination to treat different things differently. Marriage is unique in that one of its central components is sexual difference. Same-sex couples lack this essential difference and cannot procreate or provide both a mother and a father to children. Both reason and faith tell us that the marriage of one man and one woman calls forth the best of spouses, not only for their own sake, but also for the well-being of their children and for the advancement of the common good. Marriage generates children, is an ideal environment for raising them and is the basic building block for any human society. In the end, it is neither possible for us to change the definition of marriage, without forfeiting its meaning, nor wise to attempt to do so. Vote “no” on the redefinition of marriage!