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How Catholic is Ireland today?

Enda Kenny’s abortion law will put Catholic institutions on a collison course with the state

By on Friday, 9 August 2013

A pro-life vigil in Dublin last year. Ireland still has a strong Catholic identity

A pro-life vigil in Dublin last year. Ireland still has a strong Catholic identity

In my blog for 17th July I wrote about the new Irish abortion law which will allow abortion during the nine months of pregnancy where the life of the mother is at risk, including if she threatens suicide. It is impossible to forecast the grim consequences that this law, the “Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill”, will have on Irish social and cultural life. I just hope the country at large will not become as thick-skinned and indifferent to the subject as the UK has become in the decades since our own abortion law was passed.

Inevitably, the new law has already provoked a clash with a Catholic institution. According to a report in LifeSiteNews for 7 August, the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin has stated that it cannot comply with the law “because doing so would contradict the hospital’s Catholic vision and institutional character.” The very title of the hospital, “Mother of Sorrows” in translation, suggests a deeply Catholic vision of healthcare, maternity and pregnancy and birth. How did the Irish Parliament think such a hospital would react to a law which thousands of Dublin citizens took to the streets to protest against, even as it was being debated?

Fr Kevin Doran, who is both on the Hospital’s board of governors and its board of directors, commented that the issue “is broader than just abortion. What is happening is the Minister [for Health, James Reilly] is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos.” Sr Eugene Nolan, a Sister of Mercy working at the hospital and a nurse tutor, added that the situation facing the Mater Misericordiae is “very very grave” and that the legislation “is being imposed on us.”

The hospital, with is mission statement which includes the words that its purpose, in part, is to care for the sick as a “participation in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ”, is owned and operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland, alongside the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin, the Catholic Nurses Guild of Ireland, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the medical consultants of the hospital and of the Children’s University Hospital.

These bodies are part of the very fabric of Irish Catholic life. Unlike the UK, such religious bodies actually do have influence and power for good in their society. Let’s hope that they all agree the new law fundamentally flouts the hospital’s ethos and refuse to implement it. Will other similar institutions follow suit? What could the Government do in the face of united opposition among its own citizens?

There is a wider question behind all this: how Catholic is Ireland today?