Pastoral message of Bishop Denis Brennan on the Right to Life

As you are aware, the government has decided to call a referendum for Friday 25 May when the proposal to remove the Eighth Amendment from our Constitution will be put before us.

The Eighth Amendment affords an equal right to life, both to the unborn baby, and to the mother.  The proposal to remove this amendment is a matter of profound importance and it deserves our closest and most immediate attention.

In light of the importance of the choice before us, I have decided to write to you the people of the Diocese of Ferns directly.

  1. The Gift of Life

Life is sacred.  As Christians, we value life as a gift from God.  The gift of life has a particular resonance for all of us, most especially as we consider our own journey of life, and the lives of the members of our families, of our friends and colleagues.

Parents, in this letter I invite you to think back to the day that you first realised that you were going to become a mother or a father – the joy, the preparation, the anticipation – the unknown.  That once young unborn child might now be seven or even twenty seven.  And it probably only feels like it was yesterday.  You can, I am sure, recount in precise detail, that special day when you welcomed your newly born son or daughter into this world – the awe and the wonder, the hopes and the dreams – as you thanked God for this preciously individual baby boy or girl.

Grandparents, you will have the added experience of remembering the joy and relief you experienced on hearing the news of the safe delivery of your first grandchild and the announcement of the name he or she was to be given.  Life for a new generation was beginning, your family was again extending, a sense of pride mixed easily that day with a heartfelt prayer of gratitude.

Older siblings, do you remember the day your younger brother or sister first arrived home, and the sense of care, responsibility and protection that you felt at that time and probably still do?  Your mother arrived home from the local hospital, house arrangements were often changed to make room for the new baby, a whole new set of challenges likely surfaced, as your younger brother or sister, settled in to home.

And then of course, there are the uncles and the aunts.  I am sure you can vividly recount that special conversation or phone call  – ‘you are going to be an uncle or an aunt’ – a new and beautiful chapter opened; that special relationship with a niece or a nephew, and him or her perhaps now not far off five or twenty five years of age.  The Christening, the birthdays, starting school, changing schools, the many acts of kindness and bonding, a once newly born baby growing to full adult maturity.

Family in the widest sense – cousins, relatives up country or abroad – we all have some wonderful memories – the gift of life – and how grateful we all are, to have been given the opportunity of life ourselves, each of us being living proof of a God who loves each of us tenderly.

  1. Loved and Cherished

There is also another reality too – the reality of those who find themselves in difficulties at a time of pregnancy – mothers to be who are abandoned, isolated or afraid, in financial or relational difficulties.

And there are also those rarer – but all too real – instances of pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.  The unspeakable pain and darkness that is experienced here is profound.

That a person might consider the termination of pregnancy as the only option they have in difficult circumstances challenges us all to discern an ever more supportive approach that lovingly penetrates the frightening and lonely places in which some mothers and fathers find themselves, especially in those cases where they believe they have no other choice but termination.

Tremendous sensitivity and support needs to be shown in all such cases.

I am reminded here of a message included in last year’s Day for Life message: “Pope Francis, reminding us of the consistent teaching of the Church, describes abortion as a grave sin.  As a compassionate pastor, however, he reminds priests that they are called to be ministers of God’s mercy.  He also points out that we have not done enough to support pregnant women in desperate situations who see abortion as a quick solution.”

Pope Francis has clearly stated that ‘the right to life is the first human right. Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend him or herself.’

Following his leadership, such unequivocal teaching on the sanctity of life, should at all times be delivered with both clarity and charity, so that any doubts re the teaching of the Church in this matter are dispelled, while assistance and support are simultaneously extended to those distressed or in difficulty.

In particular here, I ask priests to be instruments of mercy, dispensing freely the mercy of God, to any person who seeks to emerge from the regret they experience, in having had an abortion in the past.

We must also be mindful of what is not an abortion.  If a pregnant woman becomes seriously ill and needs treatment which may, as a secondary effect, put the life of her baby at risk, such treatment is always ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both mother and baby.  Abortion, by contrast, is the direct and intentional ending of an unborn baby’s life.  This distinction is a most important one and it concurs wholeheartedly with Church teaching.

In presenting this point we think of those who have found themselves in such circumstances and we offer them our thoughts and prayers as they journey through their grief and loss.  Support and assistance is provided through agencies, such as our own Church agency, CURA – – helpline 1850 622 626.

  1. No Rights At All

The recent Supreme Court ruling of 7 March last has made it very clear that should the Eighth Amendment be removed, an unborn child up to twelve weeks of age will have no rights at all in Ireland.  This breath-taking possibility should stop all of us in our tracks.  It is fundamentally at odds with both natural instinct and Christian outlook – an unborn child with no rights at all in Ireland.

In a world where people fight so hard to win human rights, we in Ireland are being asked to take a right away, and the most fundamental right of all at that, the right to life.

What repeal would mean is very clear, namely that the unborn boy or girl whose heart beats at 21 days – and the older unborn baby who has all of her/his vital organs at twelve weeks – will have no rights at all in Irish law, should people vote yes to repeal.  This twelve-week-old unborn baby – who is now enjoying for the first time the ability to kick, to move and to yawn – would, in the first stretches of young life, be without the basic protection of the right to life itself.  There is something obviously wrong here, should people vote yes to repeal.

As you know, every unborn child has a face at twelve weeks.  A face without rights is not compatible with either reason or faith.  That any person at any age would have no rights at all, is not, I believe, what a majority of Irish people want.  This is what repeal proposes and will come to mean were it to pass.

As voters, we are the unborn baby’s last line of defence.  I ask that you weigh carefully this responsibility and act in the best interest of the unborn child.

  1. Always Human

An erroneous claim that surfaces from time to time is that the unborn baby is not human.  Such a claim deserves our closest attention and refutation, as it is one of the key points on which the current debate within Irish society revolves.  From conception to natural death, life is a continuum, for conception is the first moment of humanity, the beginning of a human’s journey through birth to adult life, concluding in old age and natural death.

We are always human.  At no point are we ever something less or something different.  At each moment, we are equipped with the characteristics appropriate to our stage of life.  What is inherently a right to humanity – namely the right to life – cannot be either denied or taken away.

The right to life must never become of arbitrary value offering least protection to those who are least equipped to defend themselves, namely the unborn child, our little brother or sister.

  1. We Cannot Change Moral Truth

None of us should ever have the power to decide on the death of another.  To concede to any person the right to intentionally take the life of another – in this case the life of a voiceless unborn child – is not only to redefine human life as less than sacred, it is also to make a hierarchy of human life – where some lives are deemed to be of no value at all.  In matters of life and death, none of us is a supreme judge who can decide the fate of another, least of all the vulnerable and the voiceless, the unborn child.

I ask you today to remember that no referendum can change moral truth.  The direct and intentional killing, of an unborn human being, would be just as immoral the day after it was ‘legalised’, as it had been, the day before.

A very succinct summary of our Church’s understanding of the sacred nature of the unborn child exists.  Drawing on Church teaching from the earliest times, the Church states: “Human life is sacred because, from its beginning, it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end.  God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, under any circumstance, claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being”

  1. Abortion For Any Reason

This is not a referendum about abortion in limited circumstances.  Many people seem to think this is the case, but it is not.  If passed, the law will permit abortion on demand in the first three months of pregnancy.  That is when about 90% of abortions take place.  The vast majority of these will not involve hard cases.  Both the mothers and their babies will almost always be perfectly healthy.

Removing the Eighth Amendment and replacing it with laws that allow for unrestricted abortion up to twelve weeks will strip the voiceless of their most fundamental right and make all talk of any other human rights irrelevant for them.  The child with a life limiting condition will have even less protection, and will have no rights at all, at any stage, during pregnancy.  In the words of Love is for Life  – ‘sincerity and good intentions do not make wrong things right.’

It is being said that Irish women are having terminations anyway, but surely we can do more for women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy than legalising abortion?  Let us offer a more positive alternative such as help and support.

To remove the Eighth Amendment will mean a very different Ireland.  It will mean an Ireland, where access to abortion will become much more widespread, and freely available, and one in which the right to life, for the twelve-week-old unborn child, will be removed.  In such circumstances we will clearly have forgotten that the unborn child is one of us, a member of the human family.

  1. Journeying Together 

As we journey towards the day of the referendum, I ask you to join with me in a few simple activities:

  • Pray with me for the unborn child and for young parents to be.
  • Acquaint yourself more and more with the journey to life of the unborn baby and the milestones reached in pregnancy by 12 weeks.
  • Be ever more grateful for the gift of your own life and the lives of those you meet.
  • Work where possible towards the elimination of any difficulties that young mothers and fathers might face in welcoming a child into the world – judgement, economic uncertainty, insecurity of accommodation or housing, isolation or lack of support.
  • Continue to speak with your family and friends, in a calm and respectful way, about the reasons to vote NO in this referendum.  Give close consideration to the phrases ‘Two Lives, One Love’ and ‘Value Both.’
  • Give thought to how better we may promote a culture of life in Ireland.  Many groups seek daily to highlight the value of life, to protect life and to promote life in the public square.  This coalition of volunteers and witnesses is deserving of every encouragement and support we can muster.
  • Commend them on their work.  Consider their invitation to volunteer.
  1. Prayer

In conclusion I invite you to recite daily with me the Prayer of Pope Francis for the unborn and to become ever more a ‘missionary for life’ as the date of the Referendum approaches:

All powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
That we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

Ask God’s guidance at this time that you might speak and act both wisely and warmly.  Respect others and offer truth with gentleness and care.

Yours in Christ

+ Denis Brennan