The following pastoral letter has been published in the name of the priests of the Diocese of Achonry as the diocese is currently without a bishop:
Normally a letter to the people of the diocese comes from the bishop but as we currently have no bishop in the diocese of Achonry, we, the priests of the diocese, wish to place before you, the people of our parish communities, some points for your consideration. We offer these points as pastors and as teachers of the message of life at the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
On 25 May, we are being asked to vote on the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution. This amendment was voted into our Constitution by the people of Ireland after a referendum in 1983. The wording of that amendment states:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
The referendum on 25 May is asking voters whether they want to keep this wording in our Constitution or remove it. The wording as it stands recognises the right to life of the unborn and equally the right to life of the mother. Removing the wording would mean that babies in the womb would have no rights under our Constitution and it would allow the Dáil to introduce legislation for abortion.
The debate on the forthcoming referendum raises serious issues which we all need to consider carefully before casting our vote.
In our parishes, we are privileged to share the joy of mothers and fathers in the birth of a new baby. We witness again and again their wonder at the new life they have helped to create and the tenderness of their care for the infant who is so entirely dependent on them. We see too the wider welcome given to a baby by older brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Working in our parishes, we have walked with mothers – and fathers – who have been overwhelmed by news of pregnancy, who struggle to cope, who are unsure and uncertain about the future, but who choose to welcome their child with the support, compassion, care and love of family, friends and community.
As pastors, we have also shared the journeys of mothers and fathers who become aware during pregnancy that their baby has a life-limiting condition. Though there is heartbreak, we have seen so often the gratitude of parents for precious days, hours, even minutes with their baby after birth, giving them time to name and baptise their child, making memories that live long in the heart.
These experiences with the people we serve leave us with the firm conviction of the wonder of human life that begins at conception. On a purely human level, that sense of wonder is supported by developments in science and medicine that give, in our time, ever greater insight into the hidden life of the little child in the womb with his or her own unique and never to be repeated DNA structure, whose heart begins to beat at 21 days, who by 12 weeks can yawn and stretch developing limbs. In all of this, we see the hand of God for whom human persons are the high point of Creation, made in God’s image and likeness. The insight of the Psalmist rings so true:
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being. (Psalm 138)
Life is God’s gift and the right to life comes from God and not from any law or constitution. Because it terminates human life which begins at conception, abortion can never be condoned in any circumstances. The circumstances in which human life begins are sometimes far from ideal and in such circumstances compassion is certainly called for, compassion which cares for and supports the mother in a crisis situation and compassion which sees the baby she carries in her womb as entirely innocent and deserving of the right to life.
The Eighth Amendment to our Constitution gives protection to the most vulnerable and voiceless members of our society. The forthcoming referendum calls us to be their voice and defend their right to life. It challenges us to be communities that show genuine compassion and practical care in every way for mothers – and fathers – for whom pregnancy causes a crisis.
We all need to be as fully informed as we can be on the issues before us in the referendum on 25 May and on the implications of our vote. We pray and encourage you to pray with us that God will guide us and all citizens of our country to make the best decision for the unborn and their mothers.
Yours in Christ,
The priests of the diocese of Achonry.