The Brandsma Review

Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland

Issue 128, September-October 2013


 IN THE RUN-UP TO THE vote on “The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill”, numerous calls were made to clarify whether Cardinal Brady had given assurances to Cork North West Fine Gael TD, Tom Barry that Catholic politicians who vote–in effect–for the implementation of abortion in Ireland would not incur any ecclesiastical sanctions, such as, excommunication. This was reported for example in The Irish Examiner on June 22, 2013 1. Barry had told The Irish Examiner that he had written to both the cardinal and the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, and the cardinal had assured him he had nothing to worry about from an ecclesiastical point of view for supporting the bill.
“I received responses from both,” Barry told the Examiner. “But in particular, Cardinal Brady’s letter was very decent, telling me not be to be concerned but outlining his and the Church’s views on the matter.”

Despite weeks of media reporting of Mr Barry’s assertion, no word came from Cardinal Brady to denythe report. Why did this matter? It mattered because the idea was soon engrained in many Catholic minds in Ireland that the Church was a little post-modern, alittle anything goes, if you are anti-abortion, you are Catholic, if you are pro-choice, or more pointedly, supportive of abortion, you could still be a Catholic ingood standing. The impression was further strengthened–inadvertently- by the final comment in theBishop’s briefing notes that “Legislators should be free to exercise their conscience on this fundamental moral issue”. Obviously, this was in the context of a party that was not giving a free vote on such an important, fundamental issue as the taking of innocenthuman life, but can a Catholic vote freely and ingood conscience for legislation that would allow for direct abortion? The days passed and the silence wasdeafening as Catholics waited to hear whether the Church would deny communion to Irish politicians who would deny and defy the teaching of the Church on this matter.

A welcome clarification

Concerned by this situation, I contacted the Armagh diocesan secretary, Fr Michael Toner on July 1 and asked that he might respond to Tom Barry’s assertions and clarify the matter. I was forwarded the bishops’ briefing notes on the matter of the legislation which were an excellent critique of the flaws in the legislation, but no clarification was given me on whatCardinal Brady actually said or thought. Then, on July 5, a welcome clarification came from Fr Toner in a press release to the media, which made clear that no such assurances had been made to Tom Barry. Mr Barry had mischaracterised Cardinal Brady’s correspondence. He didn’t state he wouldn’t be excommunicated, if he supported the legislation, just that there were no assurances that he wouldn’t be. It was akin tosaying “I’m not saying the bridge will collapse if you go over it. I’m just giving no assurances that it won’t.”

There are three troubling aspects to this saga. First, the relative slowness in the Irish hierarchy’s communication team in dampening down false stories and media spins, especially in a media world that runs 24/7. As Mark Twain rightly observed, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” The need for speedy clarification should have already been apparent; the impetus for this legislation was created by a three-day media blitz on the case of Mrs Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death, which turned into a worldwide hysteria. In comparison, how many of the public were made aware that an Irish woman died recently in England after one of the “safe and life-saving” abortions? The importance of engagement with the media in the modern age is a key teaching of Vatican II. It is time for this to be taken more seriously.

Winning the propaganda war

Second, in the public relations battle—or should we say in the propaganda war?—why did the Irish bishops think it was a good idea to put their least credible bishop forward–whether that image be merited or not for what was in effect a child protection issue? Public relations needs to be taken more seriously by the Irish hierarchy, as bishops’ letters and briefing notes don’t have the same clout that they used to. How many of the public actually read them? I can’t imagine that it is in excess of The Irish Catholic’s circulation of 26,000. So, they have little or no impact. The most they can hope for is that a sound bite is reported in the wider media. Yet, you can ask most atheists what Pope Francis’ teaching line is and what his values are (despite they not having read his encyclical letter) and they will tell you accurately—and favourably too. Why? Because he has the PR done and dusted from the word go, straight out of the stalls. The Catholic Church in Ireland lost the debate, not because it didn’t have the most convincing arguments, but because it didn’t fully appreciate that winning the propaganda war was important in framing the debate inside the Dáil. The international abortion industry set the agenda, primed the media and had the ear of the Taoiseach, through its principal advocate: President Obama.

Third, what exactly is the Irish Church’s position on Catholic politicians who flout the Church’s teachingon the sanctity of life? Are they to be refused Communion? It is obvious that the Irish hierarchy didn’t want to deal with that question. But, they must do if they are to shepherd the flock, protect it from the wolves and lead it to the green pastures. The papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, prohibits any Catholic politician from supporting legislation that liberalises abortion laws—which is exactly what the above legislation intends to do—and the Church’s Code of Canon Law specifically states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” Legislating for abortion is precisely an example of manifest grave sin. The encyclical says that “a person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication”. It also clarifies that the “excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed.” Legislating for abortion is clearly facilitating abortion and, therefore, makes politicians who vote for it, accomplices to this crime. Irish bishops don’t technically have to “excommunicate” these politicians who have legalised abortion in Ireland, as they are already excommunicated by their own actions.

What they do need to do is make it abundantly clear that politicians or anyone else are automatically excommunicated if they vote for abortion or give any moral support to abortion. Catholics need to know where they stand if they support in word or action abortion. In a world of sound bites, “automatically excommunicated” is clear; “no assurances that you won’t be excommunicated” is not clear and verging on a contradiction of what Blessed John Paul II taught in Evangelium Vitae. In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that politicians “must” be refused Communion if they persist in supportingabortion legislation after receiving due instruction from the clergy. In a letter to Argentine bishops in March, 2013, Pope Francis reiterated that “[people] cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals 2.” It is clear, where the Holy Father stands on this: will the Irish bishops now give equal clarity?

Hard cases make bad laws

In terms of the legislation itself, it would be more consistent with the constitution to have overturnedthe X Case, which was a breach of the right to life of the unborn child, than to pursue legislation that would give a green light to abortion in Ireland. A tightening up on medical best practice would have seemed the more rational path to have taken, particularly as hard and rare cases make bad laws. Currently, the law is likely to be a compromise solution that will undermine the right to life of the unborn to the point that it is no longer asserted or recognised by the State. It also will not do “what it says on the tin”—protect life in pregnancy—its provisions are to do the opposite, first, to give medical practitioners the duty—even against their conscience—to take the life of a non aggressor, an innocent human life, and second, the procedure itself is a threat to the life of the mother, as the history of the abortion trade can amply confirm.

Denis Naughten, TD, during his Dail debate madean adept critique of the suicide clause in the Bill. He observed that in the case of Cosma v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, “a woman who did not want to be deported from the State expressed suicidal ideation as her reason for requiring the court to quash the deportation order… The High Court rejected the evidence presented in support of the claim of threatened suicide. The court found that the applicant had no treatment plan and was not undergoing therapy, without either of which the court could not determine whether there was a real and substantial risk to her life, which is the test case set out in the X case.” In what can only be described as the Pythonesque illogic of the legislation, “If a woman is receivingtreatment … for suicidal ideation then she is not legally entitled to a termination under section 9 of the Bill, yet the High Court determination was that in order for there to be a real and substantial risk she must be receiving treatment.”3 In other words, the very women who can’t demonstrate a real risk of suicide,according to the High Court’s criteria, are those that are entitled to an abortion and those who candemonstrate a real risk of suicide are not entitled to an abortion, under this barmy legislation. I don’t accept a threat of suicide as a justification for abortion, but considering a large part of the argument for this legislation was to allow abortion for suicidal pregnant women in line with the X case, it makes no sense.

Human life is inviolable

No, instead of evidence of real and substantial risk of suicide, according to the High Court’s criteria, the legislation proposes the judgement of three psychiatrists, who would sign off on it. Why is it three—why not two or four? Is it because it gives it some form of reasonableness, a sort of triple lock to prevent abortion on demand? Where have we heard use of three medical experts before? The Nazis began a program code named Aktion T4 to eliminate “life unworthy of life” in October 1939. The program at first focused onnewborns and very young children. Midwives and doctors were required to register children up to age three that showed symptoms of mental retardation,physical deformity, or other symptoms included on a questionnaire from the Reich Health Ministry. A decision on whether to allow the child to live was thenmade by three medical experts solely on the basis of the questionnaire, without any examination and without reading any medical records. Each expert placed a + mark in red pencil or—mark in blue pencil under the term “treatment” on a special form. A red plus mark meant a decision to kill the child. A blue minus sign meant a decision against killing. Three +++ symbols resulted in a euthanasia warrant being issued and the transfer of the child to a “Children’s Specialty Department” for death by injection or gradual starvation.

What the Irish government is proposing is the elimination of “life unworthy of life”, which will be determined simply by it being an unwanted pregnancy to the point of suicidal ideation. But, you might say “it is not the same thing—one is abortion, theother is euthanasia!” I would argue it is exactly thesame thing: it amounts to the view that not all humanlife is sacred and that we can disregard some categoriesof human life with a stroke of the legislative pen. The key loose thread in the garment of Irish lawand morality is that there is no right to life, only a right to live, if that life is worthy or wanted. We have started pulling on this loose thread. The first hole toshow in the sleeve is the loss of a right to conscientious objection. Soon, we will be naked and living in a state that exposes us to its capricious and calculatingwill. It is time for Irish Catholics to make clear in the pews and in the streets that human life is inviolable,not unviable, while we still have a right to express our views.


2. As reported in see
3. Quoted from Denis Naughten’s speech to the Dail on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Editor’s Note:

According to the Code of Canon Law, canon 1398, “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” This canon prescribes an automatic penalty for a specific action,and, since it falls under canon 18, should “be interpreted strictly”.
This canon certainly applies to those directly participating in an abortion without any mitigating circumstances: the mother of the aborted child, her husband/ boyfriend, the doctor and nurses who physically carry out the abortion, and, maybe, some others
contributing to the action. It doesn´t apply to a mother who decided to abort a child but changed her mind, or even to someone who took an abortofacient that failed to kill the child.  What is doubtful, however, is that legislators are automatically excommunicated under Canon 1398. No canonist has claimed with certainty that this canon applies to legislators. Without any doubt, legislators who have voted for abortion are clearly in a state of very grave sin and should not receive the Eucharist until they have sought absolution in the sacrament of Penance. Their absolution would be conditional on a firm intention to do everything in their power to reverse the unjustlaws enacted. It is the duty of the Church´s shepherds to publicise this basic teaching about law and morality.

Also in this issue:


A Black Day for Ireland

The ‘Paper of Record’ Fouls its Nest


Mel Cormican

Rev Aidan McGing CM

Rachael Hardiman

John Heneghan

Peadar Laighléis

Paul Fournier

Joe Aston

From the Editor’s Desk, ‘Hungary and Tartan’, and ‘Daniel O’Connell’s Uncle’; Letter
to the Editor from Eric Conway; Hibernia Hibernici dissects ‘Fintan O’Toole’s Rogueries’; and Hurling Shots from the Ditch includes ‘Fine Gael TDs and Senators you can vote for’, ‘Father Doran peeps above parapet’, and ‘Private Eye and Professor Dawkins’.


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This entry was posted on September 1, 2013 by in Issues 2013 and tagged , , , .
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