Today, I have asked the priests to distribute a Pastoral Message that I have written about the upcoming referendum on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. I am conscious that this is a complex and very sensitive subject to address and that it may touch some people very personally. That is why I have not asked them to read it in the church. However, as your bishop I believe I have an obligation to offer guidance on this very important matter, and so I respectfully ask you to read my Pastoral Message which is available for distribution throughout the diocese from today.
When the people of Ireland voted in 1983 to amend the Constitution in order to protect the lives of unborn children, the words used make it clear that the State was not conferring the right to life on children in the womb. It was merely recognising a right they already enjoy simply because they are human. And so the Amendment begins: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn…”
Just five years ago, in 2012, the government held another referendum to further protect the rights of children. This resulted in the very progressive 31st Amendment to the Constitution . Again, it’s clear that this Amendment is not conferring any rights, but simply acknowledging rights that are already there. To quote: “The state recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible (unchangeable) rights of all children”
In an extraordinary turn-around we are now being asked to repeal the Eighth Amendment. If this succeeds the State will no longer recognise the right to life of a whole group of children, namely babies in the womb, and among them in particular those with disabilities or life-limiting conditions. If a society is to be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members, then what will be the judgement on us if we vote to remove the right to life of children in the womb?
My hope is that every Catholic home in the diocese will receive a copy of my Pastoral Message, read it and discuss it, and that it will help you to come to a well-informed, conscientious decision before you go to vote on this very serious matter.
I ask you to pray that, in our Constitution and our laws, we will continue to cherish and promote the culture of life that has been the hallmark of the care provided by doctors and nurses in Ireland up to now, and of which we can be justifiably proud.
Bishop of Kilmore.
4 March 2018, The Third Sunday of Lent.