“Of course we are disappointed. The outcome of the vote is the denial of the unborn child’s life , we are deeply saddened.” Without tergiversating Monsignor Brendan Leahy, bishop of Limerick explicitly expressed the feelings of defeat. SIR contacted him by phone to probe the climate in Catholic communities on the aftermath of the Referendum that legalized abortion in Ireland. According to definitive results, Ireland has voted to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%, with a turnout of 64.1%. “The culmination of a quiet revolution”, said Irish Premier Leo Varadkar, for whom this revolution in Catholic Ireland “has been taking place for the past 10 or 20 years.” Msgr. Leahy said he endorses this analysis and noted that 75% of voters said they had made up their minds before the referendum campaign. What does it mean?
“That we should find another way to communicate and seek constant dialogue also on these themes.”
The fundamental aspect of our vision is that human life, every human life, has value. It was our belief before the referendum and it continues being our belief even now. In this respect nothing has changed, we shall continue making our pro-life proposal. But we need to better understand the motivations of those who voted in favour, moved by feelings of compassion for women. However, these feelings are also shared by those who voted against. It’s an aspect we have in common. We must start from this common ground and jointly identify the best ways to help women in difficulty, couples in crisis, people experiencing painful situations.
It is widely believed that the abortion referendum signalled a divisive landmark in Ireland.
Over the past years, marked by a set of referendums on various issues, our society has been exposed to risks of division. That’s where we need to focus our attention and work to mend the rifts.
After all, Ireland is one: one society, one family, and we need to cherish our mutual relations despite different political views. Indeed, there have been deep rifts, but the dialogue must continue.
What is your answer to those who claim that the referendum has sanctioned the victory of modern Ireland over a Catholic, conservative Ireland?
There is an aspect that deserves further reflection. I refer to the role of women in Irish society. Over the past twenty years a lot of historical information has emerged about the ways in which women were treated in institutions. In Ireland we had the notorious Magdalene Loundries (female institutions that housed orphaned or “fallen” women –owing to what at the time was considered sinful behaviour or in contrast with the prejudices of conformist society. Most of them were run by nuns belonging to Roman Catholic orders – Editor’s note). It was discovered that many women went to have abortions abroad as a result of Ireland’s abortion ban, women who were already in situations of crisis were forced to endure further isolation and loneliness. This referendum partly responds to that cry of pain: we no longer want women to be badly treated. Unfortunately the Church is historically associated with those true stories, which is very saddening for us. Mistakes have been made, there is no doubt about this. But it must equally be admitted that the Church was not the only culprit. In many cases the girls had been rejected by their own parents.
But for now, the Church is paying the highest price.
In addition to women, also young people have played a major role in the vote, as 87% of all youths voted in favour of abortion. Are you losing track of the young?
Without a doubt. Unfortunately! It’s a major crisis that is very saddening. However, there are also many youths who feel very close to the Church. Next week the faithful of our diocese will go on pilgrimage to Lourdes and 100 out of 500 participants are young boys and girls. Having said this, we ought to admit that the outcome of the referendum has highlighted this crisis, which is also partly linked to revelations of past scandals.
Young adults dropped out of the Church since then.
The papal visit in August will take place in this new climate. Will the Pope reconquer the love of Ireland?
The Pope communicates enthusiasm, mercy, authenticity, and I believe that his personal witness will be very important to the Irish people. Francis has strongly outlined his vision: “We are not living an era of change but a change of era.” I think that this says it all. It’s not a question of adjusting one or more aspects of the Church. Rather, we ought to understand how to present ourselves as a Church, as a community of disciples of the Risen Christ who live in today’s world with today’s values, namely, autonomy, freedom, community, compassion. It’s a challenge that history calls us to face, or rather, history requires us to enter the new era. But we are not there yet. In fact, we’re just at the beginning. Some people still see us as the Church of a bygone past. They say: everything is collapsing. This could partly be true. But if we view the present through different lenses we will realize that God is inviting us to enter the new era with a new vision.