By Cian Molloy - 24 March, 2018
The right to life is a human right, Bishop Francis Duffy affirms in a Pastoral Letter to the people of the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Diocese this weekend.
Bishop Duffy says he wrote the pastoral letter to the 41 parish communities in his diocese because he feels strongly that the proposal to remove the eight amendment, Article 40.3.3, from the Constitution of Ireland ‘merits discussion from the perspective of church teaching at this time’.
“Human life is sacred and begins at the moment of conception,” he states. “Once it begins, life should be allowed to flourish and to continue until its natural end. This is the view of the Catholic Church, of people of different faiths and by those who consider the protection of life as an issue of fundamental human rights.”
“The greatest gift that each person has is the gift of life, and the debate this year is all about human life. Before conception there is no human life; after conception there is human life: a unique and distinct human being has come into existence. This reality was put eloquently by Saint Pope John Paul II, ‘Right from fertilisation the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time – a rather lengthy time – to find its place and to be in a position to act’.”
The Bishop notes that in the pre-referendum debate some have argued that abortion in particular circumstances is acceptable. But he says: “Even if this suggestion comes from a sense of compassion, such a viewpoint runs counter to the culture of life which is cherished in Ireland, and for good reason. The truth is that nobody has the right to end the life of another. Abortion is the direct and intentional taking the life of the most vulnerable and innocent of human beings. It is never a medical treatment. Real compassion is not about a choice, it is about sustaining life.”
Describing the Eighth Amendment as ‘a positive and life affirming constitutional provision’, Bishop Duffy points out that the Article upholds the equal right to life of both mother and unborn baby. He says, “Its removal would mean that some lives will become less valuable than others. Its removal will not serve the common good. Without the Eighth some lives, which are at an early stage of growth and development, will not be protected and therefore could be ended before birth.
“In the midst of the current discussion we must ask: who can deny a vulnerable and innocent human being the right to breathe the air of our earth so that they can live life to the full?”
In the case of medical interventions to save the life of a mother that result in the unavoidable termination of a pregnancy, the bishop points out that this is allowable both under existing Irish law and Church teaching because ‘the intention of the medical intervention was not to directly kill the unborn baby’. He says, “Such a heart-breaking occurrence is not an abortion because the intention of the medical intervention was not to directly kill the unborn baby.”
Bishop Duffy also acknowledges that there are pregnancies that result from ‘the heinous crime of rape’. He says, “To help deal with this trauma and violation, it is essential that the mother receives love, accompaniment and appropriate support from family, friends and professionals. In such terrible circumstances an innocent human life, like any other, has begun. A child conceived following rape is still a person. He or she has rights, including that most fundamental of all rights, the right to life.”
There is nothing new about the Church’s attitude to the right to life of the unborn child, says Bishop Duffy. “The Church’s opposition to abortion has been constant since the first century. Recently, Pope Francis reiterated that teaching – ‘I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life’.
“The right to life is the most fundamental right of all. Once human life begins it should be allowed to continue.”
The Bishop concludes his pastoral letter with an invitation to the faithful to ‘pray that Ireland chooses life this year and always’.
His suggested prayer reads:
Lord Jesus, you are the source and lover of life
Reawaken in us respect for every human life
Help us to see in each child the marvellous work of our Creator
Open our hearts to welcome every child as a unique and wonderful gift from God.