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Irish bishops’ general meeting: from coronavirus to synodality

By Katie Ascough - 13 March, 2020

The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference held their Spring 2020 General Meeting this week at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. They discussed everything from COVID-19 (coronavirus) to Saint Patrick’s Day, Lent and preparation for Holy Week and Easter, the sanctity of human life, welcoming Pope Francis’ theme of synodality for the next Synod of Bishops, and more.

The Irish bishops joined in prayerful solidarity with the Holy Father Pope Francis, who on Sunday assured “those suffering from the current coronavirus epidemic and … all those who are caring for them” of his prayers. Whilst the threat to public health continues to evolve, Irish bishops have provided guidance to help the faithful sustain Church life during this trying time.

Bishops prayed through the intercession of our national patron, Saint Patrick, for the faith and well-being of Irish people everywhere. In particular, bishops prayed for those who are selflessly dedicated to the front-line services of medicine and public health in the care of our vulnerable, isolated and ill sisters and brothers.

The bishops reflected on the call to renewal in our Christian life, which is a central part of our preparation for Easter. Pope Francis reminds us that, as we journey through the season of Lent, “God never tires of forgiving us” (Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”)). The bishops asked the faithful to offer up their fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture and works of mercy during Lent for the grace of healing and renewal.

This week, the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland wrote to the Secretary of State, Mr Brandon Lewis MP, expressing their concern about the proposed New Legal Framework for Abortion Services, stating that while abortion was a devolved matter, “the Westminster Government removed protections to the life of the unborn child with chilling alacrity. The imposition of such draconian and unjust legislation ensures that the issue will never cease to be contentious”.

Bishops also strongly criticised the Northern Ireland Office’s proposal for abortion on demand up to 12 or 14 weeks, including sex-selective abortions. They said that “the New Legal Framework will help to facilitate a significant increase in the number of disabled unborn children who are aborted in our society”.

The bishops’ letter emphasised that “the direct and intentional killing of innocent human beings by means of abortion ignores the right to life of the unborn. For this reason all Christians and people of goodwill are obliged in conscience not to cooperate formally in abortion services, even if permitted by civil legislation,” and this includes all health professionals and ancillary staff.

The signatories to the letter are: Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, who is also Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore; Bishop Noel Treanor of Down & Connor; Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry; Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher; and Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh. The content of the letter is available here.

The XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in October 2022 in the Vatican. Bishops welcomed the recent announcement by Pope Francis that the theme of this synod will be “For a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission”.

A full overview of topics discussed at the Spring 2020 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference can be found here.

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