By Margaret Hickey
I was one of the planners of the 'Love and Life in Marriage Conference (marking the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae) which took place last Saturday in Dublin and which has received not inconsiderable media attention.
Widespread media attention is of course often lacking where faith events are concerned unless there is something negative to report. This event was no exception. Reporting has been almost entirely focussed on some remarks made by Bishop Doran who opened the conference and introduced the speakers. In fact, interestingly, the story has now become the story of Health Minister, Simon Harris's reaction to the Bishop's comments which he has heard out of context.
He has not asked, to my knowledge, for the text of the address in question before commenting, and I doubt very much if he has read Humanae Vitae. Again, crossing the line that is supposed to separate Church from State, the Minister, in a tweet, tells the Bishop and by extension the Church that '...this must STOP'. What must stop apparently is the Church proclaiming and explaining its teaching to Catholics in forums like this.
Bishop Doran did say, as reported, that there is a connection between acceptance of same sex unions and contraceptive culture. Hardly extraordinary, as he is only making the fairly obvious point that when the unitive and procreative aspects of the spousal relationship are separated and the life giving capacity of sex no longer a dimension of the relationship, there is little to separate a same sex couple from a heterosexual one. He also said some interesting things about the real impact and cost of the sexual revolution as predicted by Humanae Vitae which I have not seen reported.
Please just make it stop! Increasing access to & availability of contraception is and will remain public health policy. Religion plays an important role for many on an individual basis - but it will not determine health and social policy in our country any more. Please get that. https://t.co/BMwIL4fNEE— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) August 5, 2018
In speaking of the value of Humanae Vitae in an age where sex is commodified and reduced to the gratification of an appetite, the Bishop went on to say that there should be a place for explaining the rationale of church teaching on sexuality to young Catholics. This comment in particular seems to have attracted the ire of Simon Harris. He sees it as an attack on the state's obligation to provide, what he might consider, a fact based sex education. It is up to him and his government to devise whatever programmes they like. The Church can't stop them. However, within the Church's legitimate remit is the imparting of its doctrines to the faithful of all ages and anyone else who wants to listen. The Minister should not feel threatened by teaching that tells young people to abstain from sex outside marriage and to enter marriage with an openess to children. Surely that would be a good thing, in so far as it is effective, from the viewpoint of a secular government?
The panel of expert speakers gave lengthy, reasoned and illuminating talks to an audience that was predominantly Catholic and disposed to listen to them. No one was compelled to attend. Neither is anyone obliged to follow what they heard. Following the teaching of the Church remains as always a choice for citizens unlike following the diktats of government.
There was a lot of fascinating input in the presentations of the expert panel which will be available to a wider audience in time through the loveandlife2018 webpage. The fact that the panel of three academic were all lay Catholics seems to have been overlooked by commentators.. Two of them, Dr Maria Meaney and Dr Maria Fedoryka, were women. There were also two lay people who offered testimonies about Humanae Vitae in terms of their life experience. The Conference was engaging and stimulating from beginning to end and the feedback from the attendance was enthusiastic.
For those who are not interested or disapproving, this is all part of the rich cultural and intellectual diversity of our country at this point. It is also part of a wider ideological diversity that is growing as other ethnicities and faiths join our society. If Minister Harris has problems with a conference of this kind, he better brace himself for some serious confrontations in time to come as not all those who are entering the mainstream of national life are as comfortable as he might like to think with his gospel of secular values.
Free speech and open debate means the Minister like everyone else is entitled to his views. That is until he calls, ' this must STOP. Get that'.
There are many things that should stop and many things that should never have started like withholding information about misdiagnoses from women with cervical cancer and pursuing them through the courts when they sought redress. And not taking responsibility as the man at the desk where the buck stops. All that and more. But free speech and open conferences are not among the things that need to stop. And a Minister in a democratically elected government should 'get that'