He said it would be a “retrogressive step if we were to go back to the days of the Catholic Church dictating to elected public representatives”.
While he had no objection to the Church making clear its position, he said he did not wish to see it running a political campaign. He was responding to comments by Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady.
A Government-appointed group is expected to recommend shortly that either a regulatory framework or legislation is necessary to deal with a 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment. It found that a woman’s rights had been breached due to Ireland’s failure to provide a regula-tory or legislative procedure by which she could establish whether she qualified for a lawful abortion here.
The Supreme Court had ruled in the 1992 X case that abortion was permissible in Ireland in cases where the mother’s life was at risk, including risk of suicide. However, successive governments failed to introduce legislation to clarify the instances where a life was deemed to be at risk, leading to the ECHR’s ruling.
Last week, Cardinal Brady said the ECHR judgment “did not oblige” the Government to legislate for abortion, and that any attempt to do so would be “vigorously and comprehensively opposed by many”.
On RTÉ Radio yesterday, he said a referendum might be the only solution and the Church would want to “inform people of the ills of abortion” in such circumstances, without “any sense of laying down the law”.
“We would have a media campaign, we would be lobbying public representatives, and also hope to write a pastoral letter on this situation, setting forth the argument which we have always held and providing resources to priests to preach on this topic in the pulpit.”
Mr Rabbitte said the Government saw no need for a referendum.
“I don’t welcome the cardinal promising to engage in the political campaign. I have no objection to the cardinal setting down his traditional view. But I think we have reached the stage in this country where we acknowledge the role of the different faiths in our society but there ought to be separation as between Church and State.”
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the cardinal was “factually correct — there is no obligation on the Government to legislate on foot of the decision of the ECHR” but Cabinet would consider the group’s report.