ANN CAHILL: Church and state not operating in the real world

IRELAND has an ability to produce parallel universes that are breathtakingly wide of reality, and during the past week there were two such instances.

One was unveiled in the Grand Chamber of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Wednesday and the second in St Peter’s Square in Rome on Friday.

The Ireland being described by the state’s legal team in relation to abortion was unrecognisable. The Irish people in the court looked at one another incredulously, wondering if any of the 17 judges had any way to judge the reality for themselves.

Moral ethos was a phrase bandied about, along with reassurances that there were any number of Irish doctors willing to carry out abortions on women whose lives were at risk from their pregnancies.

That the state was unable to give figures to prove this shows doctors are not in fact willing to risk a lifetime in jail for carrying out an abortion in the absence of clear legal guidelines as requested by the courts.

The Attorney General drew gasps when he referred to a “fine bright line” that allows doctors to tell the difference between women whose lives were at risk and those whose health was an issue and, therefore, would not qualify for an abortion in Ireland.

Was he referring to the fine bright blue line on pregnancy testing kits many wondered? He insisted there was help, support and advice for women in Ireland, but made no reference to the fact that each year more Irish women have abortions than those in many other European countries where it is legal.

As a result there is no help, support or advice available for Irish women, other than from voluntary organisations, when they are in crisis or when they return from having an abortion abroad. Rogue groups who try to dissuade people from abortions by frightening them with lies often compound their difficulties.

The Attorney General referred repeatedly to the guarantees in the Nice and Lisbon Treaties on Ireland’s unique position on abortion, which he fought to have included. He made no mention of the fact that our EU colleagues regard this as a neat piece of hypocrisy, since so many Irish women travel abroad to their countries for their abortions.

The second incidence of a parallel universe involved the reaction of the Catholic Church to the Murphy Report on clerical sex abuse.

The senior clergymen appeared to inhabit a different world from the rest of us as they spoke of renewal, culture change and repentance. Their frustration at the repeated questions of when we were going to see bishops dismissed was understandable in their world.

Each diocese is an independent republic we are told and the Pope can only request a bishop to resign. Firing bishops would be beside the point, they suggest, and say what is needed is a reorganisation of the Church in Ireland.

This is sensible, but sometimes people want to see those who have been in positions of power do something painful that shows they understand and are sorry.

For the Pope to say, “I am sorry” in plain English would have been a start.

A little humility does not require one to be humiliated after all. But in the all-male preserve of the Church where bureaucrats rise to power, their main job is to preserve the structures of their power, and the Church in Ireland has not shown itself to be any different.

Until there is an inclusive church with gender equality throughout the ranks, changing culture will be just another academic exercise.


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