In Knock

Rachel Andrews

Father Brian McKevitt delivered the homily at Knock Basilica in County Mayo on Sunday. The service was billed as an All Ireland Act of Reparation, a communal act of repentance on behalf of those of us who voted Yes in the referendum on 25 May. Ireland, Fr McKevitt said, has become a ‘pro-choice’ society, where people have decided that either God does not exist or is irrelevant, and are making their own decisions about what is right or wrong. ‘I will go to Mass on Sunday, if I choose,’ he said. ‘I will stay with my spouse, if I choose. I will look after my children, if I choose. I will marry a person of the same sex, if I choose. I will even end the life of an unborn child, if I choose.’

The basilica, which has a capacity of around 10,000, was by no means full, but the congregation was substantial, and of all ages. Many clutched rosary beads. In front of me, a woman nodded as the priest said that ‘feel-good Catholicism’ has taken hold in Ireland to such an extent that mass-goers now ‘think that they can vote for a shocking evil and then think that they can go to Holy Communion the next day without any repentance’.

I am too young to remember the reaction 35 years ago from those who opposed the introduction of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave a foetus equal rights with a pregnant woman and Ireland one of the strictest abortion regimes in the world. But anecdotally they have spoken of the great silence that took place in its aftermath, when the word abortion could no longer be mentioned. Those who voted this year to keep the Eighth, and lost, may feel crushed, but they do not appear to feel silenced.

A radio reporter who covered one of the counts in Dublin said he had seen a young No campaigner in floods of tears. Breda O’Brien, a No campaigner and columnist for the Irish Times, wrote that it was impossible to describe the ‘alienation and horror’ that No voters felt in response to their fellow citizens’ ‘decision to remove the Eighth Amendment and to watch some of them singing and dancing in celebration’. Kathy Sinnott, a former MEP and disability advocate who was involved in organising the Reparation mass, said that those who campaigned against the referendum are grieving; for them, 25 May is known as ‘Black Friday’.

Since the end of May, there have been both civil and uncivil acts opposing the result of the vote. ‘The resistance begins now,’ O’Brien wrote in her first column after the referendum. ‘I am honoured to count myself among you.’ Rónán Mullen, a prominent anti-abortion senator, has formed a new political party, the Human Dignity Alliance. The Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform continues to hold up large banners of dismembered foetuses outside maternity hospitals; the government has said that exclusion zones will be part of the new abortion legislation. The pop-up Yes campaign office in Cork city was recently defaced with red paint.

Many on the pro-life side are young, and they do not lack funds. In 2016, the Iona Institute, a religious advocacy group headed by David Quinn, a Sunday Times columnist, received donations of almost €275,000. Expectant Mother Care, a US anti-abortion group, has apparently offered to fly 20 Irish activists to New York this summer to train them in ‘pavement counselling’, which targets women on their way into hospitals or clinics.

Next month, Pope Francis will visit Ireland. When John Paul II came in 1979, there was a revival of religious fervour. That is unlikely this time, but the pope’s trip will no doubt offer another opportunity for a call to arms. Ending his homily, Fr McKevitt reassured those who may be feeling despair that they are the ones with ‘the truth’, while the secularists offer only emptiness and despair. ‘Isn’t it great to be a Catholic?’ he asked. ‘It is the most wonderful thing in the world.’


  • 17 July 2018 at 3:06pm
    MajorBarbara says:
    I'm sure the 'no' voters are sincere in their grief and outrage; moreover, perhaps unusually among Americans, I resist the oversimplification of the abortion issue. But with regard to Ireland, it's hard to reconcile the Church's professed concern for 'unborn babies' with the New York Times' article last March on 'The lost children of Tuam', also extensively covered elsewhere, nearly 800 children's corpses buried in a sewage tank at the Bon Secours orphans' home, apparently dead of neglect (in some cases actual starvation), and apparently this locale was not unusual among such Church-run orphanages either. Particularly as medical science advances the frontiers of viability, correcting congenital defects and extending the threshold of viability ever earlier, and as birth control becomes safer, cheaper, and more widely available without prescription, it is legitimate to question the moral assumptions underlying abortion. I just don't think the Catholic Church is any longer in the position to make such arguments, if it ever was. Between the molestation scandals, the history of the Magdalen Laundries, and such atrocities as Bon Secours, the Church has squandered any moral authority it could have claimed.

  • 17 July 2018 at 4:51pm
    Seth Egham says:
    Well, my thanks go to Father Brian McKevitt for revealing to me that all along, all those years ago, I was in fact an undiagnosed 'feel-good Catholic'. It strikes me, though, that his quoted list of social disciplines which he believes that those of us who would be Catholics should observe excludes another at least as important: that we should refrain from the sexual abuse of children. My point might seem both cheap and obvious but it was the choice of the Church not to enforce that discipline, nor the adequate control nor legal punishment of those who chose to defy it, that drove me out of the Church altogether. There seems to be little understanding on the part of the Church of how repellent and ridiculous it continues to make itself by taking such a stand on the abortion issue while continuing to fail (or to refuse) to confront its culpability in child abuse. Perhaps some of those within the organisation comfort themselves with the notion that it is they who are being persecuted and suffering for their faith when this problem of the Church's inadequate response is raised against them. It is their failure to comprehend the overwhelming importance of this issue which means that the Church is an irrelevance, doomed to extinction within a generation, in the eyes of the vast majority of the British population.

  • 18 July 2018 at 2:41am
    MajorBarbara says:
    I certainly agree with Seth Egham about the Church's culpability and its hypocrisy. It seems that as soon as you pop out from betwixt your mother's legs (or are delivered by C section like Macduff), you incur original sin, but in those blessed weeks floating in the womb, you are apparently sinless. Something oedipal going on there, I suppose. But the problem is that the two issues, however tempting it is to weave them inextricably together, are ethically separable. It's quite possible for the Church's teaching to be morally correct regarding the unborn, notwithstanding its abominable record on protecting the born. Just as, say, it is possible to oppose animal fighting as sport, while still eating meat. One may fairly argue that the carnivore's selective tender-heartedness, not extending to hens in battery cages, veal calves in tiny crates, geese forcibly stuffed for foie gras, and similar practices, is hypocritical and thus undermines the tears he sheds for bulls stabbed by the matador or dogs and cocks goaded into death-matches. But that's a reflection on him; it doesn't constitute an argument justifying dogfighting or bullfighting. Similarly, if the Church lost every last parishioner and was relegated to history, it wouldn't necessarily invalidate the Church's moral position. Numbers do not make right or truth; Jesus started with only twelve' Hitler, Stalin, and Mao had millions. I happen to be pro-choice and an atheist, but for the sake of intellectual honesty I feel compelled to point all this out, as it's too often elided.

  • 18 July 2018 at 7:11am
    Seth Egham says:
    Your reasoning is, of course, as impeccable as mine is weak, Major. Even I can understand that two different things can be true at the same time. And yet it does seem to me that in the real world, the world in which a child abuser orders a distressed teenager to follow her accidental and unwanted pregnancy to term, experience guides us to the view that it might not be the best course to trust the former's statements. Those statements might have a developed ethical and rational pedigree but they have been corrupted in the living and in their delivery by their transmitter. You would seem to me to have argued something similar yourself in stating that the Church has squandered its moral authority over the Magdalen Laundries, for example.

    While such appeals to experience at the University of Life, having had enough of experts, etc, are inherently poor positions from which to argue I do feel that our difference here- empiricism versus logical purity?- is a major source of philosophical debate and one which I am definitely not equipped to pursue. I do think that my practical experiences as a Catholic schoolteacher and parent justify me in making that connection between monks' and priests' claim of moral authority over abortion and the morality of their reactions to child abuse taking place among themselves. My original point was that Father McKevitt's judgement appeared to be clouded. While not in itself invalidating the Church's position, it does call into question its representation and application by its human agents, surely?

    And I don't attempt to claim that the moral authority for my judgement on the Church's hypocrisy rests on majority opinion. My intended implication was that if the Church wanted to survive, it needed to listen to those whose spiritual and moral government it claims. I am sorry for not having made myself clearer.

  • 19 July 2018 at 10:19am
    Jon Cloke says:
    I love the idea of sneering at 'feel-good' Catholicism, as if any religion not based on pain and suffering should be regarded with deep suspicion... I wonder if Fr MacKevitt's idea of Catholicism ever included making the decision 'I will sodomize this child if I want to', as it appears so many of his fellow-priests, up to the highest levels of the Chuch, chose to do? I wonder if it ever occurred to him that a Church so guilty itself of so many institutionalised acts of 'shocking evil' has simply lost the moral authority to sit in judgement on its' parishioners?

    There is, as this Church of overwhelmingly elderly white men knows better than anyone, no such thing as a pro-life movement; the bloody history of Catholicism makes it quite plain that the Vatican has been perfectly happy to commit the bloodiest of slaughters to protect its brand-monopoly on christianity - the Vatican's attitude from time immemorial has *not* been 'protect all life as sacred', if not "Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius!" Kill them all, for the Lord God shall know his own, as the Dominicans instructed at the massacre of Beziers in 1209.

    Pro-choice does exactly what it says on the tin, whereas, as the series of Lancet research pieces shows beyond the shadow of a doubt, countries which make abortion illegal do not experience a drop in the numbers of abortions, those abortions simply go underground, abroad, and the amount of death, pain and suffering attached to them sky-rockets.

    Which is exacty what the Catholic Church wants - control of the pain and suffering inherent in life, birth and death has been a business model of immense profitability over centuries; the more sin and suffering you can attach to the complicated business of living and dying, the more money you can make out of 'the remission of sins'.

    So by all means, go campaign and pretend you're pro-life, as they do in the USA until that life grows old enough to shoot; carry pictures of suffering foetuses if it makes you feel good about yourself. The Vatican accountants are cackling with glee and rubbing their hands in anticipation...

  • 22 July 2018 at 8:33am
    XopherO says:
    I may be simple, philosophically speaking, but personally I think it is just moral sophistry to say "It is quite possible for the Church's teaching to be morally correct regarding the unborn, notwithstanding its abominable record on protecting the born." What does it mean 'morally correct' anyway?

    These are not just past sins. The scandal - the tragedy - in Spain which began under Franco, the stealing of babies and toddlers from Republicans to give to childless Falangists, continued after his death, as nuns falsely told mothers their babies had died in chidbirth, and then sold them on to make money for the church, continued up until very recent times, and may still be happening, as nuns/nurses judge whether a mother is 'worthy' to have a child, legitimate or not.

    The Church works by making its followers feel guilt, but it would appear this is not an emotion felt by priests and nuns for their cruelty.

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