Preparing for the referendum
Moral theologian Professor Pat Hannon was the speaker, and a large group was in attendance, at the Francis Xavier Church in Gardiner St Church, for the first in a series of three ‘listening’ nights regarding the upcoming referendum on the repeal of the 8th amendment.
The Tuesday nights in May, which begin at 8pm and end at 9.30, have been organised by Gardiner St. PP Fr Gerry Clarke SJ, Fr Richard Dwyer SJ, and their parish team, in the light of the difficult choice facing the Irish people on May 25th. “The parish wants to offer the parishioners of the church and further afield, a safe space to listen to the questions we encounter in the media and among our families and friends”, says Fr Gerry. “And we want to create an atmosphere of respect where people can engage with sympathetic but critical expositions of the complex issues surrounding this referendum.”
Three key aspects need to be honoured, according to Gerry. Namely the teaching of the Church on the issue of abortion, the experience of women facing unintended or unwanted pregnancies, and the likely consequences of a yes or no vote. So on the first night, moral theologian Pat Hannon was invited to speak on the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion. Next week, Tuesday 8 May, two medical practitioners will address their experiences of women facing abortion. And finally on the third evening, Tuesday 15 May, TCD law lecture Professor Gerard Whyte will look at the possible legal outcomes regarding a yes/no vote.
The first session on Tuesday evening was chaired by Bishop Eamonn Walsh DD. It began with a lectio divina reading from the Old Testament prophet Elijah. The triple reading of the story of Elijah finding God not in the earthquake, wind or fire but in the small breeze, set a quiet, listening tone to the evening, according to Fr Gerry.
Professor Pat Hannon, who has a doctorate in civil law as well as moral theology reminded people in his opening remarks that the Irish people, in this referendum, were facing a critical question at a critical time in our history. He then delivered his talk into three sections.
In the first section he focused on the Church’s teaching on abortion as mediated through the catechism. He then proceeded, in his second section, to explore key concepts that arise from that teaching, such as objective morality and the principle of double effect. And finally, in his third section, he looked at morality and law, exploring the issue of how we relate the teaching of the Church to the law of the land.
To do that he took the Bishop’s statement on the 1983 referendum as his yardstick. The Bishops were commenting on the amendment that people are now being asked do they want to repeal in May. They gave their opinion that, at this time, this amendment looked as if would be helpful. They asked people to listen and evaluate what they were saying and what they, as bishops, believed was the right thing to do, drawing on Catholic tradition. They then went on to say that it was then up to the voter and the leglislators to exercise their consciences in voting.
Those present had a chance to respond to his talk by buzzing, and writing down questions and responses which Pat Hannon then addressed. Among the issues raised by participants in the 100 strong gathering was the case of rape and incest, foetal fatal abnormalities, the lack of strong direction from PP’s, the duty of care that Christians have for pregnant women in difficulty, especially if abortion is denied them, and the case of Savita Halappanavar.