Is it too much to ask pro-choice activists to refrain from violating holy places? Can we ask them to avoid profanity and sacrilegious language with the purpose of causing offense to religious believers, especially Catholics? Can we ask them not to misuse religious iconography?
There are growing indications that some pro-choice activists don’t want to recognise any of these limits.
For example, a pro-choice activist thought it would be a great idea to drape a ‘Repeal’ jumper over the altar of the Grotto of Lourdes at Mary Immaculate parish in Inchicore, Dublin, and then post it on Instagram. The picture was drawn to the attention of Iona Institute Director, David Quinn, who then posted it on Twitter where it drew a strong reaction, mostly indignation but also support by more extreme “repealers”. This is just another example of how things sacred to religious believers, especially Catholics, are being increasingly misused in public debate.
Notably the Repeal Project, which produced those jumpers, left three stars in the comment section on Instagram as a sign of endorsement. Other pro-choice advocates questioned the wisdom of gestures like this, worrying about the adverse consequences for their own cause. Offending religious sentiment will hardly attract votes or sympathy. There is a difference between criticising religion and invading sacred spaces to carry out stunts like this.
The journalist Dearbhail McDonald tweeted that such acts “will not help win the middle ground – where the repeal the 8th battle will be won or lost.”
To this tweet, Una Mullally from the Irish Times, replied: “Impossible to prevent acts of individual protest. It’s not like it’s a campaign strategy.” This is true, but the hostility of some pro-choice campaigners towards Catholicism in particular is so strong that they cannot help expressing it.
Una Mullally herself was clearly uneasy at Healy’s act, but she is currently compiling a “Repeal the 8th Anthology” in support of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment. The book will feature, among others, an interview with Ailbhe Smyth, convener of the Coalition. These are mainstream pro-choice campaigners. The webpage for the book shows a picture of the Virgin Mary with the heart-shaped logo of the Repeal campaign superimposed over her mid-riff. What is this intended to convey? Why use iconography of the Virgin Mary in such a way? Would a picture of something sacred for another religion be used in a similar way? Very doubtful.
The use of an image of the Virgin Mary in such a manner is a conscious choice. The book involves prominent members of the pro-choice movement and this is why I asked Una Mullally on Twitter if the use of Virgin Mary iconography was part of a campaign strategy.
“It’s art”, she replied. When asked again to address my question she simply said, “It’s a book”. We knew that, the problem is with the picture! I won’t contest her debatable aesthetic taste but pro-choice campaigners can’t so easily avoid addressing their disrespectful use of sacred iconography.
Disregard for religion, particularly Christianity, and even more particularly, Catholicism, is frequent in public discourse, even if it causes offence to many ordinary believers. Last week the Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI) rejected eleven complaints against the Late Late Show in which the ‘Rubberbandits’ referred to Holy Communion as “haunted bread” and another host equated the Eucharist to cannibalism. The complainants were deeply hurt by this ridiculing of something that is very sacred to them. However, the BAI did not believe that the comments “crossed a line such that undue offence was caused to the audience as a whole.” On the other hand, it did say that Late Late Show host, Ryan Tubridy, should have taken more account of the sensibilities of some of his audience.
In the months ahead we can expect that the abortion debate will become more and more forceful and militant. Fierce arguments are inevitable but there should be some boundaries.
It is a matter of civility, and this applies to both sides equally.