Following a meeting between Catholic bishops and Government representatives last week, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, who was not present, told the Catholic Church that it has no right to determine our laws, and that its own teachings ought to recognise a right to abortion. That is quite a double whammy.
According to The Times Ireland Edition, she said: “I absolutely do want to see a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, I think it is really integral to a social justice agenda in order to enable women to have greater choice in relation to the issue of their pregnancy. The Catholic Church has a very strong social justice tradition, and so I would think that in our negotiations discussion with them we need to draw on that social justice tradition to ensure it extends to women’s ethical choices in relation to their reproductive capacity. I respect the tradition, I think they need to voice their views, but I also believe and know that those views were to influence their own members. They cannot determine the laws of the land,” Ms Zappone said.
These comments raise a number of questions.
If Ms Zappone believes that the Bishops should influence only their own members, why were they invited by the Taoiseach to present and discuss their views with representatives of the Government, including the Taoiseach. Does she believe the meeting should never have happened?
Would Minister Zappone tell any other part of civil society that they cannot attempt to influence the laws of the land? Would she say it to Amnesty Ireland, for example, which is campaigning to have abortion made legal on wide-ranging grounds? If not, why single out the Churches? Are religious groups less entitled than others to contribute to democratic debate?
Additionally, if the Minister wants the separation of Church and State then it is not her role to tell the Catholic Church what to believe. (On the other hand, as citizens we all have a right to seek to determine our laws, whether we are religious or not). To demand that the Catholic social justice tradition should extend to women’s ‘ethical choices in relation to their reproductive capacity’, which is another name for abortion, is an unjustifiable interference in contradiction with the principle of separation.
Moreover, suggesting that the Catholic social justice tradition could somehow justify the legalisation of abortion negates the long established Catholic teachings on the profound injustice that abortions imply.
It is at the same time ironic but also tragic that the person calling on Catholic bishops not to stand up for unborn children is the Minister for Children.
In the USA, the country of origin of Ms Zappone, abortions can be performed until birth. As she is actively promoting a referendum to liberalise abortion, it would be interesting to know if this is the model that Minister Zappone is advocating.