The great St. Patrick devoted his life to bringing the light of Christianity to the Emerald Isle. Some 1,500 years after his death, the island needs the Apostle of Ireland’s inspirational flame more than ever.
Ireland voted May 25, and not only did the Irish people choose to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution that guaranteed the right to life of unborn children, they did so by a massive margin. (See news story.) The final vote resulted in a 66.4% to 33.6% majority to remove the Eighth Amendment. The government of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has pledged to introduce legislation to permit abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, up to 24 weeks in cases when there is an (unspecified) risk to the health of the mother, and up to birth when the child in the womb is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. Ireland’s abortion regime is likely to be approved in the fall.
In the span of 30 years, one generation in time, Ireland has gone from being one of the most Catholic countries in the world, with legal protections for both mother and child enshrined in its constitution, to a nation that has declared its unborn children have no legal rights of any kind.
The image of pro-abortion supporters in Dublin dancing and celebrating their new right to abort babies was both shocking and horrifying, and so, too, was the grim realization that Ireland had gone beyond even other liberal European democracies and the United States in how it reached its abortion regime.
While abortion elsewhere was unleashed by the elitist act of a parliament or — as in the case of the United States — imposed by an activist judiciary, Ireland marks the first time in history that a nation has freely chosen by popular vote to permit abortion. That fact becomes even more sobering considering that the now-repealed Eighth Amendment was first approved by referendum in 1983 by 67% of the Irish people (a slightly higher majority than those who voted last month to repeal it).
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Catholic primate of Ireland, said he was “deeply saddened that we appear to have obliterated the right to life of all unborn children from our Constitution and that this country is now on the brink of legislating for a liberal abortion regime.”
Irish commentator John Waters wrote in First Things, “If you would like to visit a place where the symptoms of the sickness of our time are found near their furthest limits, come to Ireland. Here you will see a civilization in freefall, seeking with every breath to deny the existence of a higher authority, a people that has now sentenced itself not to look upon the cross of Christ, lest it be haunted by his rage and sorrow.”
In fairness, Ireland had resisted the tide longer than many other European nations. While other countries were embracing the culture of death in the 1970s, the Irish approved the Eighth Amendment in the 1980s. But protecting the culture of life in the country became increasingly more challenging. In 2015, the Irish approved same-sex “marriage” under the same government that will now implement abortion. A push to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide and the ruthless imposition of gender ideology will almost certainly follow in due course.
It is easy in the face of the May 25 vote to lament the seeming collapse of Christianity in Ireland, the shocking and even self-inflicted decline of Catholicism — from the unmitigated disaster of the sex-abuse scandal to the loss of the young and the crisis of faith and fidelity among so many of her members — and the final shattering of the myth of a holy Ireland as a bastion of Christian tradition and culture. Twenty-first-century Ireland is, like many other once-Christian nations, effectively post-Christian — 1,500 years of Christian faith seemingly washed away by a tide of modern liberalism, materialism and neo-paganism.
As Catholics in Ireland, however, await the visit of Pope Francis to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families in August, this is not the time to surrender to despair and cynicism. Rather, this is the moment for the pro-life movement in Ireland and around the world to redouble our efforts, both in our practical response and our spiritual one.
Those who cherish life in Ireland can look to the United States, where the pro-life movement is making slow but demonstrable progress against America’s own abortion regime, despite the similarly massive bias in the media and the growing tide of secularism and materialism.
For Catholics, there is the added imperative of avoiding the trap of abandoning what we believe in a futile effort to appease the culture. This entails what Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin calls going back to the roots.
“The Church is called to be pro-life,” he said, “not just in words and statements and manifestos, but to be pro-life in deeds, by being a Church which reflects the loving care of Jesus for human life at any stage.”
Wherever the culture of death has taken hold, we must live faithfully, confidently and joyfully, like St. Patrick 15 centuries ago.
According to a famous legend, he beheld a prophetic vision of Ireland sinking into apostasy as the light of faith went out across the isle. But he also saw in the darkness points of light, embers that eventually reignited the flame of hope and fidelity. In 433, he supposedly gave an example to the Christians of Ireland by lighting the paschal candle on the Hill of Slane in defiance of the pagan festival of Beltane. May all of us be like a paschal light in the new age of darkness.