Irish Guild of catholic Nurses & Irish Catholic Doctors Association

Pilgrimage to Knock - 7th May 2016

Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin

One of the elements of event management which has to be carefully considered is the making of provision for medical emergencies. Today that should not be a problem. I warmly welcome the pilgrims who have travelled to Knock as members of the Irish Guild of Catholic Nurses and the Irish Catholic Doctors Association. Together with you, I welcome the sick whose presence is so central to the Knock pilgrimage and indeed to the whole mission of the Church. 

Encouragement is a word that we hear quite often in the Acts of the Apostles. People like Paul and Barnabas who were missionaries in Asia minor, went about encouraging the believers. We find that same theme in our reading this afternoon. Your pilgrimage to Knock today is about encouragement in a number of ways:

  • this gathering of doctors and nurses, together with the sick and the elderly reminds us of the very important place of healing in the ministry of Jesus
  • it gives us an opportunity to pray together and to ask the Holy Spirit to renew in each of us and in all of  us together our sense of vocation and mission
  • through our gathering, we recognise that we are not just individuals trying to do a job, or indeed people waiting to be healed; we are members of a community of faith and a community of healing

Doctors and nurses are engaged in relationships of care which are rooted in trust. There is a lot of talk these days about “centres of excellence”. Your patients need to know that excellence is not just a word that is used on glossy brochures, but that it is the goal towards which we strive in all that we do. They need to know that they will receive the very best that you can give. With all the intricacies and specialist areas of modern health care and the complex structures of a large hospital, this in itself is quite challenging. I imagine that - for nurses and doctors of all faiths and of none - it must often seem that human gifts and energy on their own are not enough.

Catholic healthcare professionals are not just nurses and doctors who happen to be Catholic. What defines you as Catholic healthcare professionals is that you see all those who are involved in the healthcare relationship – colleagues, patients and the relatives of patients - as people who have also been invited by the Creator to share a relationship with Him, a relationship which is the source of meaning and hope for everyone. Being in right relationship with the Lord is integrally related to our acceptance of one another as brothers and sisters who have received the same open invitation. 

The Hippocratic Oath pre-dates Christianity. The ethics of healthcare, with its focus on respect for human life, was always about seeking what was good and true and applying it to the science of healthcare. In more recent centuries, unfortunately, science has tended to focus more on what is possible or potentially “useful”. Questions about what is good, if they are asked at all, often seem to come when the essential decisions have already been made. When we talk about a Catholic approach to healthcare, what we mean is that, for those who care for the sick, the words of Jesus: “whatever you do (or fail to do) for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do (or fail to do) for me”, have a particular resonance. But there are not two kinds of goodness, a Catholic goodness and an ordinary goodness. Good healthcare is good for people, full stop. The difference is that faith sharpens our perception of what our common humanity calls us to do and to be.

Factors such as efficiency and cost-effectiveness are essential elements in the planning and provision of a working healthcare system in a world of limited resources. We need to have confidence, however, that those who are involved in caring for us when we are sick, are more focussed on what is good for people. It is encouraging these days to see groups of doctors and nurses like yourselves, who have that focus. As Catholics, our approach to healthcare must always be consistent with reason, but it is also inspired by faith. There is no conflict between the two.

An ethos which is informed by faith should not be about controlling or defining other people. Unfortunately our Catholic ethos is sometimes seen in that way. Whether you work in general practice or in a large public hospital, your Catholic ethos is simply about adhering to and proposing a vision of the dignity and worth of the human person which is inspired by the Gospel. What we do flows from who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ and reflects his desire to heal all who came to him.

So far, I have not said very much about our Scripture readings. They are not particularly about healthcare, but they do speak to us about the Holy Spirit, who is the power and the wisdom given to us for our mission, just as Jesus promised. It is worth looking at one of the characters in the first reading, Apollos. He was clearly an intelligent man who was open to faith but who was not yet a Christian. He placed his significant gifts at the service of the Church in Ephesus and he was, in his turn, helped by Pricilla and Aquila to grow into a greater understanding of the Way of Jesus Christ.

Among our colleagues these days, there is great diversity. Many who are Catholic do not allow their faith to influence their professional lives. Some of them may be actually hostile to faith, but others have simply not made the connection between faith and life. On the other hand, many of your colleagues these days are not Catholic or Christian, but they are sincere believers, whose ethos of respect for life is very similar to ours.

All of this suggests to me that, in exercising our mission as Christian healers, we should be on the lookout for people like Apollos with whom we share common ground and we should be open to seeing ourselves in the role of Priscilla and Aquila, as people who are not just committed to living our own faith in action, but ready to share our vision with others.

I have no doubt that the coming years will bring many challenges for Catholics who are serious about their faith and about their professional responsibilities in healthcare.

  • The proposal to repeal the eighth amendment is not about ironing out a few minor legal difficulties, it is about opening the door to a liberalisation of abortion which is not consistent with the truth about the human person. The idea of referring it to a citizen’s convention is simply an attempt to distance the government from whatever is recommended. Some of your colleagues are speaking about unborn children with life-limiting conditions, as if their lives were useless; as if they were already dead. I think it will be especially important for Catholic doctors and nurses, who know the truth, to help people to recognise that babies with life limiting conditions are patients in need of care.
  • We are also facing serious challenges around the provision of chaplaincy services. The focus on so-called generic chaplaincy undermines the right of every person, of whatever religious persuasion, to be offered spiritual support in a manner which is consistent with his or her faith. Equality, surely, is not about the lowest common denominator.
  • Technology is at the heart of advances in healthcare, as it is in every sector of society. We need to invest in technology, but we also need to invest in people. I know that many doctors and nurses feel undervalued and, as carers, have little sense of being cared for. I think this is a particular challenge for healthcare professionals who see themselves as following in the footsteps of Christ. We cannot wait for systems and structures to provide care. We need to look after one another.

I hope that your pilgrimage to Knock today will have given you some encouragement, as you face out into the serious business that awaits you. Look around you; you are not alone. You have one another and the Holy Spirit will go with you.


I welcome you all on this special occasion.  The Catholic Nurses Guild of Ireland are holding their pilgrimage today and I want to thank them for making provision for a pilgrimage to pray for persecuted Christians throughout the world.

Firstly the Catholic Nurses Guild of Ireland has as their aim to promote the professional, spiritual, cultural and social development of the nursing profession.  It is appropriate that they would have their pilgrimage here because their Patron is Our Lady, Health of the Sick.  All of us have experienced the hugely significant part which nurses play in our hospitals and nursing homes, in the local community.  We know the way in which the nurse journeys with the patient and indeed with the family in a supportive, reassuring and encouraging manner.  A good nurse, happy in her or his vocation brings serenity to difficult and demanding situations.

As nurses and midwives you have always worked ethically and professionally in doing your utmost to respect and protect the life of every person in your care.  You are committed to and recognise the dignity of every person from conception to natural death.  I am conscious of the deep concern and disappointment which you experienced and expressed at recent decisions with regard to the protection of life on the part of Government.  In spite of all the debate you have maintained a consistency of approach as you endeavour to see all mothers and unborn babies protected, cherished and safeguarded from all harm.  This is due in no small way to the professional commitment of your members over many years to the inherent dignity of every person in your care.  There is a very definite link between the Catholic Nurses Guild of Ireland, their commitment to life and our pilgrimage today to pray for Christians whose lives are under threat.

The Persecution of Christians

Today we also gather to pray for and commemorate Christians who are persecuted throughout the world. There has been an appalling lack of protest about the ongoing and severe persecution being faced by Christian communities in the Middle East and North Africa.  Some Christian communities who have existed for almost two millennia are being driven from their lands through violence, intimidation and murder.  It is essential that we uphold our fellow Christians through prayer and that we seek to raise awareness of their plight in our national media.  The aim must be to prompt political action to bring this persecution to a halt. 

Ireland has a long and proud history of peacekeeping and charitable work throughout the Middle East and Africa.  Our government can exercise a moral leadership in attempting to bring the EU’s focus to bear on this issue.  Individuals, too, have a role in addressing these issues.  Support through prayer, charitable donations and lobbying for action are all needed.  Greater yet though is to work on our own attitudes towards immigrants and refugees.  We must challenge our own stubborn hardness of heart in that regard. 

Ancient Christian communities of Iraq and Syria are under very serious threat and may soon be entirely extinguished.  A century ago Christians constituted 20% of the middle east; today that number stands at 4%.  The western world could be accused of indifference to such brutal actions.

Former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has been highlighting the matter of the assault on Christians throughout the world and he declared “this is the crime of humanity of our time.  It is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.  It is deliberate, it is brutal, and it is systematic.”  And he goes on to say “I am appalled that the world is silent”.  There are indications, however, that confronting the persecution of Christians is slowly making its way onto the world agenda. 

In the west, people are in the habit of thinking of Christianity as a socially dominant institution which makes it difficult for them to grasp that Christians can actually become victims of persecution.  Eighty per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.  Statistically speaking an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed each year for the past decade.  That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.

Persecution against Christians is intensifying.   The world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs.  It represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our times but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era.  Pope Francis remarked in a general audience “when I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering?  The Pope asked his following – “am I open to that brother or sister in my family who is giving his or her life for Jesus Christ?”

In the last week, there was the brutal murder of at least thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya.  A couple of months ago, twenty-one Coptic Christians were similarly beheaded.  The persecution of Christians has been ongoing for well over a decade. In 2003 there were over 1.5 million Christians in Iraq - in just over a decade this figure has fallen below 400,000.  Churches that date from 200 AD have been destroyed.  The city of Mosul, one of the oldest Christian cities in the world, once had a Christian population of 60,000.  Christians there were faced with the choice of forced conversion, death or to flee from their homes.  The population fell to 3,000 before the last of that community were driven out last year.  Since the start of the civil war in Syria, almost half of the Christian population has now fled. The series of revolutions in Egypt has seen Coptic Christians murdered and their Churches destroyed.

Four years ago the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem asked the question “Does anybody hear our cry?  How many atrocities must we endure before somebody somewhere comes to our aid?” At the start of the 21st Century, the words of Christ prophesying the persecution of his followers ring as clearly as ever.  Some 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. 

Christians are languishing in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt which has recently seen its worst anti-Christian violence in 7 centuries.  Most violent anti-Christian problems of the early 21st century saw as many as 500 Christians hacked to death by machete wielding Hindu radicals in Orissa, India, with thousands more injured and 50,000 made homeless. 

A few voices have been raised in the west about all of this.  The religious historian, Rupert Shortt, has written a book called Christiano Phobia.  America’s most prominent religious journalist, John L. Allen Jnr. has published A Global War on Christians while former Chief Rabbi, Jonathon Sacks, has spoken about it in the House of Lords.  

On Good Friday, tens of thousands of pilgrims joined Pope Francis for the Way of the Cross ceremony, recalling Jesus’ crucifixion.  Among the cross bearers were Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and Nigerians who had escaped Boko Haram persecution.  The service came a day after almost 150 people were killed in an attack on a Kenyan University.  Pope Francis said “we still see today our persecuted brothers, decapitated and crucified for their faith in Jesus, before our eyes and often with complicit silence”.  There is undoubtedly a disturbing indifference of world institutions in the face of all this killing of Christians.

Our coming together in prayer and pilgrimage is an expression of our concern and a hope that people will be more alert to and pray for all our fellow Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ

Homily of Bishop Leahy at Mass for National Prayer Vigil for the Right to Life of Mothers and Babies

Homily of Bishop Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick at Mass celebrating “Choose Life: We Cherish them Both”

  •     “Cherishing of mothers and babies is a noble cause. It is not limited to the impact of this or that political move.  It is a continuing call from the Gospel’s logic of love, the love that is mutual” – Bishop Leahy

Earlier this morning we’ve heard inspiring testimonies. Now at Mass, we come to pray, to hear God’s word and offer God our resolve to do our part in choosing life and cherishing both mothers and babies.

Gathering as an assembly of God’s people, we are reminded of a basic reality when we’re reflecting on cherishing both mothers and babies, namely, that the spiritual DNA of life is that we journey together. None of us exists for him/herself alone. Indeed, we exist to love one another. From the very first pages of the Bible, in the story of Adam and Eve, we are given this beautifully simple and profound message: everyone has been created as a gift for us, and we are a gift for others. Jesus knew this well and lived it out. In his Farewell address, he summarised his whole life’s teaching in the New Commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you”.

The Unique Relationship during Pregnancy of Mother and Child

The unique relationship that comes into play between a mother and a child conceived within her, is a special place where this logic of love, of being a gift for one another comes to the fore. In the Old Testament we read of how God’s own relationship with us and ours with God is mirrored in this intimate bond of mother and child.

The child is not an extension of its mother. He or she is another human being. In this new situation, each is the nearest neighbour to the other. So the mother is a gift for her child and he/she is a gift for its mother. We could say it’s the unborn child’s incapacity to return in visible quantifiable ways the love that is lavished on him or her that is the greatest gift he or she already offers to the world. The unborn child is a pure gift of itself to be loved simply from the very fact of its existence. A friend of mine described for me the sense of wonder at having another human being growing within her, someone who was different than her while also being part of her. “The baby’s first detectable move”, she said, was “particularly memorable because this new little creature was drawing us more and more into the miracle that was happening in our lives.” The philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas reminds us that we become ourselves in the light of our responsibility for others. The “other” in the case the unborn child provides the mother (and all of us) with the possibility of responsibility.

The mother is the child’s first home. In the fullness of time, as the Second Reading reminds us, Jesus found his first home in the womb of Mary. It was from there he began his mission of making all of humanity children of God. In the account of the Visitation in today’s Gospel, we are presented with the scene of another unborn child, John the Baptist, leaping in joy in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of the as yet unborn child Jesus in Mary’s womb.

Many women here today will attest that pregnancy involves wonder. But it also involves suffering and sacrifice for the mother. In some pregnancies crises arise that involve both the mother and the child in her womb. When hard cases occur, they underline the truth that we are dealing with two persons and that what matters is that in the logic of love, all must be done to protect the life both of the mother whose life is at risk and of the innocent unborn child.

In Ireland, the right to life of the unborn is greatly valued. In recent years attention has been directed towards the complexity of the situations that can arise for mothers in delicate circumstances of pregnancy. Right from the earliest times, the Church has been clear about the duty to protect life. Around 200 AD, Tertullian, for instance, wrote that it is not permitted to destroy “even the foetus in the womb”. But is this duty to the detriment of the mother’s life?

It is important to clarify a point that has been well worked out in Catholic teaching. And this teaching did not come from today or yesterday. It has been around a long time. The medical treatment of mothers whose lives are in danger is permissible even if this results in the unintended death of the child in the womb. When there’s a risk to a pregnant woman’s life, operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of her condition are permitted.  Abortion is something very different. It is an act which is directly aimed at ending the life of the unborn child.

When things go wrong in pregnancy and childbirth for whatever reason, there may be no adequate answer at the human level. We remember today those who have been through heart-breaking situations in pregnancy. Let’s remind ourselves at this Mass that God is not a tyrant. If he has given the commandment not to kill, and this applies also to abortion, it is because he will not abandon us even in difficult situations. The God who is Love knows what is best for us. The God who has created us has given us the means to help carry out his commandments. He has put love into our heart and into this love he has poured his own love that comes from above. I would appeal to women who are contemplating abortion at this time to wait for a moment, ask God for direction; ask others for help. Cura, the Church’s crisis pregnancy agency is available to any woman facing a dilemma at this time. The burden shared will not seem anything as heavy as you thought it was at first. I was struck recently by a comment made to me by parents of a severely disabled child – we wouldn’t swap him for fifty thousand children. God had come to the aid of those parents. God is always present in situations of crisis and difficulty also in complex pregnancies.

Irish Society Today faced with a Choice and a Possibility

Irish society is today faced with a serious choice. It is very possible that an abortion regime will be introduced into this country, thereby for the first time overturning in law the fundamental principle of the inviolability of innocent human life.

For the sake of the common good, Catholics need to propose their view on this topic. We do so not to impose some obscure teaching of our own but rather to respectfully offer what we consider a reasoned position echoed by many with other religious or indeed non-religious convictions, convictions based on human reason. It is one of the positive and heartening aspects of the past fifty years in the Catholic Church that it finds itself in a new way alongside people of other religious, social and cultural convictions in promoting a more socially just world, a more peaceful world, a more ecologically-conscious world. One of the areas where this brotherly and sisterly co-responsibility is emerging most clearly is in the area of the protection of life.

It is inspiring to see vibrant, articulate women and men able to put forward their case on this fundamental issue in society. In some cases, as I said, those promoting life claim no religious affiliation but say simply that since their days of studying science in school, or simply looking at the evidence provided by ultra-sound scans of early unborn children, they have become convinced of the pro-life perspective. What is emerging increasingly is a modern voice that is pro-life. And today I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of many young people to the promotion of life. We see them here today in great numbers with us.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Ireland, instead of introducing an abortion regime, became the place where the Western world’s confusion about the right to life of the unborn could begin its journey to a renewed discovery of the wonder of life? There have been such strides in ecology in the Western world; wouldn’t it be wonderful if Ireland could be the country that led the way in human ecology? What is this human ecology? It is a lifestyle that respects all of our environment, preserving the patrimony of creation and working to make our world safe for human beings. A priority in such a human ecology must be respecting the right to life of the unborn as well as the right of pregnant women to the best of medical treatment and care in safeguarding their life while at the same time preserving the life of the baby as far as practicable.

We have the potential. By the UN-agreed definitions and standards for measuring maternal safety in pregnancy, Ireland consistently ranks among the safest countries in the world for women in pregnancy. While there will always be exceptionally tragic situations in pregnancy, it is possible for the word to go out from our country that abortion is never the solution to problems in pregnancy.

For Ireland to lead the way in this aspect of human ecology, we need both to affirm our conviction that abortion is never the solution while at the same time re-launching Ireland’s care of mothers and babies. We can be grateful for the work in this area carried out day by day by doctors, nurses, midwives and other health personnel. If the Church has been to the fore in providing health-care, then today too we want to commit ourselves to a culture of care and best practice in the cherishing of mothers and babies.

Are there women who feel their life is at risk due to suicidal thoughts and feelings? Let’s ensure their safety, providing the appropriate psychiatric and psychological intervention, medication, nursing and social support. Professionals warn against acting on the assumption that suicidal thoughts and feelings originate from a single cause or may be resolved by a single act. The majority of Irish psychiatrists have been telling us that abortion is not a medical treatment for suicidal thoughts or feelings in a pregnant woman. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that a leading professor of psychiatry has said that contained in the recent proposed legislation entitled Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 are “multiple flaws and diverse flaws…The first and most obvious is that there is no evidence that abortion is an intervention that reduces suicide.” And in their preliminary response to the Bill, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland point out that “the Bill as outlined represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law and is unnecessary to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy”. In their response the Bishops also say that at this crucial time it is essential that all who share beliefs such as the inviolability of the right to life of both a mother and her unborn child in all circumstances, and the belief that the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong, make their beliefs clear to their legislators. I know that some politicians have already made it clear they have difficulty with this legislation. It is right that legislators would pause before voting. Is it really necessary to provide for abortion in circumstances where evidence overwhelmingly indicates it is unnecessary and unjustified? Are we crossing a Rubicon?

Are there women in pregnancy who need clarity about the range of medical care appropriate to their specific medical condition? Let’s ensure that an effective and accessible system of providing information is available to them.

Are there women in pregnancy who seek clarity that if they so wish they can receive medical treatment where their life is at risk even though an appropriate treatment may result unavoidably in the death of the baby? Let’s encourage the appropriate bodies of medical expertise to draw up the guidelines providing for such a procedure.

Are there women who seek assurance that their opinion will be sought and taken into account as far as practicable where treatments would likely unavoidably result in the death of the baby? Let this be included in the provision of specific guidelines for particular medical conditions or combination of conditions that would be drawn up within the medical profession by the relevant bodies of medical expertise.

Yes, all of this needs to be done. But none of these steps involves abortion. The A, B, and C v Ireland judgement of the European Court of Human Rights says Ireland is entitled to have laws protecting the right to life of the unborn. In enshrining the principle underlying current best practice in relation to women in pregnancy and their babies, it is clear that the essential medical treatment needed by women in pregnancy to preserve their lives is given to them, even where the death of the baby may unavoidably result, but there is also a duty of care to do whatever is practicable to preserve the life of the baby as far as practicable.

Medical treatment is not the same thing as unlawful abortion. The issue of intention comes in. To intend to directly terminate a pregnancy as an end in itself is different from intending to carry out medical treatment of a woman whose life is in danger even if this results in the unavoidable death of the unborn child. The issue of intention has always been considered important in law. The new legislation acknowledges the importance of intention though it needs to be said that the direct taking of the life of an unborn child cannot be justified on the grounds of intention in the case of a mother’s threatened suicide which ought to be treated by other means. As many psychiatrists have pointed out abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation. Under current law, no doctor has ever been in trouble for providing an intervention where they were acting with intent to preserve the life of the mother.

Respectfully Proclaiming the Gospel of Life

Here among us today there are women who have had abortions. We know there are women and men here who have assisted their friends as they considered abortion or had one. They are very much in our thoughts right now. During the current debate they are most likely now reliving what happened in the past. Some will tell the story of how, in the light of their experience, they became people who proclaim the Gospel of life. Yet for others the discussions around this topic can be painful. It may be that someone listening to me is still perplexed about what has gone on in her life. She (and also others who have been involved) might still bear the burden in confusion, pain and silence, not seeing any way ahead from where they have been. Let’s promise her and them we are with them with our care, prayer and support. At this Mass, we can all of us turn again to Christian faith that tells us that there is no experience in life that has not been touched in some way by God’s presence.

The Spirit has been poured into our hearts enabling us to turn to God as a loving, merciful Father. The First Reading today reminds us of God’s tenderness. The inspired words of Scripture invite us to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). We can hand over everything that troubles us to God who, in his infinite mercy and love, can draw good out of everything and make all things new. God loves each person immensely. We are never outside his loving glance. As the psalm tells us so powerfully, God is always with us. Even when we feel cut off from Christ, Jesus is there precisely at that point to help us always start again to believe, to love, to hope. As St. Paul tells: Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. Nothing: “neither death nor life … nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38)

I appreciate there are those listening to me or reading these words who hold very different views, including those who believe the protection of women in pregnancy means the law needs to allow abortion and those who see abortion as a dimension of equality for women. We hear your concern for mothers, your analysis of complex situations, your desire for abortion services in Ireland. Underlying our differences are values that we all share. It is important for us all to dialogue on the basis of these shared values. The first value we have in common is that women in pregnancy should have all the essential medical treatment needed to safeguard their lives, and the second is the respect for equality. We bring to the dialogue a Gospel of Life we believe is fair and reasonable, and safeguards both the lives of women in pregnancy and their unborn children.

We want to respectfully proclaim that message to you. We appeal to you to recognise that abortion legislation concedes a basic principle of law – that innocent human life may not be taken. There is a lesson to be learned from the experience of other countries that started down the path of abortion legislation with what they thought were ‘restrictive’ laws. Around 97% of the nearly 200,000 abortions in England and Wales in 2011 were on mental health grounds. Such a statistic was in no way envisaged when abortion was first introduced there.

Our sincerely-held conviction and passion for life arises because the stakes are high. What might appear as a limited step, restricted abortion, is far from limited in potential. And not simply in terms of the “floodgate” phenomenon but also in terms of the practice of medicine by the obstetricians and psychiatrists, the nursing and other supporting professional staff in hospitals, social services and other agencies where questions of the right of conscience not to be involved in the provision of abortion services may arise.


It is time to conclude. In doing so, I need to return to a basic point. The cherishing of mothers and babies is a noble cause. It is not limited to the impact of this or that political move. It is a continuing call from the Gospel’s logic of love, the love that is mutual. In the springtime around us these days we see the warmth of the sun transforming nature. Everything is coming to life and beginning to blossom. It is the sun that makes life blossom. Likewise, it is love in the human heart and in society that brings about the triumph of life. From this prayer vigil, may a great current of Christian love spread out from among us into our society as our specific contribution to cherishing mothers and babies. To give true love to one another means to help one another be fully realised in the gift that each of us is for one another.

Here at Knock, let’s resolve to be like Mary who, as we read in today’s account of the Visitation, took the initiative in going out in love towards a mother and her unborn baby. She did so bearing Love incarnate within her. And Elizabeth greeted her with words we can make our own: “Blessed are you who believe”. Yes, blessed are you who believe that life is inviolable, that love casts out all fear, that love is stronger than death.


For media contact: Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth – Martin Long 00 353 (0) 86 1727678


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Saturday 4 May 2013
Annual Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine, Knock, Co. Mayo

As we gather for our annual pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock, and to participate with others in the Choose Life: We Cherish Them Both National Day of Prayer for Mothers and their unborn Babies, we wish to express our profound concern at the decision of our Government to legalise the direct targeting of the life of unborn babies in Ireland. Doctors in Ireland have confirmed that mothers receive any life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy and that this is achieved without directly targeting the life of the baby.

As nurses and midwives, our duty always is to work ethically and professionally and to do our utmost to respect and protect the life of every person in our care. Accordingly, we are committed to recognising the dignity of every person from conception to natural death.

The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of an unborn baby should be preferred over that of a mother or that of a mother over an unborn baby. Both lives are sacred and both have an equal right to life.

As Catholic nurses we wish to see all mothers and unborn babies protected, cherished and safeguarded from all harm. Any suggestion that our values as committed Catholic nurses and midwives could put the lives of pregnant mothers at risk is deeply offensive and medically unfounded. Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world for a woman to be pregnant. This is due in no small part to the professional commitment of our members over many years to the inherent dignity of every person in our care.

Today, we wish to express our deep concern and disappointment at the decision of our Government to legislate for the X-case, which will allow the lives of totally innocent unborn babies to be deliberately ended. This represents a radical change to the most fundamental value that underpins nursing and midwifery care – to do no harm. As nurses and midwives we cannot co-operate with the deliberate killing of innocent unborn babies in any circumstances.

We therefore appeal to the Government to pull back from this destructive and unnecessary legislation. It will end the precious lives of untold numbers of unborn children and is not required to ensure mothers receive any life-saving treatments they need during pregnancy.