A Catholic priest in Northern Ireland stood his ground and defended his church’s teachings concerning abortion. Rev. Patrick McCafferty said this week that couples seeking marriage who support the right to abortion should not seek marriage in the Catholic Church. His remarks came after voters in the Republic of Ireland on the divided Emerald Isle voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legalization of abortion in the majority-Catholic country. Campaigners are already beginning to cross the border from the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland to encourage voters there to repeal some of the most restrictive laws regarding abortion in Europe.

Father McCafferty wrote an op-ed in the Belfast Telegraph stating that couples in the Republic of Ireland who voted Yes to the abortion referendum should merely solemnize their marriage in a civil ceremony. In an interview with the paper, he suggested that they “go to City Hall” instead of a Catholic church to solemnize their vows. The priest said it is “dishonest to have a wedding in a church if you don't respect or regard what the faith is about.” Catholics who disagree with the tenets of the Catholic faith regarding abortion cannot be good Catholics. Speaking about what he regards as a “fiasco,” he said, “If you don't support the Church's teaching on a fundamental issue, why be hypocritical and dishonest by using the church for a day?” The priest said that any person who has procured or assisted an abortion is automatically excommunicate.

The priest suggested that Ireland has too many Catholic schools. Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Father McCafferty opined:

“You cannot be a Catholic and be in favour of abortion. Deliberate abortion is so grave a sin that those who procure an abortion, those who carry out the procedure, those who participate in it, or facilitate it, are excommunicated with immediate effect. People who reject such a vitally important teaching of Christ need to be spiritually and morally honest. The sacraments of Jesus Christ, for example, are not mere rites of passage. Therefore, choose a secular education for children, avail of other rites of passage and/or invent new ones.

“We need to help by divesting ourselves of so many schools.

“Fewer Catholic schools that are more effective in handing on the faith and give the rest over to control of the state.

“Likewise, if people have no intention whatsoever of making any effort at living out the Catholic faith, let them be honest and have marriages solemnised in a civil setting. There are many beautiful places today, other than churches, which will provide a fitting venue for such an important day. "Cultural Catholicism" has little or nothing to do with Jesus Christ. People 'going through the motions' makes a mockery of saving faith in Him. We in the Church need to put a stop to the abuse of sacred rites.”

Father McCafferty said that he believes it is right that the Catholic Church be viewed as backward as a result of the abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland: “I would have to say to be people, if you don’t believe in what the church teaches, you are being a hypocrite, you are being dishonest, spiritually and morally,” he told local UTV. “Be honest, there are lots of other options available, there are beautiful civic areas, country houses, town halls.” He said those who do not agree with the Catholic Church’s teachings should “have marriages solemnized in a civil setting.”

Father McCafferty wrote, however, that the Church will continue to provide support to persons affected by abortion even though it will not advocate abortion. Of the 1.4 million citizens of the Republic of Ireland who voted to repeal the country’s constitutional abortion prohibition, he said, “Repealers need a reality check” of their own. “Undoubtedly, there are those among them who consider themselves as ‘Catholic’ even after voting for something entirely incompatible with the faith,” he said. “Deliberate abortion is so grave a sin that those who procure an abortion, those who carry out the procedure, those who participate in it, or facilitate it, are excommunicated with immediate effect. People who reject such a vitally important teaching of Christ need to be spiritually and morally honest,” he said.

Bishop says Catholics should consult their conscience

Fr. McCafferty’s comments followed the more eirenic statements about the May 25 vote in the Republic of Ireland made by Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin in central part of the country. Bishop Doran called on Catholics who voted Yes to abortion to confess to a priest. Bishop Doran said that voting Yes was a sin if someone “knew and intended abortion as the outcome” of their vote.

Appearing on “Today with Sean O’Rourke” -- an Irish television talk-show -- Bishop Doran responded the vote in which 66 percent of active Irish voters pulled the lever to allow abortion in Ireland. “What I’d say to a Catholic who voted ‘Yes’, is this: if you voted ‘Yes’ knowing and intending that abortion would be the outcome, then you should consider coming to confession,” Bishop Doran said, “where you will be received with the compassion shown to any other penitent.” He added, “All sins are ultimately about decisions that impact on our relationship with God."  he continued.

When the bishop was asked if if Catholics who had not taken recourse to the Sacrament of Confession should receive Holy Communion, the bishop said that is a matter of personal conscience. “That’s a matter for their personal conscience because I can’t see into someone’s heart or soul as they approach the altar,” he said. In addition, the bishop said that he gives Holy Communion to anyone who asks for it. “In over 40 years as a priest I have never turned anybody away from Holy Communion because the presumption, as people approach the altar, is that they come in good faith,” he said.

Divisions in society

In a further sign of divisions in Ireland, after the members of U2 -- the iconic Irish rock group that has been popular throughout the world for decades -- endorsed the referendum to legalize abortion in the Republic of Ireland. Fans in Ireland and the United States have vowed to boycott the group's concerts and music as a result. Bono -- U2's lead singer -- is an avowed Christian who once met Pope John Paul II and played music in the Sistine Chapel. Among the band's critics is photographer Peter Rowan, 44. Rowan was featured on the cover of three of U2's iconic albums of the 1980s, including "Boy." He condemned the band's stance on the abortion vote. 

Also, a group of consultant psychiatrists criticized the Irish Government for characterizing abortion as “treatment” for mental health issues. 
In a letter, the group of 26 psychiatrists said it was “dishonest” to justify a change in the law as healthcare. “Given the experience in the UK, we can confidently say that abortions taking place in this country after 12 weeks will be authorised under the mental health ground," they wrote. “As in the UK, there will be little or no justification for this in the great majority of cases. We do not want to see spurious appeals to ‘mental health’ being used to justify post-12-week abortions.”

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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