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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 21 August, 2014

What did the Pope say about abortion yesterday?

Was Benedict referring to Ireland when he spoke of laws that “unjustly alter the balance” between mother and baby?

Image: Andrew Medichini/AP

POPE BENEDICT yesterday criticised legal efforts around the world to decriminalise abortion, ahead of three days of committee hearings in Ireland on proposed new legislation bringing legal clarity to the area.

The pontiff was speaking at a gathering of diplomats accredited to the Holy See when he criticised the proposal of any law which decriminalised abortion, describing such moves as “gravely contrary to the moral law”.

The remarks came in the midst of a lengthy speech, extracts of which were distributed by the Vatican Information Service and which are reproduced below. The passage referring to abortion is emboldened for convenience.

Civil and political authorities before all others have a grave responsibility to work for peace. They are the first called to resolve the numerous conflicts causing bloodshed in our human family, beginning with that privileged region in God’s plan, the Middle East. I think first and foremost of Syria, torn apart by endless slaughter and the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population. I renew my appeal for a ceasefire and the inauguration as quickly as possible of a constructive dialogue aimed at putting an end to a conflict which will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins. Your Excellencies, allow me to ask you to continue to make your Governments aware of this, so that essential aid will urgently be made available to face this grave humanitarian situation.

I now turn with deep concern towards the Holy Land. Following Palestine’s recognition as a Non-Member Observer State of the United Nations, I again express the hope that, with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians will commit themselves to peaceful coexistence within the framework of two sovereign states, where respect for justice and the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples will be preserved and guaranteed. Jerusalem, become what your name signifies! A city of peace and not of division; a prophecy of the Kingdom of God and not a byword for instability and opposition!

As I turn my thoughts towards the beloved Iraqi people, I express my hope that they will pursue the path of reconciliation in order to arrive at the stability for which they long.

In Lebanon, where last September I met the various groups which make up society, may the many religious traditions there be cultivated by all as a true treasure for the country and for the whole region, and may Christians offer an effective witness for the building of a future of peace, together with all men and women of good will!

In North Africa too, cooperation between all the members of society is of primary concern, and each must be guaranteed full citizenship, the liberty publicly to profess their religion and the ability to contribute to the common good. I assure all Egyptians of my closeness and my prayers at this time when new institutions are being set in place.

Turning to sub-Saharan Africa, I encourage the efforts being made to build peace, especially in those places where the wounds of war remain open and where their grave humanitarian consequences are being felt. I think particularly of the Horn of Africa, and the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where new of acts of violence have erupted, forcing many people to abandon their homes, families and surroundings. Nor can I fail to mention other threats looming on the horizon. Nigeria is regularly the scene of terrorist attacks which reap victims above all among the Christian faithful gathered in prayer, as if hatred intended to turn temples of prayer and peace into places of fear and division. I was deeply saddened to learn that, even in the days when we celebrated Christmas, some Christians were barbarously put to death. Mali is also torn by violence and marked by a profound institutional and social crisis, one which calls for the effective attention of the international community. In the Central African Republic, I hope that the talks announced as taking place shortly will restore stability and spare the people from reliving the throes of civil war.

The building of peace always comes about by the protection of human beings and their fundamental rights. This task, even if carried out in many ways and with varying degrees of intensity, challenges all countries and must constantly be inspired by the transcendent dignity of the human person and the principles inscribed in human nature. Foremost among these is respect for human life at every stage. In this regard, I was gratified that a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in January of last year, called for the prohibition of euthanasia, understood as the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being.

At the same time, I must note with dismay that, in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalizes abortion. Direct abortion, that is to say willed as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. In affirming this, the Catholic Church is not lacking in understanding and mercy, also towards the mother involved. Rather, it is a question of being vigilant lest the law unjustly alter the balance between the right to life of the mother and that of the unborn child, a right belonging equally to both. In this area, the recent decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding in vitro fertilization, which arbitrarily redefines the moment of conception and weakens the defence of unborn life, is also a source of concern.

The European Union also requires far-sighted representatives capable of making the difficult choices necessary to rectify its economy and to lay solid foundations for growth. Alone, certain countries may perhaps advance more quickly, but together, all will certainly go further! If the differential index between financial taxes represents a source of concern, the increasing differences between those few who grow ever richer and the many who grow hopelessly poorer, should be a cause for dismay. In a word, it is a question of refusing to be resigned to a ‘spread’ in social well-being, while at the same time fighting one in the financial sector.

Investment in education in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America means helping them to overcome poverty and disease, and to create legal systems which are equitable and respectful of human dignity. Certainly, if justice is to be achieved, good economic models, however necessary, are not sufficient. Justice is achieved only when people are just! Consequently, building peace means training individuals to fight corruption, criminal activity, the production and trade in narcotics, as well as abstaining from divisions and tensions which threaten to exhaust society, hindering development and peaceful coexistence.

Continuing our meeting today, I would like to add that peace in society is also put at risk by certain threats to religious liberty: it is a question sometimes of the marginalization of religion in social life; sometimes of intolerance or even of violence towards individuals, symbols of religious identity and religious institutions. It even happens that believers, and Christians in particular, are prevented from contributing to the common good by their educational and charitable institutions. In order effectively to safeguard the exercise of religious liberty it is essential to respect the right of conscientious objection. This ‘frontier’ of liberty touches upon principles of great importance of an ethical and religious character, rooted in the very dignity of the human person. They are, as it were, the ‘bearing walls’ of any society that wishes to be truly free and democratic. Thus, outlawing individual and institutional conscientious objection in the name of liberty and pluralism paradoxically opens by contrast the door to intolerance and forced uniformity.

Moreover, in an ever more open world, building peace through dialogue is no longer a choice but a necessity! From this perspective, the joint declaration between the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Poland and the Patriarch of Moscow, signed last August, is a strong signal given by believers for the improvement of relations between the Russian and Polish peoples. I would also like to mention the peace accord concluded recently in the Philippines and I would like to underline the role of dialogue between religions for a peaceful coexistence in the region of Mindanao.

To conclude our encounter, I would like to recall that, at the end of the Second Vatican Council – which started fifty years ago – the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI, sent out messages which remain relevant, including one addressed to world leaders. He encouraged them in this way: ‘Your task is to be in the world the promoters of order and peace among men. But never forget this: It is God […] who is the great artisan of order and peace on earth’. Today, as I make those sentiments my own, I convey to you, the Ambassadors and other distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps, as well as to your families and colleagues, my very best wishes for the New Year. Thank you!

The Oireachtas health committee today begins three days of hearings on the proposed legislation, hearing input from medical, legal and lobby groups on what should and should not be included in the legislation.

The Catholic Church will be one of six groups to offer input in a two-hour session on Thursday morning, alongside representatives from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Muslim faiths, and from Atheist Ireland.

Explainer: Why the Oireachtas is holding three days of hearings on abortion

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