Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: As predicted, Irish referendum result has resulted in un-Christian backlash

Just before the abortion referendum was held last week, I predicted that, whatever the outcome, the controversy would continue. So it has proved.

This past week has witnessed a vast outpouring from both camps, and some of it has been vitriolic and deeply un-Christian.

This has taught me more about the true nature of life in Ireland and the role of the churches than almost 40 years of our depressing political situation, in which Northern Ireland has shown its inability to govern itself and has appeared as a backward place still ruled by 17th century mores.

The reaction to the Yes vote by many members of the Catholic Church was deeply distasteful and off-putting.

The No camp is behaving as if the resounding result had not happened, and by ignoring the reality of modern Ireland, it is putting yet more people off religion.

I heard some people on radio claiming that those who voted Yes had effectively excommunicated themselves and were not worthy of receiving the sacraments, including communion.

That sounded even more bigoted than even the worst hardline Protestants, who have disfigured their religion by trying to impose their narrow rules on everybody else.

It is amazing that so many members of the Catholic Church, which is losing people by the day, have still not got the point.

The old days of hitting church members with the bishop's staff have long gone, and people are not blindly accepting what any church teaches.

This does not apply only to the Catholic Church. The Protestant churches were careful not to order people how to vote in the referendum, but they strongly opposed a Yes vote because of its implications for abortion on demand.

Yet within the Protestant churches, there was open dissent. At least two Church of Ireland bishops said they would vote Yes, as did Dr Fergus O'Ferrall, the Methodist Lay Leader.

The Presbyterian Church issued one of its strongest statements, declaring a No vote was the only way to protect the unborn.

It also described the Dublin government's proposals to legalise abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy as "regressive, incompatible with human dignity and morally unacceptable".

Yet how many Presbyterians and other Protestants in the Republic ignored their churches' advice and voted Yes?

It seems incontrovertible that some of the Yes majority included Protestants.

The stark lesson for the churches is that people are making up their own minds nowadays. So what are the churches going to do about it?

Mairia Cahill summarised the mood when she said: "The Catholic Church is perfectly entitled to take a moral position on abortion, but I don't think that they are entitled to judge others who take a different point of view.

"I have a huge problem with men in frocks telling women what to do with their bodies."

The Protestant churches, which opposed abortion on demand but acknowledged that terminations might be justified in extreme circumstances, reacted better to the referendum result than the Catholic Church, which is painting itself into a corner.

The Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists accepted the result with sadness, and they are clearly determined to press the Dublin government to fulfil its promise to make abortion rare in Ireland.

This is a big claim that's unlikely to bear fruit.

A new abortion law is likely to be abused as much as used, and many who voted Yes are apprehensive about the idea of allowing abortion on demand up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

There is much still to be done to produce a law which permits abortion but which also prevents a widespread abuse of the legislation.

Meanwhile, both camps in Northern Ireland should pause and reflect.

The Yes support is being turned into a noisy circus, and many of the No diehards are using language and arguments that crucify the compassionate and loving Christ all over again.

Tragically, they also need forgiveness, for they too know not what they do.

Belfast Telegraph

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