Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry received a letter from 55 members of the US Congress asking him to address what they see as the human rights violations of women in El Salvador.

Amnesty International explains the background:

El Salvador banned abortion in all circumstances in 1998….. Women and girls found guilty of having an abortion face a prison sentence of two to eight years. Health care providers who assist them face up to 12 years in prison….. Women who have had miscarriages have been charged with aggravated homicide, a charge which can bring a sentence of up to 50 years in prison. Amnesty International has documented the cases of many women who have been sentenced to decades in prison after having a miscarriage.

According to the BBC:

El Salvador is not the only country in Latin America to have such strict laws, but it is particularly strict in enforcing it. Doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they, too, could face long sentences in jail. The result is what human rights groups are calling a criminalisation of miscarriages and medical emergencies.

San Salvador’s auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was quoted as saying: “Every human life is sacred. To get rid of that is committing murder. If there are two lives in danger, you have to save the one that’s most fragile and that’s the child”.

So El Salvador is being entirely logical in how it enshrines Roman Catholic theology (can that be the right word in to describe such a cruel policy?) in its civil law.

If I may repeat myself, even in Ireland we implicitly, and necessarily, recognise that the death of a foetus does not warrant the same legal protection as the death of a child or adult.  For otherwise our law would require that, every time a woman becomes pregnant but fails to deliver a live baby in due course, there would be a full and formal legal Inquest into the “death” of the “person” .   Under Irish law, an Inquest must be held if a coroner has reasonable cause to believe that a death occurred suddenly and/or from unknown causes.  That we don’t subject women to such a ridiculous process every time there is a miscarriage during a pregnancy demonstrates that even in Ireland we are prepared to accept that in practice a foetus does not warrant the same legal due process and protection as a fully formed human being.

I suspect that if we did follow the anti-abortionists’ logic and launch a full Inquest every time a woman suffered a miscarriage, just in case there had been some intent on her part to induce the miscarriage, or negligence in this regard, then we would see an uproar from all sane people, and Amnesty International and US politicians would be on our case with a vengeance.

But requiring an inquest in these circumstances would be the logical (but crazy) outcome of the call for the “unborn” to have the same legal rights as a child or adult. Sometimes those guilty of folly and cruelty need to be shown a reductio as absurdum to help change their mindset.

We are, one might surmise, less savage in our laws (or their implementation) than El Salvador is; but we are undoubtedly less consistent too. If we are to enshrine the doctrine of a particular religion in our laws, then why don’t we go the whole hog, just as Iran or Saudi Arabia do?

My recent reading has been the diaries of James Lees-Milne, which are interesting on a number of levels despite (or maybe because of) his snobbery and social-climbing.  He was a friend of the Earl of Rosse of Birr Castle in County Offaly and, during a visit thereto in 1948, he wrote the following about Ireland in his diary:

“I wish I could define properly what it is I do not like about the climate, the people and the scenery.  My dislike is almost intuitive, certainly temperamental and racial.  I fear the native hostility under the mask of deceit.”

Lees-Milne, who had converted to Catholicism, continued:

“At Mass the church here is so crowded that one cannot worship.  Irish Catholicism is like a vice, crushing the congregation like nuts.  The Irish God is not loving.  He is a tyrant.  The people are tight within his grasp.  Unlike Latins they are subdued by the Church, not elevated by it.  They derive from it no inspiration, recreation or romance.  Here it is grey and puritanical.”

He was writing 66 years ago, but some of the noxious influences he detected are still at play in this country.  The current case of the young non-national girl who had been raped and was denied an abortion despite being suicidal is shocking, and it exposes the extent to which our law is still influenced by tyrannical and absolutist Roman Catholic dogma.

As an aside, on a visit to Ireland 3 years earlier, Lees-Milne had met a “Lord X” – thought to have been Lord Killanin – whose views gave rise to this diary entry:

He says the priests are so bigoted and politically minded that he fears there will be a strong reaction against Catholicism in Ireland within the next generation.  Most of the priests are peasants’ sons, with no true vocation.  They become priests because it gives them social status.  He blames Maynooth College.  A generation ago the neophytes went to Rome.  Now they are totally nationalistic and provincial in outlook.  The Cardinal [probably Joseph MacRory] is positively chauvinistic.  Lord X blames the Vatican for not taking the Irish hierarchy in hand.  The people are kept in great ignorance, as in Spain.

The problems within the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the problems caused by it, are not a recent development. An English Catholic aesthete witnessed them all too clearly in the 1940s.


Here’s an extract from a piece in today’s Irish Times .  Comment is superfluous, except to say that here is another example of how reckless failure to effect change in our institutional structures is having deleterious consequences for the well-being of our nation. 

STUDENTS IN one of Ireland’s largest teacher training colleges spend too much time studying religion, according to a report.

Trainee primary teachers at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick also suffer from programme overload, it said – many do not have time “to critically reflect on their professional development and practice”.

The report from the Teaching Council – the professional body for teachers – said the time allocated for religion in the college was four times that for science.

While the report welcomed the fact student teachers have access to the Certificate in Religious Education on an optional basis, it was concerned at the amount of time allocated to religious education within the Bachelor of Education (B Ed) programme, in the context of the overall number of contact hours available.

For example, attention should be given to the fact that subjects such as science, social, personal and health education (SPHE), geography and history are currently allotted 12 hours each, as compared with the 48 hours each allotted to other subjects such as visual arts, religious education and múineadh na Gaeilge.”

The report is certain to revive controversy regarding the huge influence of the Catholic Church in teacher training. The certificate in religious studies is a compulsory requirement of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference for teachers working in Catholic-managed primary schools.

These comprise more than 90 per cent of schools in the Irish system.

Some, however, have questioned whether State-funded teacher-training colleges should still require all students to complete a course in religion.

On the first anniversary of its appearance, I thought I would re-run what was one of the most startling and amusing letters published in the Irish Times.

Knock apparition gatherings

Madam, – I’m a little confused that the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, is discouraging people from gathering at Knock to witness apparitions which he believes “risk misleading God’s people and undermining faith”.

This is the same “faith” that believes that a cosmic Jew who was his own father by a virgin can enable you to live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh, drink his blood and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from something invisible called your soul that is present because a woman made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat an apple from a magical tree.

Yours, etc,

LIAM MEEHAN, La Vista Avenue, Killester, Dublin 5.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

 Can anybody tell me whether this is an original formulation by Mr Meehan, or is he quoting/paraphrasing somebody else?

This from last July: Facing Mecca Doesn’t Matter When You Pray, Says Islamic Leader

Muslims are supposed to face the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia during prayer and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict in March stipulating westward was the correct direction from the world’s most populous Muslim country.  “But it has been decided that actually the mosques are facing Somalia or Kenya, so we are now suggesting people shift the direction slightly to the north-west,” the head of the MUI, Cholil Ridwan, told Reuters. “There’s no need to knock down mosques, just shift your direction slightly during prayer.” 

Ridwan said Muslims need not fear that their prayers have been wasted because they were facing the wrong way.  “Their prayers will still be heard by Allah,” he said

Reminds me of the “it’s a mortal sin if you don’t go to Mass on Sundays” rule which applied when I was young.  Then, in Ireland, it became acceptable to go to Mass on Saturday night if your local bishop consented to this in his diocese (whoops, I almost wrote his or her diocese).  So mortal sin became a function of time and geography.  That daft logic was the beginning of the end for my tenuous grip on the Catholic faith.

And more daftness here, this time Jewish daftness: 

These examples, and there are legions of further examples, are beyond parody.  Is all religion destined to end in farce?  If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.

I see that the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, who is facing calls to resign over revelations that he did not report complaints against a paedophile priest to police, has said that he will only step down if told to by the Pope.  He has also defended his role at a 1975 meeting where children abused by sex offender Father Brendan Smyth were asked to take a vow of silence.

I’m not sure where on the Pope’s agenda the possible resignation of Cardinal Brady sits.  Perhaps he has more pressing matters to attend to, and he isn’t bothering about dealing with members of his team who failed to deal appropriately with criminal priests engaged in child sex abuse.

Indeed, I’m sure we all take comfort from His Holiness instead taking time out to play a leading role in the battle against another major threat to human civilisation: full-body scanners. 

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There’s a fantastic opinion piece in today’s Irish Times by Simon Jenkins, entitled “World in the grip of nuclear paranoia”.  It discusses two new books.

The first book, Radiation and Reason , is by an Oxford professor of physics, Wade Allison. It narrates the history and nature of nuclear radiation, culminating in an attack on the obsessive safety levels governing nuclear energy. These overstate the true risk, in Allison’s view, by up to 500 times, thus rendering nuclear prohibitively expensive and endangering the combat of global warming.

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I see in an article in today’s Irish Times that, according to the Archbishop of Cashel Most Rev Dermot Clifford, Ireland’s Catholic bishops are “totally opposed” to the redevelopment of the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria, west England,

… and would also oppose any plans to build a nuclear reactor in Ireland.    He was speaking in the context of this week’s announcement by the British government that it had identified 10 sites for the next generation of nuclear power plants in the UK, including at Sellafield.    The archbishop said that while the matter had not yet been discussed by the Irish Bishops Conference, “95 per cent of the bishops are against nuclear reactors”……. He spoke of the threat of Sellafield to people in west England and on the east coast of Ireland, as evidenced in 1957 when fallout from the then-named Windscale covered substantial areas in both countries.

Rather than nuclear power the emphasis should be on developing alternative energies such as wind, wave and solar power, he said.   …… Referring to the UN Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen next month, he said it was to be hoped “despite the economic recession that the representatives of 170 governments of the world will agree to meaningful targets to cut carbon emissions over the next 10 years”. The ecological crisis was “becoming more urgent by the day” with “not nearly enough” being done about it “at world, national or at local level”.   The Irish bishops were “seeking to raise awareness of the importance and the urgency of taking steps to reverse global warming”, he said.

Fantastic!  This is beyond parody.  I hardly know where to begin. 

Since when is the Government’s policy on nuclear power (or lack of same) an appropriate matter for the clergy to pontificate on?

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