Irish Bishops Give Report of Fall Meeting

Discuss Response to Ireland's New Abortion Law

Dublin, (Zenit.org) | 1911 hits

At the conclusion of the Autumn 2013 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Columba Centre, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, bishops have published the following statement addressing issues discussed during their two-day meeting:

Day for Life pastoral message for 2013 – “Care for Life: It’s Worth It

The annual Day for Life will be celebrated in parishes across Ireland this weekend.  Bishops announced that the Day for Life pastoral message for 2013 is themed “Care for Life: It’s Worth It”.  The bishops’ pastoral message is available online and is being distributed to parishes for Masses this weekend, the 6 and 7 October.

It begins with the words of Pope Francis taken from his 2005 homily, which was delivered on the Feast of Saint Raymond Nonnatus, the Patron Saint of expectant mothers and midwives.  Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio then explained what promoting a culture of life really means:

“Jesus teaches us to care for life because it is the image of God, who is absolute life. We cannot announce anything else but life, and from the beginning to the end.  All of us must care for life, cherish life, with tenderness, warmth … to give life is to open (our) hearts for others … Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing … So, go forth and don’t be discouraged.  Care for life. It’s worth it!”

The 2013 Day for Life pastoral message continues:

“The culture of life affirms the inherent value of life at all of its stages.  It seeks to build an environment of compassion and care that nurtures and sustains life, even in the midst of the most challenging of human events and personal circumstances.  Catholic social teaching holds up the vision that no person should ever be marginalised or set aside.  All have an inherent value and worth that comes not from

governments or the State, but from the very heart of God.”

The 2013 Day for Life message places particular focus on:

-          care for unborn children and their mothers

-          care for people who are elderly

-          care for those who are suicidal and their families

Bishops invite the faithful to read the short pastoral message Care for Life: It’s Worth It which is now available on www.catholicbishops.ie in the Irish, English and Polish languages. 

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

Bishops discussed the sacredness of human life in the context of the enactment of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013.  They expressed their deep gratitude to everyone who showed their concern in a respectful way when challenging the passage of this  legislation.  In particular bishops acknowledged those national public representatives who did so at great political risk to themselves.  Bishops reiterated “to legislate for abortion does not make it morally acceptable, and the direct and intentional ending of the life of an unborn child, at any stage of pregnancy, is always gravely wrong.”

Bishops discussed the need to support women in crisis pregnancies and the vital roles that fathers have to be supportive particularly in such circumstances.  Bishops encouraged expectant mothers and fathers facing a crisis and/or unplanned pregnancy to avail of the support offered by the Church’s crisis pregnancy agency Cura on 1850 622 626 and on www.cura.ie

Bishops welcomed the recent comments made by Pope Francis in his address to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and Catholic gynaecologists on 20 September 2013, when he said “so often we find ourselves in situations where we see that what is valued the least is life.  That is why concern for human life in its totality has become in recent years a real priority for the Church’s teaching.”

Pope Francis went on to express support for the work of the medical specialists reminding them that there is no human life more sacred than another.  He said “the credibility of a healthcare system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.” 

Safeguarding Children

Mr John Morgan, Chairman, and Ms Teresa Devlin, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, gave an update on the work of the National Board. 

The National Board representatives announced a new three-year skills based training strategy for all Church personnel involved in safeguarding children.  This new programme will commence in January 2014.  

Bishops were advised that the National Board is currently preparing the fourth tranche of safeguarding reviews involving six dioceses and two religious congregations.  The final group of dioceses will be reviewed by the Board in the first half of next year.

Catholic Social Justice Groups: ‘Solidarity must be the defining value of Budget 2014’

Bishops wish to draw attention to the joint appeal to Government by seven Catholic social justice groups which are calling for an end to the devastating and demoralising austerity policies that have characterised annual budgets of recent years. 

The groups are comprised of: Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Episcopal Conference; Council for Research and Development of the Irish Episcopal Conference; Crosscare – social care agency of the Archdiocese of Dublin; Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice; Society of Saint Vincent de Paul; Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Irish Episcopal Conference; and the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. 

Ahead of the publication of Budget 2014 on 15 October next, these seven Catholic social justice groups have proposed that, as a minimum, Government needs to:

-          Acknowledge and address the impact of inflation and new charges on those dependent on social welfare payments or the minimum wage;

-          Protect and support families through the retention of universal Child Benefit, together with targeted supports for low-income families;

-          Return to the level of 0.5% GDP in Overseas Development Aid, supported by a multi-annual financing commitment which would allow for more effective planning and give greater security to aid recipients.  

The groups have called for solidarity to be the defining value of Budget 2014.  They point to the need to give hope to those who are struggling to maintain an acceptable standard of living.  See appendix below for the full text of this joint appeal.

The Peace Process in Northern Ireland

Bishops welcomed the launch of the Irish Churches Peace Project.  This is a three-year Special European Programme Board funded initiative of the four main Christian Churches, and the Irish Council of Churches.  It seeks to avail of Church networks across Northern Ireland and the border counties to encourage dialogue and progress on difficult topics such as dealing with the past, reconciliation and good relations.  The launch on 27 September was attended by Archbishop Eamon Martin, Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh; Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh; the Presbyterian Moderator, Reverend Rob Craig; and, the Methodist President, Reverend Dr Heather Morris.  The management board of the Irish Churches Peace Project is chaired by Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down & Connor.

Bishops expressed support of the joint statement by Cardinal Seán Brady and the other Church leaders ahead of the Northern Ireland All Party Talks which are chaired by Richard Haass.  Bishops invited parishes to include regular public prayer for the success of the talks. They also called upon all political parties to seek solutions that prioritise the common good.

Special collection on 17 November for Trócaire’s humanitarian work in Syria

Bishops announced a special collection will be taken up on Sunday 17 November to support the humanitarian work of Trócaire in Syria.  This collection will be used to support humanitarian relief in Syria and to alleviate the plight of Christians in the wider Middle East.

Bishops echoed calls from Pope Francis for peace and reconciliation to take the place of war and suffering in Syria, and stressed that only dialogue and diplomacy can bring the conflict to an end.

Concerning the on-going humanitarian crisis in Syria, bishops commended the work that Trócaire has been undertaking in Syria and the wider region as it struggles with the effects of the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in a generation. 

The suffering of the Syrian people is enormous.  An estimated 4.25 million people are internally displaced in Syria, while more than 2.1 million have either registered as refugees or are waiting to register in the surrounding region. 

Bishops thanked the support of people in Ireland for the work of Trócaire which has been able to provide aid to 255,855 people in the region.  Trócaire is supporting Caritas partners in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Syria to deliver emergency aid to people who need it most. This aid includes the distribution of food, blankets, clothes, medicine and psycho-social support to people who have been forced to abandon their homes, as well as providing education to children who have been forced out of school. Trócaire will continue to work with its Caritas partners in the region to deliver this much-needed aid to people suffering from continued conflict in Syria. 

October is Mission Month – ‘Growing in faith’ is the theme for 2013

Bishops thanked all those who generously supported the Church’s missionaries over the years notwithstanding our harsh economic climate at home.  Irish missionaries work in some of the world’s poorest countries and under very difficult living conditions.  Pope Francis has asked us to be “missionaries of God’s love and tenderness and mercy.”

Mission Sunday collection
While appreciating the difficult financial circumstances currently facing Irish people, bishops ask the faithful to support the Church’s missionaries during the forthcoming Mission Sunday collection on 20 October next.  This collection takes place in churches throughout Ireland and the world on this date.  The Mission Sunday collection is about supporting young churches and missionaries in meeting the spiritual and material needs of men, women and children in poorer countries overseas. Over €2 million was raised during the national Mission Sunday collection in 2012.  This money was used to fund a range of projects in Mission Dioceses in Africa and Asia, including India, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

The theme for Mission Sunday 2013 is ‘Growing in faith’.  The faithful are encouraged to express missionary spirit at home by welcoming Ireland’s diverse ethnic communities. 

People are invited to avail of the prayer resources for children which are now available on www.wmi.ie to celebrate the National Day of Prayer on Friday 11 October next.

New Family Prayer Book from the Council for Marriage and the Family

The Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family reported on its inaugural conference ‘Marriage at the Heart of the Church’ which took place on 28 September.  As part of this conference Cardinal Brady launched the Council’s new family prayer book. The Family Prayer Book, published by Veritas, which comprises a comprehensive collection of prayers and blessings for all occasions in family life.  The prayers are both familiar and ones which have been written especially for this volume. The book is published as a hardback, designed for families to have for many years.

Bishop Christopher Jones, Bishop of Elphin and President of ACCORD, said that it is his “hope is that the Marriage Conference would contribute to this reimagining of the link between the sacrament of marriage, the call to witness to the faithful love of God for his Church, and the renewal of community and good neighbourliness in our society.  This extends to our understanding of the Christian vocation of the family, based on marriage.”

The marriage conference keynote speaker was Dr Stijn Van den Bossche from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.  The focus of his presentation addressed what marriage teaches us, what being a Christian is about, and what does being a Christian teach us about marriage?  Dr Stijn also reflected on what the Bible says about marriage and the role of marriage at the heart of the community and the Church. 

National Diocesan Directors of Ecumenism Symposium with Archbishop Bernard Longley, co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission

The annual general meeting of the National Diocesan Directors of Ecumenism Symposium took place in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on 23 and 24 September last.

In two of the three sessions Diocesan Directors were joined, firstly by some members of the Inter-Church Committee, and secondly, by members of the Church of Ireland Commission for Unity and Dialogue.

In his keynote address to delegates Archbishop Longley, co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, pointed out that we celebrate during the Year of Faith: the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.  Next year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio.  Archbishop Longley linked the quest for Christian unity to the teaching in the Catechism about the dignity of the human person.

Delegates at the symposium were guided not to be discouraged by the difficulties that are present, but rather to remember that it is Christ Himself who prayed to the Father ‘that they may be one’. 

Retirements and appointments

Bishops expressed good wishes and prayed for the health of Bishop William Lee who has been battling with illness for some time and has retired this week as Bishop of Waterford & Lismore.  Bishop Lee was appointed bishop in 1993 and served as Secretary to the Irish Episcopal Conference from 1998 for fifteen years until this summer.  Bishops warmly acknowledged Bishop Lee’s positive nature, high work rate, exemplary organisational skills and attention to detail in the service of the Episcopal Conference.

Bishops also extended good wishes to Bishop Colm O’Reilly who will retire this Sunday with the ordination of Bishop-elect Francis Duffy as the new Bishop of Ardagh & Clonmacnois.  Bishops praised Bishop O’Reilly for his years of selfless service to the Episcopal Conference in many pastoral areas: supporting women facing crisis pregnancy; in ACCORD, the Catholic care agency for marriage and family; safeguarding children; missions; and, as a member of the board of Trócaire.  Bishops also acknowledged Bishop O’Reilly’s strong pastoral leadership as shown by his commitment to restore Saint Mel’s Cathedral after its catastrophic fire in 2009.

Bishops welcomed two newly appointed bishops to the Episcopal Conference: Bishop Ray Browne, Bishop of Kerry and Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin.

Bishops paid tribute to Mr Ian Elliott who retired on 30 June after six years as Chief Executive Officer of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.  Bishops thanked Ian for his significant leadership contribution to improving the culture, practice and standards of child safeguarding throughout the Church in Ireland.

On his retirement as Executive Director of Trócaire, bishops thanked Mr Justin Kilcullen for his twenty year stewardship of the Church’s overseas aid agency.  Justin joined Trócaire in 1981 as Africa Programme Officer and later served as Trócaire representative in Laos.  Bishops congratulated Justin for his unstinting leadership in seeking to alleviate poverty facing the world’s poorest and for his promotion and protection of the human dignity of the most marginalised.  Bishops wished his successor Mr Eamon Meehan well as the new Executive Director of Trócaire.

Father Dwayne Gavin, Diocese of Meath, will replace Father Seán Maher, Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin, as chaplain to the Irish College, Paris, and to the wider Irish community in Paris.  Bishops thanked Father Maher for his doing an excellent pastoral job in his role as chaplain.  Father Gavin’s appointment will be effective from the 1 January 2014.