Editorial: In search of renewal

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Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)

The serpents have returned to Ireland.

In a bold and forceful statement, more than two-thirds of Irish voters May 25 cast ballots in favor of legalizing abortion on demand for a baby up to 12 weeks’ gestation. The following day, when the final tallies were announced, there was dancing in the streets — a warped death knell not only for the most innocent in the womb, but for the Catholic Church in this once deeply Catholic country.

The abortion referendum comes just three years after Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by means of popular vote, and within the context of steadily declining Mass attendance and vocations. Ireland, which once was known for supplying missionary priests all over the world, including the United States, has now become mission territory itself.

“The result of Friday’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment confirms that we are living in a new time and a changed culture for Ireland. For the Church it is indeed a missionary time, a time for new evangelization,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the primate of All Ireland, in a May 27 speech at the National Marian Shrine in Knock. “At a time when scientific and medical evidence is clearer than ever about the beginning of life, we have effectively decided that some human lives — in this case the lives of the unborn — are less significant and deserving of protection than others. We have elevated the right to personal choice above the fundamental right to life itself.”

And, sadly, there is plenty of blame to go around. If the evil driven out by St. Patrick, as legend has it, has returned to the island with the legalization of abortion, one must also acknowledge the Church’s culpability, at least in part. Decades of cover-up regarding clergy sexual abuse and other evils have resulted in an inevitable mistrust of the institution and a decline in faith. Such wounds, the effects of a cataclysmic betrayal, aren’t easily healed.

Pope Benedict XVI took a good first step in 2010 when he penned a pastoral letter to the Irish Church in which he both asked for forgiveness and outlined a way forward. He encouraged Friday penances of fasting, prayer, reading Scripture and works of mercy, as well as frequent reception of the graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and increased practice of and opportunity for Eucharistic adoration. Such practices remain essential. Despite this guidance, eight years later, the Irish Church finds itself still in desperate need of renewal. That’s why the World Meeting of Families and papal visit scheduled for August in Dublin couldn’t come at a better time.

“In August, we will unite as a family, to renew that sense of family when the World Meeting of Families comes here,” said Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick at Mass on May 26. “We have the privilege of Pope Francis coming, and today I cannot think of his visit being more timely: to come here and remind us of the importance of family, of the love we have of family, of the reality that, yes, families get bruised sometimes, but they should never be broken.”

The World Meeting, which has as its theme “The Gospel of the Family,” will celebrate the joys and challenges of family life, and will examine how family life is a way of evangelization to its members and to the world. It is our hope and prayer that, at this event, a renewed love of the Gospel of the Family — and love of the Church — will be reborn in Ireland. And that the serpents, once again, will be no more.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.