Bishops’ Conference statement:
“Welcoming vaccines for the Common Good”
The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomes the encouraging news that a number of vaccines for COVID-19 are at an advanced stage of preparation and are likely to be available for use in the near future. The Catholic Church recognises that safe and effective vaccination is an essential aspect of the prevention of disease. We are encouraging Catholics to support a programme of vaccination, not only for their own good, but for the protection of life and the health of those who are vulnerable and for the common good of humanity.
Questions have arisen that human foetal cell-lines, which have their origins in abortions carried out in the past, are used in the development and production of some of the vaccines for COVID-19.
If a more ethically acceptable alternative is not readily available to them, it is morally permissible for Catholics to accept a vaccine which involves the use of foetal cell-lines, especially if the potential risk to life or health is significant, as in the case of a pandemic. Refusal to accept a vaccine could contribute to significant loss of life in the community and especially among those who are most vulnerable. This reality must inform any judgement of conscience.
We reaffirm the consistent teaching of the Church that abortion is always gravely immoral. The Church has always made a distinction, however, between formal (deliberate) involvement in an immoral act and material involvement, which may be incidental and remote. The decision of those who decide to accept vaccines which have had some link with foetal cell-lines in the past does not imply any consent on their part to abortion.
We note that many of the vaccines currently being developed do not depend for their design or production on foetal cell lines. Catholics should continue to advocate for the availability of ethically-developed vaccines. In that way they bear witness that biomedical research should always be conducted in a manner which is consistent with respect for life and for human dignity.
Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. The Church, while respecting intellectual property rights, believes that essential medicines, including vaccines, should be made available on the basis of need rather than on the basis of capacity to pay. This position is consistent with the TRIPS agreement of the WTO, which permits national governments to arrange for the manufacture of essential pharmaceuticals, for domestic use and for the use of poorer countries, even without the consent of patent owners.
A Reflection by Bishop Paul Dempsey,
14th January 2021.
I am conscious as I write these words that I have no idea, nor can I even imagine what it must have been like for a young girl in Ireland to have become pregnant outside of marriage just a few decades ago. So many were abandoned by their families, their communities, their parishes, their priests, their Church, and the men who were responsible for their pregnancy. The loneliness, the shame, the fear, the angst, the sheer terror is beyond my comprehension. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes Report goes to three thousand pages. It would be impossible for me to cover all the issues it raises. However, the general tenor that emerges within its pages is of a society that was cold and uncaring. We could all too easily blame “society,” but as a member of the Church, and a leader in that Church, I face the difficult reality that it was a society which was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church.
In their apology, the Bon Secours Sisters, who ran the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, stated that they “did not live up to their Christianity.” It seems that so many during that period of Irish life “did not live up to their Christianity,” even though we were a nation that prided ourselves on being a good Catholic country. It seems that we may have been good Catholics, but we were not such good Christians. The question has been asked: “How could this happen?” How could we be so cold, so cruel to our daughters, our sisters, our friends, our neighbours? One explanation was that the Church had a distorted view of sexuality that seemed obsessive. Instead of seeing sexuality as a beautiful, sacred gift, created by a loving God, it was considered something secretive and taboo, something not to be talked about. Anyone, who through human nature, was viewed to have made a mistake, was shunned. Sins of a sexual nature seemed to be the only sins one could commit, there was little focus on other immoral issues such as domestic abuse or fraud. There is no doubt, and it is truly shameful, that the Church during this time lost its focus, which should always be Christ. When the Church fails to focus on Christ, all sorts of distorted practices emerge. It seems that one of those distorted practices was exercising an unhealthy power over people’s lives, especially in the most intimate areas of life.
Unfortunately, we cannot change the past, but we can learn from it. This, perhaps, is where we can draw some hope. The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, stated that; “we should not lose sight of the more hopeful story that is told in the Commission’s report as well. It tells the story of a country that has changed and progressed, that got better, kinder and more compassionate, more loving, less judgmental and less misogynistic as the years passed.” I believe this is generally true, but in my own ministry over the years, I have come across many people who lament the direction our country has taken. They feel it has become far more secular, with fewer numbers attending Mass and they believe there is an agenda to rid society of the influence of the Church. In the light of the Mother and Baby Homes report and the numerous reports that preceded it, is it any wonder people would want to rid the country of the Church that is portrayed? I believe there is a more hopeful message in there for the Church too. The publication of so many painful reports has exposed us to the truth. Jesus Christ tells us; “The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32). It is important to acknowledge that it was the “secular” world that has called the Church to account and made us face the truth. Surely this is a good thing and God has to be at work in it?
In my experience the Church has become a more humble, more compassionate community today. It no longer holds an unhealthy, powerful grasp on society. The Church has its teaching, a teaching that is inspired and revealed by Christ, an ideal that followers of Christ aspire to but do not always attain. It is a teaching that is proposed, not imposed. It is also important to state that so many people in parishes, priests, sisters, members of parish pastoral councils, and numerous others reach out and serve the needs of so many in such generous ways in communities right across the country today. Their work is critical to the lives of so many people and is to be commended. Our position as Church was never to be at the centre of society in, as Pope Francis puts it, a “self-reverential” manner. I believe this is a moment of fundamental call and challenge to those of us who hold the Church close to our hearts. There are justifiable concerns and fears about the future, but we must remember that the Church is not dying, it is a model of Church that is dying. The dying process is painful, but the potential for new life always gives hope. This is Christ’s Church, not ours, he is in charge, “we are ministers, not messiahs” as St. Oscar Romero reminds us.
It is hugely positive that the real-life stories, the experience, and the pain of so many has now been heard through this report. The State has apologised, as have religious orders who were responsible. I too, as a Church leader, wish to apologise to all those who were treated in such an undignified and demeaning manner. However, as has been said many times, apologies can be easy, action is more challenging. I hope and pray that those who wish to find their true identity that might bring the peace they are searching for, can be given the means to do so.
As I conclude, there is one concern I wish to raise. I heard several politicians making statements this week about our past and how the poor treatment of women and children must never happen again. Related to this, over the past few years when I worked in parish, I was in regular contact with people in a Direct Provision Centre. I saw how women and children and others, were cramped into tight living spaces, lacking basic human dignity. I have been thinking about them these days. As we have been told, we cannot change the past, but we can change the present. I urge those in power, in the light of the Mother and Baby Homes Report, to focus on improving the living conditions of those in our Direct Provision Centres. I would imagine this real action to improve the lives of mothers and children today, would be a fitting tribute to those who suffered in Mother and Baby Homes in the past.
Bishop of Achonry.
For those affected by these issues please see:www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/mental-health-services/national-counselling-service/counselling-service-for-former-residents-of-mother-and-baby-homes
I heard an eminent medical person on the radio last week raising concerns about the rising number of COVID cases. He suggested Christmas should be postponed until spring. As a medic his first concern is the health and wellbeing of people. However, it illustrates that for many, Christmas has become a mere holiday period rather than the celebration of Christ’s birth.
In contrast, I happened to see the last “Late Late Show” of 2020. It was a showcase of Irish musicians and singers all there to help raise funds for the “Simon” Community. This heart-warming, generous group of people got together to reach out and help those who are most vulnerable in our society. This is one example of so many kind people in our parishes and communities who are helping those in need this Christmas. These are all examples of Christianity in action! Towards the end of the programme, Bono, of U2 fame, was interviewed. He posed a basic, but very important question; “What is this Christmas thing about?” In order to answer this question, he described how, at a Carol Service one Christmas, he really listened. From this deep listening he received an insight into the heart of Christmas as he went on to say, and I quote; “I started to think about the fact that this baby was born in straw, this is a mother and child in a delivery room with goats and sheep. Think about it. And if you believe this story, which I do, of unknowable power expressed as utter powerlessness, it really struck me. The divinity of people who are vulnerable and poor, that is what Christmas is about, it’s not about anything else.” Personally, I found it refreshing to hear someone with Bono’s fame, name the essence of what Christmas is truly about, something, in my opinion, has been notably absent in recent times.
Christmas is about our unconditionally loving God, the creator of the Universe, becoming a vulnerable little baby on a bed of straw. God enters our humanity so that we could share in his divinity! Through this act of pure love, we are challenged to recognise the spark of the divine in those around us.
This year has been a struggle for so many of us. Our lives have changed in so many ways. However, the goodness, kindness, generosity, and love of so many people, continues to be an inspiration and a source of great hope! My special thoughts are with those who have been bereaved since this time last year. Christmas is a time when memories surface of loved ones who are no longer with us. We hold them in our hearts knowing that our loving bond continues. I also remember those who cannot get home for Christmas, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.
This Christmas will be very different in our parishes as the numbers allowed to enter our churches is limited. I extend a huge word of thanks to priests and parish teams who have worked so hard, and continue to do so, to ensure our places of worship are safe for all who enter. For those who cannot physically come to church, I extend a welcome to join us via webcam. You can find a list of parishes with this facility on our diocesan website www.achonrydiocese.org. Alternatively, perhaps you might be able to call into your local church for a quiet visit to the crib over the twelve days of Christmas.
On a personal note, 2020 is a year I will never forget. In early August I said farewell to the parishioners of Newbridge Parish and the people, priests and Bishop Denis of Kildare and Leighlin Diocese. It is not easy saying goodbye, but the support has, and continues to be amazing from my home diocese, my family and friends. On the 30th of August I was ordained bishop to serve in the Diocese of Achonry. It is a very new and different experience for me. I have been fortunate to visit all the parishes and have received a very warm welcome from the people and priests throughout the diocese, something I deeply appreciate. I look forward to being able to meet many more people throughout the diocese in the coming year, hopefully when life returns to some form of “normality.”
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas. Keep safe and as we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Light of the World, may His light fill our hearts with hope for 2021!
Is mise le meas,
+ Paul Dempsey,
Bishop of Achonry
As we continue to remember our dead throughout the month of November, we rememeber also those grieving the loss of loved ones. We think especially of those who have had the experience of grief during these difficult times.
We ask God’s cosolation for all and assure you of our parish and diocesan support.
Bishop Paul’s Homily
I’m sure we’re all familiar with Newgrange, that strange structure located about 30 miles outside of Dublin. The experts tell us it is about 5,000 years old. Imagine it was built before the time of Abraham, our father in faith. It was built when the power of symbol spoke deeply to our people. On the 21st December in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the shortest day, the darkest moment of year. As the sun rises on that darkest day, it shines into the back of the structure at Newgrange, filling it with light. Today we are almost certain it was a tomb, a burial chamber.
Think about that, think of what our ancestors were saying… Into the place of death at the darkest moment of the year, comes the light of dawn! What a powerful image. A flash of resurrection before our understanding of resurrection ever developed. Our ancestors, before we ever heard of Christ, were pointing to the way of resurrection. This message of light, of hope, is in our DNA, it’s in our bones, it’s in our psyche.
3,000 years after the time of Newgrange, Jesus Christ walked among us, with his message of hope, his message of light. In his resurrection he has defeated death, light has overcome the darkness! Because of that we too, his disciples, will defeat death.
This November, our remembering is especially poignant. We are experiencing a period of hardship and sacrifice due to the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to disrupt the lives of so many people.
In the midst of such a crisis we might overlook families whose loved ones have died recently from other illnesses or in tragic circumstances. Like the relatives of the victims of COVID-19 they too have been unable to engage fully in the customary rituals that normally mark the death of a loved one in this country. Restrictions have impacted on wakes, gatherings of extended family and friends at the funeral and in some cases, only a committal service attended by a small of mourners has been possible. During November we have another opportunity to acknowledge the pain and hurt that families have endured and to assure them of the consolation our prayer and our sympathy. As St Paul wrote to the Romans: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”.
Since the beginning of the pandemic we have rightly marked the personal sacrifices of our health workers, carers and many others who provide our essential services. We also recognise the dedication and service of priests, religious and lay people who selflessly reach out to people in so many ways. Their pastoral care is bringing comfort and healing to those who are anxious because of a relative’s illness or who are feeling the loss and pain of bereavement. Their commitment and dedication is greatly appreciated.
As bishops we are dedicating this month of November as a time of remembrance and prayer for all those who have died since this time last year, whatever the cause.
May the light which spoke so powerfully to our ancestors in Newgrange 5,000 years ago, lighting up that burial chamber in the darkest moment of the year, giving them hope and encouragement, may that same light which we, as disciples, understand to be the Light of Christ encourage us in the dark moments we experience and give us the hope we all need in these difficult times.