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After the Irish debacle

Ireland has been a post-Christian society for decades. It is time to take bold steps in order to turn things around in Irish Catholicism.

Demonstrators march for more liberal Irish abortion laws in 2013 in Dublin. (CNS photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters)

I wasn’t surprised by the result of Ireland’s May 25 referendum, which opened a path to legal abortion in the Emerald Isle by striking down a pro-life amendment to the Irish Constitution. Nor was I all that surprised by the large margin of victory racked up by those for whom an unborn child isn’t “one of us;” both the government and the virulently anti-Catholic Irish media put heavy thumbs onto the scales as the debate over the referendum unfolded.

So with Ireland having joined the Gadarene rush into legalizing the dictatorship of relativism, what next?

Amend the Irish Constitution again. Ireland’s constitution begins with a preamble that now seems, at the very least, ironic: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred…” Having long ago jettisoned in practice the bit about God’s judgment on “men and States,” Ireland has now made it clear, by a 66 percent supermajority, that it does not recognize the “authority” of “the Most Holy Trinity” in terms of either divine law (see Exodus 20:13) or the natural moral law God inscribed in creation, which teaches us that innocent human life is not to be willfully taken and deserves cultural and legal protection.

Ireland has been a post-Christian society for decades. The effects of de-Christianization and ecclesiophobia were painfully evident in the aggressive tone of pro-abortion advocates during the pre-referendum debate and by the referendum’s results. So why not stop the charade and delete from the Constitution an affirmation belied by both contemporary custom and Irish law?

Protect the dissenters. Before and immediately after the referendum, the totalitarian passions of some of the pro-abortion forces were on display in TwitterWorld. Their target was the Iona Institute, a think-tank led by one of Ireland’s leading Catholic layman, David Quinn. Anticipating victory on May 25, columnist Barbara Scully tweeted the day before, “Once we’re done repealing the 8th [i.e., the pro-life amendment to the Constitution], can we repeal The Iona Institute? They serve no useful purpose. And why do we need to listen to their views every time we need to make a social change. Why do they have such an amplified voice?” The morning after her side won, another columnist, Alison O’Connor, gnawed the same rotten bone, tweeting, “Is it too soon to ask just who are the Iona Institute? Where do they get their cash? Who appointed them guardians of our nether region morals? Did we hear far too much from one small (& we now know hugely unrepresentative) group over the last months?”

Thus speaketh the thought police. So the friends of democracy in Ireland had better think quickly about providing robust legal protection for heroes like David Quinn and other pro-life stalwarts who fought the good fight, lost, and will now try through persuasion to limit the damage that will follow the repeal of the pro-life amendment. If their voices are squelched by thuggish cultural pressures, or even by law, Irish democracy will become a pathetic joke.

Take bold steps to rebuild Irish Catholicism. Whatever polling data tells us about the percentage of the pro-abortion vote being an anti-Church vote, it’s been obvious for over a decade that, with a few exceptions, the Irish bishops are incapable of leading the re-evangelization of the country. Their credibility has been shattered by abuse cover-ups. The strategy of kowtowing to political correctness and bending to cultural pressure, which too many Irish bishops have adopted, has been a complete failure.

In December 2011, after meeting in Dublin with legislators of both major political parties, journalists, serious lay Catholics, and the country’s most accomplished theologian, I sent a memo to friends in Rome, arguing that radical measures were needed to turn things around in Irish Catholicism: retiring most of the then-sitting bishops; shrinking the number of Irish dioceses by at least half; and appointing new bishops for Ireland from throughout the Anglosphere – the principal criterion for selection being a man’s demonstrated capacity as an evangelist. Ireland, I wrote, was mission territory. It needed missionary bishops. And if native-born Irishmen could once become bishops in the U.S., why couldn’t American bishops known to be effective evangelists be sent to Ireland today?

My analysis, I fear, was correct. The drastic measures needed to rebuild Irish Catholicism remain to be implemented.

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About George Weigel 446 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Given the decline of Catholicism even in Ireland, it’s high time to admit that the consecration of Russia requested by Mary at Fatima has still not been done. The widespread claims that Pope John Paul II’s consecration in the 1980’s fulfilled Mary’s request has been exposed as ludicrous.

  2. It seems the problem of secular versus theocracy will continue unabated. Why are the Irish voting to support a woman’s right to choose? Because for centuries they had no choice. It’s not the men rebelling, it’s the women. One could ask why should we “allow” only women reproductive rights? Because the burden of procreation falls seriously more unfairly on them. The female gets pregnant, she is blessed by the Lord to nurture her children, she is the one who gets labor pains, morning sickness and menopause. If there is a problem with the pregnancy, like my wife suffered with, she could spend the entire gestation on her back in bed. Because of thet troubled pregnancy we were fortunate to have two sons and the doctor insisted we have no more children. That was our introduction to birth control. All I can say is WOW!

    It appears that the 8th Amendment restricted all abortions, but placed the life of the fetus on equal footing with the mother. The water muddied when a woman was refused an abortion that was allowed by law. It was a crime for a crime for a woman to have an abortion since 1861. In 1971 Senator Mary Robinson made an attempt to loosen the church control of the sale and importation of contraceptives. Can Ireland be too Catholic?

  3. To understand the Church in Ireland – and its incapacity for evangelization – consider this:

    The man in charge of priestly formation for 20 years, from mid 70s to mid-90s, at the main seminary in Maynooth, is now an ex-priest who lectures globally for the Ancient School of Ramtha – Ramtha being “an alien intellect” whose wisdom is channeled through a woman living in Arizona.

    This is not a joke – it is fact. The man is Michael Ledwith, a former “rising star” in the Irish Church during the JP2 years, until he resigned after homosexual abuse of a teen age seminarian, whose silence was purchased by Ledwith in a private agreement after investigations led to Ledwith’s resignation, and subsequent defrocking.

    What a joke the Church has become – hounding traditional people – and harboring shape-shifting charlatons in the religion biz.

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