Father Brian McKevitt delivered the homily at Knock Basilica in County Mayo on Sunday. The service was billed as an All Ireland Act of Reparation, a communal act of repentance on behalf of those of us who voted Yes in the referendum on 25 May. Ireland, Fr McKevitt said, has become a ‘pro-choice’ society, where people have decided that either God does not exist or is irrelevant, and are making their own decisions about what is right or wrong. ‘I will go to Mass on Sunday, if I choose,’ he said. ‘I will stay with my spouse, if I choose. I will look after my children, if I choose. I will marry a person of the same sex, if I choose. I will even end the life of an unborn child, if I choose.’
The basilica, which has a capacity of around 10,000, was by no means full, but the congregation was substantial, and of all ages. Many clutched rosary beads. In front of me, a woman nodded as the priest said that ‘feel-good Catholicism’ has taken hold in Ireland to such an extent that mass-goers now ‘think that they can vote for a shocking evil and then think that they can go to Holy Communion the next day without any repentance’.
I am too young to remember the reaction 35 years ago from those who opposed the introduction of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave a foetus equal rights with a pregnant woman and Ireland one of the strictest abortion regimes in the world. But anecdotally they have spoken of the great silence that took place in its aftermath, when the word abortion could no longer be mentioned. Those who voted this year to keep the Eighth, and lost, may feel crushed, but they do not appear to feel silenced.
A radio reporter who covered one of the counts in Dublin said he had seen a young No campaigner in floods of tears. Breda O’Brien, a No campaigner and columnist for the Irish Times, wrote that it was impossible to describe the ‘alienation and horror’ that No voters felt in response to their fellow citizens’ ‘decision to remove the Eighth Amendment and to watch some of them singing and dancing in celebration’. Kathy Sinnott, a former MEP and disability advocate who was involved in organising the Reparation mass, said that those who campaigned against the referendum are grieving; for them, 25 May is known as ‘Black Friday’.
Since the end of May, there have been both civil and uncivil acts opposing the result of the vote. ‘The resistance begins now,’ O’Brien wrote in her first column after the referendum. ‘I am honoured to count myself among you.’ Rónán Mullen, a prominent anti-abortion senator, has formed a new political party, the Human Dignity Alliance. The Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform continues to hold up large banners of dismembered foetuses outside maternity hospitals; the government has said that exclusion zones will be part of the new abortion legislation. The pop-up Yes campaign office in Cork city was recently defaced with red paint.
Many on the pro-life side are young, and they do not lack funds. In 2016, the Iona Institute, a religious advocacy group headed by David Quinn, a Sunday Times columnist, received donations of almost €275,000. Expectant Mother Care, a US anti-abortion group, has apparently offered to fly 20 Irish activists to New York this summer to train them in ‘pavement counselling’, which targets women on their way into hospitals or clinics.
Next month, Pope Francis will visit Ireland. When John Paul II came in 1979, there was a revival of religious fervour. That is unlikely this time, but the pope’s trip will no doubt offer another opportunity for a call to arms. Ending his homily, Fr McKevitt reassured those who may be feeling despair that they are the ones with ‘the truth’, while the secularists offer only emptiness and despair. ‘Isn’t it great to be a Catholic?’ he asked. ‘It is the most wonderful thing in the world.’