Bishop O’Reilly correct to speak about a ‘culture of death’. by David Quinn in The Irish Catholic

Bishop Leo O'Reilly

Bishop Leo O’Reilly

The irony that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of a child appeared to be completely lost on the Government.

The announcement prompted the four archbishops to issue an excellent statement criticising the Government decision.

Bishop Leo O’Reilly appeared on RTÉ and said legislating for the X case would be the first step on a road that would lead to a ‘culture of death’.


Minister Pat Rabbitte was quick to respond. While he conceded that it was acceptable for the bishops to express their view on the subject (that was generous of him), they could not ‘dictate’ to legislators, nor should they use ‘strident’ language.

The minister did not explain what he meant by ‘dictate’. Is a trade union or business organisation ‘dictating’ when they tell the Government to enact this or that policy or law? Are they not allowed to ‘dictate’ either, or it is only the bishops who are forbidden from ‘dictating’?

Mr Rabbitte also said rather disingenuously that the bishops were jumping the gun in that they had not yet seen the actual legislation, plus guidelines that will introduce abortion to Ireland.

But they do know that the Government intends to introduce abortion. The Government might claim it will be only under very restrictive circumstances but that doesn’t change the basic fact that the aim is to permit abortion in Ireland for the first time.

Is Minister Rabbitte seriously suggesting the bishops shouldn’t have an opinion about that? If Labour was in opposition and the Government planned to abolish the minimum wage, would Labour wait until legislation was published before condemning the move?


Indeed, we can only imagine the strident language Labour would use if such a thing was proposed. In addition, the trade union movement would be very quick to ‘dictate’ to the Government about the matter without any lecture from the Labour party about ‘dictating’.

This is what makes Minister Rabbitte’s complaint about Bishop Leo O’Reilly’s ‘strident’ language so rich. Labour is well capable of stridency when it suits it, as are all political parties.

The ‘strident’ language used by Bishop O’Reilly was, as mentioned, his warning that legislating for the X case would be the first step on the road to a ‘culture of death’.

That term, the ‘culture of death’ first appeared in the 1995 encyclical by Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae.

Blessed John Paul had a very broad range of issues in mind when he used this term.  He referred, for example, to “poverty, malnutrition and hunger”.

He referred to “an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and between social classes”.

He referred to “the scandalous arms trade” and the “reckless tampering with the world’s ecological balance”.

He referred to “the criminal spread of drugs”, and the “promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life”.


However, he devoted “particular attention” to  “another category of attacks, affecting life in its earliest and in its final stages, attacks which present new characteristics with respect to the past and which raise questions of extraordinary seriousness”.

The Pope said that what was particularly worrying was the fact that these attacks on life in its earliest and final stages were not regarded as crimes at all, but as ‘rights’.

This is exactly what we are seeing in Ireland. The Government will introduce abortion under the guise of ‘rights’.

Also, a case will shortly be decided by the High Court which will determine whether a “right” to assisted suicide exists in Ireland.

Both of these are clearly and categorically attacks on life “in its earliest and final stages”.

After considering these attacks on life, the Pope then introduces the notion of a ‘culture of death’. He seeks to explain how and why abortion and euthanasia are becoming so acceptable.

Culture of death

He speaks of a “structure of sin” which is “characterised by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death’.”

It is this culture to which Bishop Leo O’Reilly was referring in his remarks to RTÉ and it is this comment that Pat Rabbitte particularly criticised.

But while the phrase a ‘culture of death’ is a dramatic one, in what way is it inaccurate? Is not abortion precisely intended to end the life of an unborn child?

Isn’t euthanasia or assisted suicide intended precisely to end the life of an elderly or infirm person?

How is a culture in which these practices become widespread not indeed a ‘culture of death’ rather than of life?

We in the West, and elsewhere, have become extremely tolerant of extinguishing human life under certain circumstances, and as John Paul said, we do so under the guise of ‘rights’.


In fact, the attempt to stop us using dramatic language to describe a dramatic situation is itself insidious.

Naturally, those who believe in abortion or euthanasia or both don’t want us using language which is to their disadvantage and which draws the attention of the public to what is actually happening.

It would suit those who believe in abortion and euthanasia if they could force us to use euphemistic language instead.

Indeed the use of euphemistic language only promotes the culture of death by making it more acceptable.

The very attack on plain speaking, the attempt to make such talk somehow beyond the Pale, helps to usher in the culture of death.

So Bishop Leo O’Reilly was correct to speak in such terms and is to be commended for it.

He said legislating for the X-case would be the first step on the road to a culture of death and that is precisely what it is. It is a big step at that.