Renewal will not come by ditching core beliefs

Michael McDowell and the reform of the Church


Lucinda Creighton lost her job as Minister for Europe for voting against the measure, while Derek Keating lost his role as Eucharistic Minister in his local parish because he voted in favour of it.

Mr McDowell then went on to quote a piece from this paper in which editor Michael Kelly wrote in favour of the action taken against Deputy Keating.

The former Minister believes that neither Keating nor Creighton should have lost their ministries.

He then quoted Pope Francis at length, and especially the now famous interview in which the Pope said the Church should not be focused all the time on issues like abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. (Question: when is the last time you ever heard a sermon on any one of these things?)

Finally, Mr McDowell said that both politics and the Church badly need to be reformed. If they do not reform, he suggested, they will collapse like a house of cards. The Church, he said, should ditch Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s ban on the use of artificial contraception, and permit women priests.

In writing these things, I believe Michael McDowell has the interests of the Church (and obviously politics as well) genuinely at heart. It was not a piece of cheap Church-bashing.

And he is right. The Church does need reform. Most Catholics, whether ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ believe the same thing as well, and so, clearly, does Pope Francis.

But what is meant by ‘reform’? A reformed Catholic Church, for example, can never be comfortable with a member, who is also a politician, voting for abortion. For the Church to do and say nothing in such an instance would be a disastrous failure of moral witness.


In this respect, the Church and a political party are not directly comparable at all. Political parties frequently change their stance on issues. When Lucinda Creighton and the other six TDs and Senators who lost the whip ran for election in 2011, Fine Gael was opposed to X case abortion legislation.

The party leadership decided to break the party’s election promise. The seven TDs and Senators decided to stand by their promises, and their principles. For that they were punished.

But when you are a member of the Catholic Church it is absolutely clear where it stands on abortion and that this position is not going to change because the Church does not have the power to change the moral law.


Derek Keating therefore voted in favour of a measure that is totally at variance with the stance of the religious community to which he also belongs.

And it is no good in this regard saying his role as a politician and his role as a Catholic are two entirely separate things because morality is indivisible. You cannot vote for something you believe is wrong. Or if you do not believe it is wrong, and your Church does, then you have to expect there will be consequences for your standing within the Catholic community. The Catholic community and its leaders cannot pretend nothing has happened. To do or say nothing would show a lack of moral seriousness about the issue.

As for the wider issue of reform, Michael McDowell has to know that ditching Humanae Vitae or permitting women priests – whatever may or not be the merits of doing one or both of these things – would not renew the Church.

He needs to point to a Church which has done these things and has renewed as a result. There isn’t one. The Anglican Communion voted as far back as the 1930s to allow married couples to use contraception but no-one could argue that Anglicanism as a whole is in rude good health.

Also, the remarks by Pope Francis need to be considered alongside other remarks he has made. He has had little enough to say about abortion, for example, since becoming Pope, but he has had a lot more to say than the average priest or bishop.

What he is excellent at doing is showing that the Church’s teaching on abortion is set in a wider context, a context of mercy. Mercy towards the unborn child obviously, but ultimately mercy towards the mother as well.

Michael McDowell writes about the Church’s “other obsessive doctrines on sexuality and reproduction”. In fact, the Church’s stance on these things has less to do with sex and far more to do with the welfare of children and the family.

Sex revolution

It wants sex to take place within a relationship, the relationship of marriage. Nothing is more pro-child. The sex revolution’s approval of sundering of sex from relationships per se, let alone marriage, is the single biggest driving force behind abortion and the huge number of father-absent families. The sex revolution is radically anti-child. Modern culture’s obsession with sex without strings is radically anti-child.

The decline of religion in Western societies- especially Europe – is driven first and foremost by a decline of any real belief in God, that is by secularism.

But it is also driven by a form of individualism that hollows out all commitments to anything bigger than ourselves, whether that be religion, politics, or even the family.

If the Church wants to renew, it has to renew our belief in God and it also has to challenge the ‘individual-freedom-at-all-costs’ philosophy that is causing such enormous damages to our societies. Nothing less will do.

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