Indo col 57:
If you had asked me a week ago how my parents would have voted, I would have said they were a definite No. They were oldschool Catholics – for them abortion in any situation was murder. I can still remember my mother’s fury when in 1992 I tried to make the point that the X Case showed that in some circumstances, abortion was not just a medical necessity, but was an act of kindness. It probably didn’t help that we were sitting in the car just after Mass, but I have crystal clear recall of how when my dad came back to the car with some Loop De Loops, she informed him in a disgusted voice that ‘his son thought murder was ok’. I quietly sulked through my icepop on the way home, and I rarely brought up the subject with them again. However, after the referendum vote, and hearing about all the other oldschool Catholics I know from that same generation who voted Yes, I have to wonder if they would have been quite so dogmatic, especially given their love for my daughter.
Katie became the centre of their world as soon as she was plopped into their arms in Holles Street hospital. For the next few years, they went everywhere together, with Katie spending weekends away with them and being generally treated like a princess (which set an unfortunately high expectation in a child cursed with paupers for parents). My parents both passed away, but if they were still here it is probably Katie who would have changed their minds about the Eighth. She was diagnosed with systemic lupus three years ago, an autoimmune disease that sees the body attack itself. It is managed with powerful medications, and the combination of these two elements mean that for Katie, pregnancy could be a life threatening event. If my parents were alive, I would have put it to them that if she got pregnant, they might have to choose between a foetus and the grandchild that they loved so much. It might have helped them to see that every woman who needs an abortion is someone’s beloved granddaughter – these are all hard cases, and it is never a decision that is taken lightly.
It’s hard to know if I could have changed their minds, but I might not have had to work very hard to do it – I can still remember my father telling me Fr Ted was sacreligious, and that it should be banned. Then the reports into clerical abuse came out, and the sin of poking gentle fun at the clergy suddenly diminished, and Fr Ted became one of his favourite shows. I like to think that, like many Catholics in Ireland today, had my parents lived they would have moved away from the old mindset, and accepted that nothing is black and white, and there are no easy choices in life. Of course, not all Catholics feel this way.
In the aftermath of the vote, one of the more extreme Catholic Facebook pages had a post prophesying how Ireland was going to suffer because of what they had done. It would rain non-stop across the land (situation normal) and there would be thunder and lightning everywhere except Knock, which I can say having gone there annually for the first 18 years of my life, is the coldest, most miserable place I have ever been. At least when I was watching people have mass hallucinations and speaking in tongues in Medjugorje, I was able to work on my tan.
I laughed when I saw the page, and but I wasn’t laughing too much when the prophecy was fulfilled, and the worst electrical storm I have ever seen struck east Cork on Saturday night. My wife asked if we should go around unplugging things like my parents used to, I said thanks to modern technology we were perfectly safe. It was only the next morning that I discovered the phone line was hit, and the router, sockets, phone and associated plugs were all torn asunder, scorching the wall and carpet. The fact that these were all located next to my head as I slept made me realise that I shouldn’t be so fast to write off everything my parents believed in, at least from an electrical point of view.
The most jarring aspect of the referendum is that there are many people who clearly see themselves as Catholic, but still voted yes. The dissonance of the No side, with their fire and brimstone, is an older order of the faith. The problem now for the church is how to adapt to their new reality, or face an accelerating decline into irrelevance.