The Bloody Question for 2016
In the time of Queen Elizabeth I of England, “the Bloody Question” was put to Catholic priests who fell into the hands of the authorities. It was some variant of this: “If the Pope were to invade England, whom would you support—Pius V or Her Majesty?” If he answered “the Pope”, he became a candidate for hanging, drawing and quartering; if he replied “the Queen”, he showed himself to be a disloyal Catholic.
Radio-Telefis Eireann and other media outlets have an updated version of this device, which they put to bishops and priests who agree to be interviewed about the Eighth Amendment. It goes like this: “Can you oppose the Amendment and still be a Catholic in good standing?” If you say No, you’re an uncaring dogmatist; if you say Yes, then it’s OK for a Catholic to vote for a pro-abort. The media began began using this dodge at the time of the original Pro-Life Referendum in 1983, and Morning Ireland used it again yesterday in an interview with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.
You would think that by now the archbishop’s media handlers (I hope he has some?) would have prepared His Grace for this Bloody Question, which was bound to be asked. He muffed it hopelessly, launching into an obfuscating apologia about the necessity for reflection on “the kind of society in which we live” , the needs of the marginalised, social housing etc. The question of the Eighth Amendment was all important, he said, but he insisted it was up to the conscience of the individual whether to support candidates who wished to overturn it. It was “not his job to give guidance on whom to vote for”. People needed to “grow up morally”.
Consummate diplomat that he is, Dr Martin seems determined to avoid attracting the ire of the RTE-Irish Times axis. This is why he doesn’t follow the example of Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, both of whom have come out quite strongly in support of candidates who wish to keep the Amendment. (They haven’t named names, of course: that really would be to engage in “pulpit politics”.)
It’s not for a layman to tell the clergy how to respond to the Bloody Question; but if they agree to go on air it does seem to me that the only way to deal with this is by short-circuiting it. For instance, they might begin by pointing out that this is a question of killing the innocent, and then tell their interrogator that they can’t understand how any serious Catholic could vote for anyone who wishes to facilitate such an atrocity. It could also be pointed out that the measure has saved thousands of lives in the past quarter of a century.
I’ ve just seen this gratifyingly blunt response by Pope Francis, on the plane back from Mexico:
Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.
Now why couldn’t Archbishop Martin have said something like that?