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Bishop defends Church position and describes referendum celebrations as 'horrific'

By Marita Moloney

In a wide ranging and forthright interview a Catholic Bishop has lashed out at recent criticism of the Church on a range of issues and suggested he was confident a smaller and more committed church will achieve many good things in the future.

Speaking with Eamon Keane on WLR's Déise Today radio programme, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsis Cullinan, said he agreed with the comments made by the Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, that people who voted Yes should go to confession.

"I think he's right, I have to agree with Bishop Doran," he said.

Bishop Alphonsis Cullinan.

"Abortion is the intentional taking of a human life and with all of the talk before this...people cannot claim ignorance," he said.

"They should examine their conscience and they should talk to the priest, they should go to confession. I go to confession every week, confession is a sacrament of healing," he said.

[quote]"St Paul says very clearly in scripture, that to receive Holy Communion unworthily is a very serious matter for which you will have to answer."[/quote]

Bishop Cullinan went on to say that he was also "horrified" by the celebrations at Dublin Castle last weekend.

"How can you cheer about abortion?" he said. "I don't think that's good."

When asked what he would say to those who were "jumping and cheering" after their successful Yes campaign, he said:

"I would respect them and I would say that on this issue I cannot agree with you, absolutely not, but I will continue to fight for a good Ireland and a decent Ireland where everyone is respected, born and unborn."

Bishop Cullinan was critical of the national media throughout the referendum discussions, and attributed a lack of balance in debates as a contributing factor to the failure of the No campaign.

"I believe in the national media especially, certain voices came out very strong and there wasn't a balance there," he said.

He alluded to Dr Peter Boylan as one such voice and said "there were so many other voices that didn't get heard".

It was put to Bishop Cullinan that an Irish Times exit poll showed that 82% of people said they were well-informed before voting.

"What is the critical thinking of the Irish, do we think things through? Do we accept that there is an objective morality or do we make up our own?

"I think many people make up their own and this is really frightening because it means that those who are strong and powerful will dictate to the less powerful and the weak.

[quote]"Let's face it, euthanasia has now been accepted in the sense that we have accepted that some life is not worthy of life.[/quote]

However, he said the Pro-Life movement would endure despite its minority status after the referendum.

"People are not going to give up, because they believe for the good of Ireland, for the good of people, that abortion is not a good thing, it is the destruction of a little life."

"A majority opinion doesn't change the truth, that motherhood is a good and beautiful thing.

"For anyone who is in difficulty, there is help, but as the No campaign was saying, that help does not include destroying a little life."

Bishop Cullinan then went on to discuss education and the campaign by the Education Equality group to have schools divested of all influence from the church.

Commenting on a new education bill which would prevent schools discriminating on the basis of religion, legal officer for the group April Duff said: "We remain concerned that the bill will allow approximately 200 taxpayer-funded schools to continue to discriminate."

In response to this, Bishop Cullinan said: "Who is this lady talking about when she says 'we'? The Catholic parents, they are taxpayers, and some of their money is going towards the running of the schools to which they want to send their children.

"I do believe there should be more of a choice, certainly," he said.

"That's a work in progress but that's not easy for me as Bishop because if I was to divest a particular school, most of the parents would be up in arms."

John Halligan.

Bishop Cullinan also dismissed recent claims by TD John Halligan that he was barred from sponsoring his godson at a Confirmation Mass because of his views on abortion.

"John Halligan excluded himself from the confirmation," he said.

"How could someone who does not believe in God, and who has made it crystal clear in the media, stand there and want to be part of a church ceremony.

[quote]"It would be like asking Brian Cody to play in goals for Waterford when they're playing Kilkenny, it just doesn't make sense."[/quote]

As for whether the Catholic church will have a place in a modern, divided Irish society, Bishop Cullinan was optimistic, citing the No vote in the referendum as a "call to action" to spread the Lord's message of love and mercy.

"We will certainly be a smaller church," he said. " I think that we will be more committed. I can see so many good things happening."