Archbishop Eamon Martin asks for prayers for victims in response to the British government’s decision to introduce an amnesty for Troubles-related incidents
15th July 2021
The British government’s decision to ban all Troubles-related criminal and civil actions, and legacy inquests, will be seen by many victims as a betrayal of trust which denies justice to them and to their loved ones. It is disturbing that victims and survivors, those who have paid the highest price for the fragile peace we all enjoy today, once more feel marginalised and neglected.
I was particularly disappointed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s naïve comments in the House of Commons suggesting that his legacy proposals would allow Northern Ireland to “draw a line under the Troubles”. At this painful time I ask for prayers of comfort for victims suffering on all sides in the conflict, and for truth and justice to prevail in the interest of the common good.
Dealing with the legacy of our shared past is not an easy task. It is a complex undertaking which belongs to all of us. It has no “quick-fix”. No “line can be drawn” to relieve the deep hurt still carried in the aftermath of years of violence, death and life-changing injury.
The 2014 Stormont House Agreement, signed up to in good will by all parties, sought to deal with our legacy in a collaborative and honest way which respected fully the input of victims in achieving consensus. It is therefore deeply disheartening to witness a key signatory renege on this joint commitment.
Sadly, this week’s announcement has been expected. In April 2020 the Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland published a considered statement criticising the UK government’s approach towards the legacy of the past. Its content included correspondence to the Secretary of State, Mr Brandon Lewis, and it remains relevant.
The bishops supported the ongoing pursuit of appropriate criminal, legal and civic justice for all victims. They addressed prioritising victims as the focal point of a response to dealing with the legacy of the past; equal access to justice for all; facing the past however painful; achieving authentic reconciliation for a just and stable peace; and concern that the proposed legislation for Northern Ireland would mirror the provisions of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021* which does not honour human rights, avoids the rule of law, does not offer justice to victims, nor provides for a modality to underpin long-term peace and stability in a transparent, fair and equitable context, see: https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2020/04/08/catholic-bishops-in-northern-ireland-criticise-uk-governments-approach-to-legacy-of-the-past/
As the British government is now facing criticism from all quarters concerning its unilateral decision, the announcement begs the age-old question: “Cui Bono?” (“Who benefits?”).
“Dying with Dignity Bill represents a failure of compassion” – Irish Bishops’ Conference
The following statement has been agreed by the Spring General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference which took place this week.
In January 2021, the Council for Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference made a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Health, regarding the Dying with Dignity Bill. Alongside the protection of human life, our concern is to offer our pastoral support to people living with terminal illness and to their families. We are very aware that, sadly, all across Ireland, many families are engaged day by day in accompanying loved ones through terminal illness.
The Bill currently before the Oireachtas wrongly proposes the deliberate ending of life as a way of conferring dignity on people with terminal illness. The opposite is the case. Human dignity belongs to every person by virtue of his or her human nature. Terminal illness does not take away that dignity. Indeed, in our experience, the inherent dignity of the person often shines through under those difficult circumstances. Under existing law and current best practice, people with terminal illness are supported by family members, by doctors and nurses and palliative care teams, in living life to the full until death comes naturally. We take this opportunity to thank the many healthcare professionals who so generously devote their lives to the care of people with terminal illness.
What this Bill proposes may be appropriately described as “Assisted Suicide”, because it involves one person taking his or her own life, with the active participation of another. We believe that every life has an inherent value, which should be endorsed by society. This Bill, if passed, would be a sad reflection of the unwillingness of society to accompany people with terminal illness. It would reflect a failure of compassion.
The Dying with Dignity Bill presents the deliberate ending of life as an expression of personal autonomy, but what is proposed in this Bill has implications for society as a whole. Once it is accepted in principle, that one person may participate actively in ending the life of another, there is no longer any logical basis for refusing this same option to any person who feels that life is no longer worth living. We are aware that, in countries where it is legally permitted for healthcare professionals to be directly involved in the taking of human life, it has very quickly been extended to include people who are not terminally ill (the elderly, people with intellectual disability, young adults on the autistic spectrum and even minors who, in other circumstances, would not be considered capable of giving legal consent).
The Bill anticipates that doctors and nurses, whose vocation and purpose is to serve life, will now be prepared to involve themselves in ending life. This would represent a radical transformation of the meaning of healthcare. While the Bill does, theoretically, provide for conscientious objection, it still requires healthcare professionals to refer their patients to other medical practitioners who will carry out their wishes. This means that, one way or another, healthcare professionals are required to involve themselves in something which they believe to be contrary to morality and to medical best practice. This, in our view is unacceptable.
As we mark the anniversary of the arrival of Covid-19 in Ireland, and consider the enormous efforts that have been made across every sector of society to protect the life and health of people who are most vulnerable, this Bill is in clear contradiction with the shared commitment of our society. It is at odds with the common good, which it is the function of the state to promote. This Bill is fundamentally flawed. It cannot be repaired or improved and we call on Catholics to ask their elected representatives to reject it entirely.
Bishops encourage support of vaccine programmes against Covid-19
Council for Healthcare of the Bishops’ Conference urges everyone to support the vaccination programmes currently in place in the Republic and in Northern Ireland
Last December the Irish Catholic Bishops in a statement said that “safe and effective vaccination is an essential aspect of the prevention of disease”. They encouraged Catholics to support the programme of vaccination “not only for their own good, but for the protection of life and the health of those who are vulnerable and for the common good of humanity”. The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made a similar call to all Catholics in its Note on the morality of Covid-19 vaccines (21 December 2020). The Council for Healthcare of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference wishes to reiterate that message and urges everyone to support the vaccination programmes currently in place in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland.
The development and provision of the vaccines is already providing reassurance for those who are most vulnerable to the virus and will help us to return to normality in terms of work, education, religious practice, and sporting and leisure activities as soon as possible.
We note that many people both North and South have already received the vaccine and we particularly welcome the fact that all residents and staff of nursing care facilities have been vaccinated at this stage. At present the group prioritised in the Republic of Ireland to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks are those over 70 years of age while in Northern Ireland it is those over 65 years of age along with others who are clinically vulnerable. We encourage all parishes and Church personnel to promote this programme and to encourage elderly parishioners, relatives and neighbours to avail of the opportunity to protect their health and the health of the whole community.
In Northern Ireland the main carers in the home for those who are elderly or disabled can now book a vaccination online at one of the 7 trust centres. An appointment can be made at https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated or, if you cannot access the internet, by telephone at 0300 200 7813. The phone line is open Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm. We call for the Department of Health and public health authorities to make vaccines available to carers in the Republic of Ireland as a matter of priority and to priests who are chaplains to nursing care facilities and who preside at funerals.
Trustworthy and updated information on vaccines is available on https://www2.hse.ie/covid-19-vaccine/ in the Republic of Ireland and https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/northern-ireland-covid-19-vaccination-programme in Northern Ireland.
Ash Wednesday 2021 will be mostly without ashes
but families can pray, fast and be generous –
Archbishop Eamon Martin
- #LivingLent social media campaign launched
Archbishop Eamon Martin has said that while Ash Wednesday 2021 will be mostly without ashes, he is encouraging families to pray together, fast and be generous this Lent. Archbishop Martin was speaking ahead of Ash Wednesday, tomorrow, as he launched the #LivingLent initiative on Twitter and Instagram for Lent 2021. #LivingLent invites the faithful to use social media to grow closer to God during this sacred season.
Archbishop Eamon said, “The season of Lent is a forty day penitential period leading up to Holy Week and Easter when Christians mark the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Catholics the beginning of Lent is traditionally marked by a day of fasting and by the distribution of ashes on the foreheads of church-goers. Believers are encouraged to make a commitment to prayer, charity and fasting or self-denial. Many Catholics make Lenten promises or resolutions to mark the importance of this holy season.
“This year, with the strong ‘Stay at Home’ message from public health authorities, north and south, it will not be possible for Catholics to gather in Church buildings to receive the ashes, which are normally applied to the forehead in the shape of the Sign of the Cross. The words used in the blessing are ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’, or ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’. At this time when gathering for public worship is suspended, parishes will continue to mark Ash Wednesday using online services over webcam, and also by encouraging family prayer services in the home. Instead of the usual ashes, families are being encouraged to keep the fast, to make their normal Lenten promises.
“Some parishes are making small envelopes of blessed ashes available for those who will be visiting their parish churches in the early days of Lent for individual prayer. People will also be able to collect their ‘Trócaire Box’ from parishes in the same way. In some parts of the world, where there are less restrictions on gathering for worship, the Vatican has asked that ashes would not be applied to the forehead in the usual manner, but would be sprinkled on the top of people’s heads
Archbishop Eamon said, “As we prepare for Easter over the next 40 days, our spiritual conversion can be nourished by daily actions, thoughts, prayers and words. During Lent we also offer a particular sacrifice in our personal lives to help strengthen our relationship with the all-merciful Lord. In his message for Lent 2021, Pope Francis is inviting the faithful to ‘renew our faith, draw from the living waters of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God.’
“I invite everyone to read the Holy Father’s short Lenten message and to avail of our #LivingLent initiative on Twitter and Instagram, and online resources on catholicbishops.ie which offer suggestions for fasting, prayer and charity – the three pillars of the Lenten season – and support to observe Lent at home. Our Lenten digital initiative seeks to assist our spiritual preparation for the joy and hope of the Easter season.”
Statement by Archbishop Eamon Martin on the publication of Research Report on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland
The month of January 2021 will go down in history as the time when the people of Ireland – north and south – came face to face with a stark reality of our past which we preferred would remain hushed and hidden – the way we stigmatised and harshly judged many vulnerable pregnant women in crisis and treated them and their children in such a cold and uncaring manner. We made them feel guilty and ashamed.
As a Catholic Church leader in Ireland it is I who now feel embarrassed and guilty over the way in which we in the Church contributed to, and bolstered, that culture of concealment, condemnation, and self-righteousness. For that I am truly sorry and ask the forgiveness of survivors. How did we so obscure the love and mercy and compassion of Christ which is at the very heart of the Gospel? Shame on us.
The persistence and the powerful testimonies of these same courageous survivors has lifted the lid on this dark chapter of our shared history and exposed our hypocrisy to the glaring light.
The important work of Dr McCormick, Professor O’Connell and their team is another step on the journey towards revealing the full truth of our past. I thank them for their Report and encourage everyone to spend time with it, reflecting in particular on the striking oral history section which grounds their research in the testimonies of mothers and their children.
The story of Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Ireland – north and south – touches the lives of countless families across this island. No doubt it will rekindle troubling memories and raise difficult questions for many of us. However we can all play a part in the journey towards healing and reparation. We can also ensure that lessons are learned for the present and the future. No mother or child today should be made to feel unwelcome, unwanted or unloved. No father today should shirk his responsibilities. No priest or bishop or religious sister or any lay member of the Church today should deny the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. No family today should shun their child to protect some misguided notion of “respectability” in the parish and community. We still have so much to learn and so much work to do.
It is clear from the Research Report that there is scope for further investigation or inquiry into aspects of this complex story. I encourage all in leadership within the Church and State to extend their full cooperation with the work of the independent investigation announced today so that those who have been most impacted can be helped to find hope and peace for the future.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
Archbishop Eamon Martin welcomes the publication of the Mother & Baby Homes Report
Archbishop Eamon Martin has welcomed the publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Report, published on Tuesday 12 January. In a statement, Archbishop Martin said, “As a Church leader today, I accept that the Church was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected. For that, and for the long-lasting hurt and emotional distress that has resulted, I unreservedly apologise to the survivors and to all those who are personally impacted by the realities it uncovers. Mindful of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls us to protect life and dignity and to treat everyone – especially little children and all who are vulnerable – with love, compassion and mercy, I believe the Church must continue to acknowledge before the Lord and before others its part in sustaining what the Report describes as a “harsh … cold and uncaring atmosphere”.
“Although it may be distressing, it is important that all of us spend time in the coming days reflecting on this Report which touches on the personal story and experience of many families in Ireland. The Commission’s Report helps to further open to the light what was for many years a hidden part of our shared history and it exposes the culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing which faced “unmarried mothers” and their children in this country.
“I ask all those who are in positions of leadership in the Church to study this lengthy report carefully and especially to spend time reflecting on the courageous testimonies of the witnesses to the Commission. Together we must ask “How could this happen?” We must identify, accept and respond to the broader issues which the Report raises about our past, present and future.”
The archbishop said, “Above all we must continue to find ways of reaching out to those whose personal testimonies are central to this Report. They have shown determination in bringing to light this dark chapter in the life of Church and society. We owe it to them to take time to study and reflect on the findings and recommendations of the Report, and commit to doing what we can to help and support them. The Report makes it clear that many are still learning about their personal stories and searching for family members. The rights of all survivors to access personal information about themselves should be fully respected and I again urge the State to ensure that any remaining obstacles to information and tracing should be overcome.
“The Commission believes that there may be people with further information about burial places who have not come forward. I appeal to anyone who can help to do so. All burial grounds should be identified and appropriately marked so that the deceased and their families will be recognized and never be forgotten.”
Concluding his statement, Archbishop Martin said, “This Report will hopefully speak not just to our past but will also have lessons for today and for future generations. As Church, State and wider society we must ensure together that, in the Ireland of today, all children and their mothers feel wanted, welcomed and loved. We must also continue to ask ourselves where people today might feel similarly rejected, abandoned, forgotten or pushed to the margins.
“This report will stir many emotions as it further uncovers disturbing and painful truths about our past. I commend those who have fought to have this story told and I thank those who have already been supporting survivors through various organisations and providing a platform for their voices to be heard.”
Archbisop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh, Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland.