Harare Anglicans give thanks for return of Church properties
Thousands of worshippers took part in an historic thanksgiving service in Harare shortly before Christmas to celebrate the return of St Mary’s and All Saints’ Cathedral and other properties to the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) and Zimbabwe Anglicans.The special service, marked by joyful singing and praise, followed the CPCA’s recent victory in a long running legal battle with excommunicated former bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga, a loyal supporter of President Robert Mugabe.
While the prospect of the Dáil considering abortion legislation this year is a controversial matter, it has tended to be the predominant view in the Church of Ireland, when the subject has been one of public discussion before, that the abortion issue is better dealt with in legislation than in the Constitution itself. Medical professionals need to know more clearly, through legislation, where they stand in the matter. Thus, the Archbishop of Dublin was most likely reflecting the feeling among many when, shortly before Christmas, he voiced a Church of Ireland welcome for the Government moving “to bring clarity to bear on the issue of abortion under certain circumstances”.
Two caveats are necessary here, however. First, there are surely grounds for concern that, while in the run-up to the 2011 general election Fine Gael told the Pro-Life movement that it would not legislate for abortion, the party has now signalled a u-turn on what is one of the most contentious issues in Irish politics. As the Irish Examiner of 5th December reported, prior to the 2011 election Fine Gael’s campaign director, Phil Hogan, issued a letter stating: “Fine Gael is opposed to the legalisation of abortion.” While u-turn manoeuvres are not unknown in political life, there is, undeniably, a real feeling of betrayal among many people because of this change of stance.
Second, the Government should have allowed, from the outset, for a free vote in the Dáil; abortion is a subject that involves deeply conscientious and religious feelings which manifestly qualify it for a free vote among legislators. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dromore, Dr John McAreavey, has aptly pointed out that when such issues arise at Westminster, Members of Parliament are routinely given a free vote because the subject is regarded “as a matter not purely of politics but also of serious morality”. Writing in The Irish Times of 22nd December, Noel Whelan noted how Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy TD , who favours legislation, had called for a free vote and had argued that the whip would “weaken the decision”. That is undoubtedly the case.
The Church of Ireland, throughout the debates on the abortion issue over relatively recent years, has not sought for it to be precluded in absolutely all circumstances. There has been a conservative but not absolutist approach, drawing especially on a comment of the Lambeth Conference of 1958. In the course of a wide-ranging, 30-page Lambeth 1958 Committee Report, ‘The Family in Contemporary Society’ (although not a Resolution), abortion was rejected “save at the dictate of strict and undeniable medical necessity” (The Lambeth Conference 1958, SPCK and Seabury Press, p.148). Only two actual Lambeth Conference Resolutions refer to abortion: Resolution 16 of Lambeth 1930 recorded the Conference’s “abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion” and Resolution 10 of Lambeth 1978 simply stated the need for diocesan programmes to emphasise “the moral issues inherent in clinical abortion”.
While a Committee Report has to be accepted by the Lambeth Bishops to be included in the Conference Report, a Resolution, being relatively concise and open to clause by clause debate, can be understood as a more direct expression of their corporate mind. With this somewhat developing, and certainly now nuanced, Anglican perspective in mind, the law can rightly make provision for abortion when a mother’s life is at stake. However, some commentators dispute that an abortion is ever necessary to save a mother’s life and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, while indicating that between 1967 and 1990 (under Westminster’s 1967 Abortion Act) “only 151 abortions have been carried out to save the mother’s life, a figure amounting to 0.004% of all abortions”, also states that developments in medicine mean that “the ‘abortion to save the mother’s life’ argument is becoming harder and harder to justify” (www.spuc.org.uk/youth/ student_info_on_abortion/mothers). At the time of going to press, the full circumstances surrounding the tragic death in hospital in Galway last October of Savita Halappanavar, who had been expecting, remain unclear, but her case has understandably brought the abortion issue once again to the forefront of public debate.
Regarding the threat of suicide as constituting grounds for obtaining a lawful abortion, there is justified unease among many people, even though, following the X case, referenda in 1992 and 2002 seeking to amend the Constitution specifically to exclude these grounds were both defeated. (The respective voting figures showed a steeply lessening margin in a considerably lessening turnout, discounting invalid ballot papers: defeated in 1992 by 65.35 to 34.65% in a 68.16% turnout, and defeated in 2002 by 50.42 to 49.58% in a 42.89% turnout.)
In an article in The Observer (21st October, 2007) marking the 40th anniversary of Westminster’s 1967 Abortion Act, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wrote that most of those who had voted for the Act had done so “in the clear belief that they were making provision for extreme and tragic situations”, and continued: “The history of the 1967 Act’s implementation is an object lesson in how slippage can occur between thinking compassionately or flexibly about extreme and exceptional cases and losing the sense of a normative position.” That is indeed a salutary warning for the current situation in Ireland. Thus, the real challenge facing the Government now – and it is a huge challenge – is to make appropriate provision while at the same time assuaging the real fears of many that, just as happened with the 1967 Act, entirely unintended consequences could follow in terms of an increasingly liberal Irish abortion practice developing by stealth.
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Letters to the Editor
NI tensions over Union flag
I refer to the report on the Belfast City Hall ‘flag’ protests (Gazette, 21st December).
As one whose party has been subjected to threats, intimidation, damage to property and vilification in the weeks that have followed the decision of the Council in a democratic vote to fly the Union Jack on dates designated by Royal Protocol, I welcome the joint statements of Bishops Abernethy and Miller referred to in your report.
Bishop Miller in particular spoke of “an affront to the high values of democratic freedom within the United Kingdom” and he is quoted as saying that intimidation and violence had “no moral justification”.
Such leadership from our Church, and on the part of other Churches, has regrettably not been on display in other parts of our civic society.
Your report mentioned my colleague, Naomi Long MP, who had in the weeks prior to the City Council vote been the subject of specific attack (even though she is not a City Councillor) in 40,000 leaflets delivered by her political opponents mainly in her constituency. Those leaflets misrepresented the party’s views and heightened tensions; those responsible have looked away or claimed that the lawlessness had nothing to do with them.
What has been forgotten is that the decision to fly the flag on designated days arose because of competing and exclusive views on the Council. One tribal group wanted an all-yearround display of the flag. Another wanted it removed altogether.
The amendment to keep the flag on designated days was moved by the Alliance Party as a compromise and this prevented the nationalist members from entirely removing the flag.
What these events have spelled out is that there is much bitterness below the surface in our society and also that we have to learn to begin to live together if we are ever to have a normal civil society. We need to re-examine how we can learn to live together and not apart.
In beginning this task, the building block should be the Shared Future paper produced by the last Westminster Government. Tom Campbell (Alliance Party Councillor) Newtownabbey Borough council Mossley Mill Newtownabbey BT36 5QA
The Masonic Order
In his letter (Gazette, 21st December) the Revd Peter Hanna has again shown courage and frankness in his comments on the Masonic Order.
This seems to be a topic that we tip-toe around in case we cause offense to those in high places.
We need to take Peter’s comments seriously because he speaks from experience as one who was in this institution. It seems to me quite simply that there is no compatibility between this organisation and the Christian Church.
I remember being questioned indirectly about whether I was a member as I took up my first incumbency in 1989.
The fact is that it is an organization with secrets and it looks after its own members as of first importance. The name of Jesus Christ is forbidden at meetings.
Why do people join? The simple answer is often financial advantage in business dealings or that it admits them to certain social cliques to which they have difficulty gaining access otherwise. It may be that their fathers were members, but that does not exclude them from exercising their conscience.
As one involved in the ministry of healing, and especially in the area of deliverance, I can relate to Peter’s experience of a feeling of heaviness until he received prayer ministry. Those involved in the ministry of deliverance regard the Masonic Order as a cult. Peter is quite right in saying that none of the mainline denominations encourages men to enter freemasonry. We can only rejoice that Peter himself is now a ‘freed-mason’!
Nigel P. Baylor (Canon) The Rectory 120a Circular Road Newtownabbey
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