After the Irish debacle

George Weigel

I wasn’t surprised by the result of Ireland’s May 25 referendum, which opened a path to legal abortion in the Emerald Isle by striking down a pro-life amendment to the Irish Constitution. Nor was I all that surprised by the large margin of victory racked up by those for whom an unborn child isn’t “one of us;” both the government and the virulently anti-Catholic Irish media put heavy thumbs onto the scales as the debate over the referendum unfolded. So with Ireland having joined the Gadarene rush into legalizing the dictatorship of relativism, what next?

Amend the Irish Constitution again. Ireland’s constitution begins with a preamble that now seems, at the very least, ironic: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred…” Having long ago jettisoned in practice the bit about God’s judgment on “men and States,” Ireland has now made it clear, by a 66 percent supermajority, that it does not recognize the “authority” of “the Most Holy Trinity” in terms of either divine law (see Exodus 20:13) or the natural moral law God inscribed in creation, which teaches us that innocent human life is not to be willfully taken and deserves cultural and legal protection.

Ireland has been a post-Christian society for decades. The effects of de-Christianization and ecclesiophobia were painfully evident in the aggressive tone of pro-abortion advocates during the pre-referendum debate and by the referendum’s results. So why not stop the charade and delete from the Constitution an affirmation belied by both contemporary custom and Irish law?

Protect the dissenters. Before and immediately after the referendum, the totalitarian passions of some of the pro-abortion forces were on display in TwitterWorld. Their target was the Iona Institute, a think-tank led by one of Ireland’s leading Catholic layman, David Quinn. Anticipating victory on May 25, columnist Barbara Scully tweeted the day before, “Once we’re done repealing the 8th [i.e., the pro-life amendment to the Constitution], can we repeal The Iona Institute? They serve no useful purpose. Any why do we need to listen to their views every time we need to make a social change. Why do they have such an amplified voice?” The morning after her side won, another columnist, Alison O’Connor, gnawed the same rotten bone, tweeting, “Is it too soon to ask just who are the Iona Institute? Where do they get their cash? Who appointed them guardians of our nether region morals? Did we hear far too much from one small (& we now know hugely unrepresentative) group over the last months?”

Thus speaketh the thought police. So the friends of democracy in Ireland had better think quickly about providing robust legal protection for heroes like David Quinn and other pro-life stalwarts who fought the good fight, lost, and will now try through persuasion to limit the damage that will follow the repeal of the pro-life amendment. If their voices are squelched by thuggish cultural pressures, or even by law, Irish democracy will become a pathetic joke.

Take bold steps to rebuild Irish Catholicism. Whatever polling data tells us about the percentage of the pro-abortion vote being an anti-Church vote, it’s been obvious for over a decade that, with a few exceptions, the Irish bishops are incapable of leading the re-evangelization of the country. Their credibility has been shattered by abuse cover-ups. The strategy of kowtowing to political correctness and bending to cultural pressure, which too many Irish bishops have adopted, has been a complete failure.

In December 2011, after meeting in Dublin with legislators of both major political parties, journalists, serious lay Catholics, and the country’s most accomplished theologian, I sent a memo to friends in Rome, arguing that radical measures were needed to turn things around in Irish Catholicism: retiring most of the then-sitting bishops; shrinking the number of Irish dioceses by at least half; and appointing new bishops for Ireland from throughout the Anglosphere – the principal criterion for selection being a man’s demonstrated capacity as an evangelist. Ireland, I wrote, was mission territory. It needed missionary bishops. And if native-born Irishmen could once become bishops in the U.S., why couldn’t American bishops known to be effective evangelists be sent to Ireland today?

My analysis, I fear, was correct. The drastic measures needed to rebuild Irish Catholicism remain to be implemented.

Featured Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

COMING UP: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr