IRELANDS Catholic bishops may urge voters to reject the Maastricht treaty on European union because of fears over its implications concerning liberalisation of abortion laws, a spokesman revealed this week. The bishops were considering whether to support a vote "no" campaign, he said, but no final decision had been taken.
Bishop Joseph Duffy of Clogher said that while the bishops were anxious not to make a directly political statement on the forthcoming June 18 referendum on the EC, they would want to put their views before the people. "Nothing is being ruled in and nothing ruled Out." said Bishop Duffy concerning the Irish hierarchy's attitude to the referendum. the first of a possible three polls the republic is facing in the coming months.
"The bishops will be addressing all the issues as they unfoldand following the debate with the "closest possible concern". said Bishop Duffy.
Pro-life campaigners fear that by approving the Maastricht Treaty on European union, Irish voters will be weakening the existing constitutional ban on abortion by, amongst other issues, guaranteeing freedom of movement.
This later consideration ties in with a planned second referendum in Ireland to consider the implications of the recent supreme court judgement which allowed a 14-year-old rape victim to travel to England for an abortion. The Irish public will be asked in this second poll if they wish to allow women the right to travel overseas to terminate their pregnancies.
And a third poll may be needed to deal with the broader legal implications of the Supreme Court decision. some experts have suggested.
However. anti-abortion groups are anxious that the referendum on the right to travel should come before the Maastricht poll, in the hope that a large "no" vote will "copper-bottom" the existing constitutional bar and prevent any liberalisation coming in "through the back-door" as a result of EC rulings.
If the Maastricht decision is to be taken first pro-life groups have said they will campaign for a "no" vote and are urging the Catholic bishops to follow suit. To reject the treaty. government ministers have pointed out, could cost Ireland billions of pounds of aid from Brussels.
Bishop Duffy asked voters to pray for guidance during Holy Week over the " serious and urgent" matters facing Ireland.
And in a sermon at the Chrism Mass in his cathedral yesterday, Archbishop Desmond Connell of Dublin warned against the tide of secularisation sweeping Ireland. Though he did not refer direct:1y to the forthcoming polls in his sermon, Archbishop Council's comments were taken by commentators as the opening shots of the hierarchy's referendum campaign.
"Today's temptation is to seek a solution to our problems through the building of a society forgetful of God," said the archbishop. "This is what is involved in the secularisation of society. It is important here to distinguish between the secular state and the secular society, for state and society are not identical except under totalitarian regimes," he said.