find a path to peace • Church law on suicide is clarified
Crisis in Ireland Church stands firm
By John Carey IN THE AFTERMATH of the death of the Irish hunger striker. Bobby Sands, Church leaders in Ireland and England this week held fast to their determination to act as mediators in Northern Ireland.
They repeated their condemnation of IRA violence and renewed their appeal to the British Government to show more "flexibility-. They also acted swiftly to head off criticism of the decision to
allow Mr Sands a full Requiem Mass.
It is understood that the Irish bishops have held back from an absolute condemnation or the hunger strikes primarily because
of their desire to keep every possible channel open for a peaceful resolution tithe current stalehnate in the Maze prison near Belfast. [hat desire was reflected again
in statements by the Irish Primate, Cardinal Tomas 0 Fiaich. and Bishop Edward Daly of Derry on Tuesday following
the death of Mr Sands.
Cardinal 0 Fiaich said that Mr
Sands death "could and should have been avoidedand pleaded for "restraint", He continued: "Once more 1 appeal to both sides in the prison dispute for-7a change of heart, just as our Holy Father. pleaded with both sides through his envoy last week. renew my earlier appeals to the hunger-strikers to give up their fast. I repeat my previous pleas to the British Government to abandon their inflexible attitude regarding prison dress and work.
"11 is imperative that a solution be found immediately. otherwise there will be further deaths. Let us re-double our prayers for a just and lasting solution."
The same line was taken by Bishop Daly.
Mr Sands' death has prompted widespread discussion of the Catholic attitude towards suicide, and of whether a hunger strike to death can property be described
in such terms. Questions have also been raised about whether it was right for the Church to sanction a Requiem Mass for the dead prisoner. The Mass took place in Belfast yesterday.
The two questions were closely examined by Fr John Mahoney Si in a letter to the Times on Wednesday. Fr Mahoney. whois regarded as the leading authority in moral theology in Britain, affirmed that Canon Law refuses a Requiem Mass to anyone who has deliberately killed himself "unless he has shown some signs of repentance before he died." However, he adds: "It also states
that such ceremonies are to be provided where there is reason for doubt but in such a way as to avoid scandal.
He continues: "The law eapresses the traditional Christian horror at self destruction, but since it is applying the ultimate sanction of depriving the deceased of the prayers and final respects of his religious community it restricts application to those eases in which there can be no doubt of the facts, so far as human judgment can ascertain. It is not surprisina. then, and fully in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the law, that
those who have to decide in such cases should explore every reasonable possibility either of mental disturbance or confusion at the time of the act, or of evidence of a change of heart before death finally ensues.
Later he says: Any public religious ceremony (as distinct from purely private) would at least have to draw attention to the contrast between the Church's continuing care for a mistaken individual and its total dissociation from any form of wilful self-destruction."
The concern of the English hierarchy was reflected at last week's meeting of the bishops in London.
The general feeling among the bishops, both in Enafand and Ireland, is that to label Mr Sands' action as "suicide" is to oversimplify the issue and thus to run the risk of exacerbating the conflict.
Prior to Mr Sands' death. Pope John Paul again 'expressed his fears about the situation. He told the crowd in St Peter's square on Sunday: 'I ask you to pray for our Catholic and non-Catholic brothers in Northern Ireland, who are living through hours or growing tension which it is feared might explode in new and %ay serious acts of fratricidal strife.
The Pope also referred briefly to the visit to Ireland last week or his private secretary, Fr John Magee. Fr Magee had earlier given him a full report of his 4hour visit.