The St. Patrick’s Day of today is a celebration of all things Irish, but historically, it was a celebration of the patron saint who brought Christianity to Ireland. The country’s deep dedication to Christianity continues to this day, and has been a major impediment to Irish citizens realizing their full reproductive rights.
Last year, by a stunning landslide, Irish voters ended their country’s highly restrictive ban on abortion that had been in place since 1983. The vote to repeal the eighth amendment was a landmark win for Irish women, who had previously been forced to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies, or risk a prison sentence of up to 14 years for ordering abortion pills online. The success of the referendum was a clear and public rejection of Vatican authority from a majority Roman Catholic nation, exposing a clear schism between official Church doctrine and the values of modern Catholics.
There were reports of some priests urging their parishioners to vote no, even going so far as to deny communion to those who would vote yes, prompting the Association of Catholic Priests to request that no politics be preached from the pulpit. A public statement from Pope Francis was notably absent before and after the vote.
The Catholic Church has changed its stance on many issues throughout the ages, including overturning the right to own slaves, allowing mass to be held in local languages, opposing capital punishment, and perhaps most famously, finally acknowledging that Galileo was correct about the Earth revolving around the Sun. The Catholic Church is constantly negotiating and renegotiating its own dogma. Even the Immaculate Conception was debated for centuries until Pope Pius IX declared it to be official church doctrine in 1854. The Church is an ever-evolving institution, and it is made up of a diverse group of followers all over the world, many who disagree with prevailing Church doctrine.
More than half of all American Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Abortion is never mentioned in the Bible, and Christ certainly did not offer any dictates on the subject. The Bible does preach the sanctity of all human life (Gen. 9:8-10), but it also frequently correlates life with breath (Acts 17:25, Job 33:4), and specifically describes the beginning of life as the first intake of breath (Gen. 2:7). The objection to abortion on the grounds that life begins at conception is simply not supported by scripture.
The Catholic Church does not offer women parity with men, and women are not permitted to make decisions on matters of doctrine. Women are not allowed to be ordained as priests, and all positions of power within the Church are held by men. The prohibition of women’s voices on matters of doctrine contributes to an imbalanced and unjust treatment of women within the Church—especially on matters that affect them uniquely, such as abortion. Many Catholic women resist this treatment and demand reform, most notably the Catholic Women Speak network. Jesus famously and revolutionarily preached equality between the sexes, commanding men to treat women as they would like to be treated, and to love women as they love themselves (Matt. 7:12, 22:30). One could certainly argue that the Catholic Church’s discrimination against women is in violation of Christ’s teachings. In that sense, the passing of the referendum may be a rebuke to the Church, but an affirmation of Christ. The revelation that members of the clergy have sexually abused nuns in at least 20 countries could be the impetus for the Church to reevaluate its exclusion of women from positions of authority.
Given the number of Catholics globally, the influence of the Church cannot be overstated. Catholics comprise 16% of the total global population, and half of Christians worldwide. Christianity continues to be the world’s most practiced religion. The majority of Catholic women already ignore the Church’s teachings on contraception and reproduction—imagine the possibilities if the Church included women in its leadership and incorporated their wisdom and insight into Papal authority.