Church’s record on children damaged pro-life case: top philosopher

Church’s record on children damaged pro-life case: top philosopher Prof. Alasdair MacIntyre

A collapse in Church credibility and the absence of a shared vision of a ‘common good’ for society were key factors leading to the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional protections of the unborn, one of the world’s leading philosophers has said.

Speaking at Notre Dame University’s High Powers Conference, Prof. Alasdair MacIntyre said that many in modern Ireland live lives increasingly detached from the educations they and their parents had received, and no longer understand such issues as abortion as part of a coherent moral outlook.

As such, he said, the referendum’s outcome had not been surprising, not least because the defenders of unborn children had seemed to be arguing in a way that was not credible.


“The most prominent advocates for retaining the ban on abortion were of course the Catholic bishops and other representatives of the Church,” he said, adding, “but the greatest and most scandalous failures of the Catholic Church in Ireland – and of course not only in Ireland – have been its failures to care for children.”

Alluding to issues as varied as the abuse crisis, industrial schools, and the Mother and Child Scheme, Prof. MacIntyre said: “The Catholic Church’s attitude has not just appeared to be one according to which abortion may be forbidden, but also that the further good of children is an object of quite inadequate concern, one where for long periods the maltreatment of children have been of no concern at all.”

This, he said, has contributed not merely to the referendum result but to Irish secularisation more generally, describing it as “an excellent reason for regarding the culture of the Church with deep suspicion”.

Duty of

With the Church left looking morally unintelligible around the subject of care for children, Prof. MacIntyre argued, Catholic defenders of a ban on abortion were forced to “find grounds for that ban that were independent of any general duty of care towards children, let alone of any conception of such care as an essential constituent of any care for the common good”.

The upshot, he said, was a debate in which an appeal to the rights of the unborn child was pitched against the rights of a pregnant woman to make her own choices, with the eventual electoral result having “nothing to do with argument”.