TDs, Communion and the Church

Does the Derek Keating case raise questions about faith formation?

Dublin Mid-West Fine Gael TD Derek Keating sounded genuinely surprised this week that his role as a Eucharistic Minister was at odds with his public stance in favour of abortion.

Mr Keating took to the airwaves to say he was informed by his parish priest that he should discontinue his role in the parish because of his support for Enda Kenny’s law which, for the first time in Ireland, permits the deliberate targeting of the unborn child in the womb. It’s regrettable to say the least that Deputy Keating’s first instinct was to contact the media rather than the priest involved to discuss the matter.

Deeper problem

The case highlights a deeper problem: the fact that so many people like Deputy Keating, a self-described practising Catholic, can believe that support for the killing of unborn children is consistent with Catholic values.

Of course, some TDs have been at pains to point out that they leave their beliefs outside the door of the Dáil chamber as if conscience is something that can be switched off. There was the spectacle of other TDs who said they were opposed to abortion but would vote in favour of it rather than be kicked out of their party.

Interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan, Deputy Keating appeared to feel that the Church has no right to expect certain standards of its members, especially those who wish to exercise a public ministry within the Church. He appeared to see no contradiction between his support for Enda Kenny’s excommunication of pro-life Oireachtas members and the parish priest’s very reasonable request that Mr Keating step aside from being a Eucharistic Minister. The last thing that practising Catholics who cherish the sacredness of human life want to see when they attend Mass is the spectacle of those who vocally support abortion distributing Holy Communion.


I wonder if the case of Deputy Keating raises a wider question for the Church: that of faith formation. How many Catholic Oireachtas members who voted in favour of abortion genuinely see no contradiction between their support for such an unjust law and their Catholic faith? If the answer is, as I suspect, many, then this is a serious issue that the Church will need to address.

In essence, the issue is one of consistency: a politician who is a Catholic cannot live under two houses – one cannot support abortion one day and the following day expect to be held up as a pillar of the local parish community. Politicians have solemn choices to make when they cast their votes in the Oireachtas, most of them take this responsibility very seriously, they must also take seriously the implications of their decisions. A politician who votes against his party hierarchy is in no doubt that he will be expelled from the political fold with immediate effect. Why do these same politicians express surprise that their stance alters their relationship with their Church? Shakespeare captured it well in Richard III: “I have set my life upon a cast, and I will stand the hazard of the die.”


Of course, some politicians will argue that they had an obligation to support the legislation because of their responsibility as an elected representative. Conscience, they boorishly say, has no place in politics. It’s a depressing reflection on what passes for democracy in this country that conscience is derided and dismissed from public life without a hint of irony about the crisis created by a lack of conscience. Politicians need to be aware that their public duty does not exempt them from the duty to follow conscience.

St Thomas More, patron saint of politicians, wrote that “when statesmen forsake their own private consciences for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos”. For adhering to his principles, Sir Thomas was jailed, tried, and sentenced to death while hundreds of noblemen and clergy stood by the king to save their own heads.

No one wants to see the Eucharist used in a political fashion. It’s surely appropriate, therefore, that a politician who publicly opposed such an important Catholic value as the right to life of the unborn would not have a platform within the local parish church. When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis rarely distributed Communion at Mass.

The reason, he later explained, was precisely because many politicians wanted to use it as a photo opportunity, thus politicising the Eucharist.