This year will present a number of issues of concern, write David Quinn
The year ahead looks set to be an extremely important one. Quite apart from the economy, several issues of great importance to Catholics and Christians more generally will be decided as well.
For example, by the end of 2012 it should be a lot clearer what the fate of denominational schools will be.
It should be a lot clearer what the Government has in mind for our abortion law. We will have held a referendum on children’s rights. Several more child protection audits of Catholic dioceses will have been completed, and our new papal nuncio will have settled into his post.
Let’s have a closer look at these issues one by one.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s forum on the future patronage of primary schools has been held and its final recommendations will be made public any day now.
The draft recommendations have already been released and are extremely worrying because the net effect of them would be to hollow out the ethos and identity of all denominational schools in the name of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘inclusion’.
The various Churches are going to have to fight these recommendations extremely vigorously if they turn out to be the final recommendations. If necessary, they will have to go to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, we will have a better idea by the end of the year how many Catholic primary schools are to be transferred to new management (or patron) bodies and how this will happen.
This, however, is of much less concern than proposals to undermine the ethos of denominational schools.
2. The right to life
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights in a non-binding decision ruled that we are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights because the state of our abortion law is not clear as a result of the X-case decision of 1992.
The Government is establishing an ‘expert group’ to look into the issue and its composition will be announced shortly. Will it be balanced, or, under the influence of Labour, will it be heavily skewed in favour of people who favour a law permitting abortion?
3. Children’s rights
A referendum on children’s rights will be held before the end of the year.
The wording of the proposed amendment will be published soon. The key question is whether it will give excessive power of intervention in family life to the State. It could do this by including a very open-ended definition of a child’s ‘best interests’ in the amendment.
If it does, then it will have to be opposed. If not, then it can probably be supported.
At the behest of Labour, a convention on the Constitution is to be convened in the next few weeks.
Among the issues it will look at are the sections of the Constitution regarding women in the home, blasphemy, and the family.
Changes to the first one in particular, and arguably the second one as well, are probably not worth expending energy on.
However, the last of the three issues just mentioned is by far the most worrying because Labour, and some in Fine Gael, want to radically redefine the family and permit same-sex marriage.
This would be profoundly anti-child in that it would redefine parenthood (by saying motherhood and fatherhood have no special value to children). The implications for freedom of religion would also be profound.
This would have to be very strongly opposed.
5. Child protection
The Church’s child protection board will continue its audits of child protection practice in the country’s dioceses following the six that were completed and issued a few weeks ago.
These will reveal that the Church is now a safe place for children, or that parts of it still are not, in which case we can expect more commissions of inquiry.
For his part, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, as the most influential prelate in the country, should use his influence to give credit to those bishops who have been implementing proper child protection procedures in some cases since the mid-1990s (e.g. Archbishop Michael Neary).
In addition, the HSE will soon publish its audit of child protection in Catholic dioceses.
6. The new nuncio
By the end of this month, Msgr Charles Brown (soon to be Archbishop Brown) will be in place as our new papal nuncio.
But despite the closing the Irish embassy to the Holy See and the attack on the Vatican and the Pope by Taoiseach Edna Kenny, his main task will be to assist in the renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland. He will be more of a missionary than a diplomat.
To this end, he will need to seek out a new breed of evangelical-minded and dynamically orthodox bishops who can help reinvigorate the Church, restore Catholic morale, and where necessary, challenge the Government when it is being aggressively secular.
Seven of our dioceses are now either vacant or will soon be vacant. Msgr Brown has a golden opportunity to advance the cause of renewal.
These are only some of the issues that face us in 2012. Any one of them is important.
Taken together, they add up to the most crucial 12 months in a very long time. No matter how they turn out, they will help to shape both the Church and society, for better or for worse, for years to come.