There is ample scientific literature on the links between smoking and cancer. There is also enough em­piri­cal proof that obesity leads to cancer. Similarly, scientists tell us that chronic alcohol abuses lead to cirrhosis. Doctors frequently warn us about this.

Yet many ignore all the scientific knowledge and professional warnings and carry on smoking, drinking and over-eating. This shows that however strong they may be, scientific and logical arguments are not enough to persuade people to change the way they think or act.

Abortion is horrendous and abo­minable. But many are not persua­ded by scientific arguments why people should not have re­course to it, or why citizens should vote ‘no’ to its legalisation. Faith and its consequent morality are best promoted by the works of faith.

The Irish have overwhelmingly voted to repeal the 1983 Eighth Amendment of Ireland’s Constitution, which banned abortion. The referendum saw 66.4 per cent of the electorate vote ‘yes’ and 33.6 per cent vote against the proposal. The government, which led a cross-party campaign for a ‘yes’ vote, will now introduce abortion services probably early next year.

But the writing has been on the wall for quite a time. As French sociologist Émile Durkheim states, the determining cause of a social fact – society, State and Church, channels of communication, morality, collective conscience and social currents – should be sought among the social facts preceding it, not among the states of the individual consciousness.

In Daniel 5:25 we read that King Belshazzar did not understand the Aramaic words on the wall that pointed to the downfall of the Babylonian Empire. In Ireland there were those who did not understand the writing on the wall and others who were in a state of denial. Let us not make the same mistake in our country as we did in the divorce referendum.

Let us not make the same mistake as we did in the divorce referendum

Let us call a spade a spade: when faith becomes weak and trust in the Church weaker, the consequences on the way people decide are obvious. Traditionally, in our country the Church legitimised or delegitimised social mores, together with private and public morality. This narrative has changed. Malta has been passing through a period of history where morality is not legitimised solely by the Catholic faith and Church authorities; there are both secular and secularist legitimating agents. To this one must add that while a ‘certain type’ of traditional Mediterranean religiosity seems to be still strong in Malta, faith is becoming weaker and weaker.

In Ireland and elsewhere, media pundits interpreted the fact that so many Catholics were willing to disregard the Church’s teaching on abortion as another nail in the coffin for Irish Catholicism. Even the country’s most senior bishops look as if they are ready to concede this.

Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, acknowledged after the result of Ireland’s abortion referendum that “we are living in a new time and a changed culture”.

In a more sombre manner, Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, said many would see the referendum outcome as an indication that the Church in Ireland has a marginal role in the formation of Irish culture. He added that the fact that only 12 per cent of voters cited religion as a factor in their voting decision raised the question: “What is the place of religion in Irish society and what is the place of the Church in Irish society? We have to be ruthless in looking at the reality.”

Mgr Martin told RTE Radio “over many years, we have seen a drift away from practices of our faith in our congregations and parishes and a lower degree of involvement from people. This abortion referendum now confirms we are in a new space.”

Reflecting seriously on these archbishops’ analysis might help us bite the bullet as regards the situation in Malta. We cannot keep singing from the traditional hymn sheet. The writing is also on our wall. In my view, a return to the radicalism of the Gospel is our only available path.


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