Dorothy Cummings McLean

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Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called the country's abortion vote 'a quiet revolution.' Twitter

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Days of sadness for Irish Americans after abortion vote

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

May 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — I’ve never had a nightmare like it.

When I went to bed on Friday night, I had already seen the exit poll estimating that two-thirds of the voting Irish population had cast ballots to repeal the pro-life Eighth Referendum. Sleep didn’t come easily, and when it did, I dreamed I had dropped by the house of an Irish fellow parishioner, with “No” pamphlets in hand.

To my shock, my (imaginary) Irish fellow parishioner, a doctor, drove me from the doorstep and told me she’d be voting “Yes.”

“But you’re a traditionalist,” I wailed.  

As I left the front yard, her children jeered and threw pebbles at my back.

It didn’t take a Freudian psychotherapist to explain that nightmare to me. The shock of discovering that the people of a once famously Catholic country had deliberately chosen to remove the right to life of its weakest members must have given many pro-lifers bad dreams.  

More than 10 percent of Americans, and more than 14 percent of Canadians, including me, have Irish ancestry. My grandfather’s grandfather, Michael Cummings, fled famine-wracked Ireland in the 1840s and made a new life for himself in the New World, marrying into an established local family and bringing up his children in the Catholic faith. We have kept the faith of our Irish fathers to the sixth post-famine generation.  

It was fashionable in the Toronto Catholic elementary schools of my childhood to celebrate our ethnic heritage -- especially, earlier on, Irish heritage. My parish had once been dominated by Irish families, and so the parish school celebrated St. Patrick’s Day for many years longer than was strictly fair to the other families. Eventually, our teachers dropped the Tin Pan Alley sing-songs and cancelled the annual Irish dance performances. Instead, we had “Multicultural Days” for which students were encouraged to bring in heritage dishes.

This could be a challenge for Canadian kids of mixed ethnic background or whose ancestors had come to North America more than a hundred years before. I belonged to both groups, but as my Scottish and German ancestors were Protestants and I identified, above all, as a Catholic, I decided for Ireland and learned to make soda bread.

I was very sentimental about Ireland, about which I knew almost nothing except what I had read in rather antiquated books. When I grew up, I made a point of going to Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, which is why I remember a visiting Irish bishop, circa 1995, telling a packed St. Michael’s Cathedral that Ireland would never, ever, give up the Roman Catholic faith.  

And yet here we are. Twenty-three years later, the Irish Referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment seems to have proved him wrong. There is room for disagreement on many topics among Roman Catholics: the causes of climate change, the limits of just war theory, the best way to organize children’s education, for example. But there can be no disagreement among Catholics on abortion. If you believe that there is a good reason to kill an innocent human being, you no longer profess the Roman Catholic faith.

I am stunned by how many Irish men and women, particularly among the 87 percent of those between ages 18 and 24 who voted against the right to life of the unborn, no longer profess the Roman Catholic faith. The Irish taoiseach (or Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has called this a “quiet revolution,” perhaps not an unconscious reference to the Quiet Revolution of 1960s Quebec. During Quebec’s decade of secularism, the majority of French-speaking Québécois stopped going to Sunday Mass and the birth rate fell from 3.8 children per woman in 1960 to 1.9 in 1970.

The blame for the dramatic culture shift in Quebec is usually laid at the doors of its conservative Maurice Duplessis (1890-1959) and Catholic clergy fairly or unfairly held responsible for French-Canada’s economic and social isolation from urban society. According to this narrative, one Duplessis was dead, Quebec felt free to rebel against its Catholic, rural past. This, of course, fails to give the devil his due, if we may be permitted to use that word of Duplessis’ revolutionary successor Jean Lesage. Among other endeavours, Lesage secularized Quebec’s school system.

The blame for Ireland’s mass apostasy is being laid at similar doors. An Irish priest told me that one of the two major reasons for the Irish hardening of heart against the unborn is disgust at revelations of clerical sexual abuse. But the first reason, he said, is that mainstream media and cultural influencers have been consistently and strongly pro-abortion for almost 40 years.   

Thus, Ireland’s apostasy did not happen overnight, and it was not solely thanks to the fraction of priests who abused the trust of their people and the bishops who sheltered them. It was also thanks to influential Irish people, many of whom were educated, or worked, abroad, and to the general USA-based entertainment culture.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report.  Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013).  Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.