IRELAND, July 24, 2013 ( – In the wake of the Irish government's push for legislation allowing abortion, a leading Irish moral theologian has denounced the heavy-handed suppression of opposition to the bill as a form of totalitarianism. 

In an article titled “Conscience, a last bulwark against totalitarianism,” published today in the Irish Times, the emeritus professor of moral theology at Maynooth seminary, Fr. Vincent Twomey, said the attempt to suppress dissent on the abortion bill by those who are morally opposed to killing children in the womb marked “a new low.” 

Prime Minister Enda Kenny refused to allow his Fine Gael TDs a conscience vote on the bill. However, five members of the majority government dared to break ranks and as a result were expelled from the party. 

“The imposition of the whip in such a debate on life and death crushes the small voice of conscience more effectively than any torture chamber,” Fr. Twomey wrote, saying the fact that five TDs violated the whip “is what gives cause for hope that our present greatly enfeebled legislature might, one day, mature into a real democratic parliament.” 


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Fr. Twomey noted that Jerry Buttimer TD, who, as chairman of the Oireachtas committee on the Bill played a central role in getting the Bill passed, was heavily influenced by the type of theology he was taught as a seminarian: one which denies moral absolutes and treats morality as simply a “private conviction.” 

“The kind of fundamental moral theology taught in seminaries in recent decades is one that, contrary to church teaching, denies there are any moral actions, even abortion, that are intrinsically wrong,” Fr. Twomey wrote. 

This theology teaches that whether an action is good or bad depends on “motive and circumstance” and distinguishes between the public and private lives of politicians, “allowing Catholic politicians to put politics above their ‘private’ moral convictions.” 

“This theology, though widespread, is radically at variance with church teaching,” he said. 

This “moral quagmire,” Fr. Twomey stated, “undermines conscience, reducing morality to a ‘personal belief,’ a private conviction. Conscience is regarded as a subjective conviction, rather than something objective, namely our capacity to recognise what we ought to do, especially when we are not inclined to do so.” 

Fr. Twomey concluded, “the net effect of all this was the attempt by the Taoiseach, Minister for Health and chief whip to put pressure on anti-abortion colleagues to vote for legislation they knew to be wrong. Legislators, in a word, were forced to act against their conscience. That itself is gravely immoral.” 

Fr. Twomey added that the Irish government should look to the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and the subsequent reaction to it by the German people. 

“It is well to remember that, in the aftermath of totalitarianism, the German people in 1949 wrote the primacy of the conscience of elected representatives into their constitution,” he said. 

“Those representatives are expressly instructed that they are not bound by orders or instructions; they are answerable only to their conscience. Conscience is the last bulwark against totalitarianism.”


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