A Pre-Election Message to Catholics in the Diocese of Elphin

Everything is Connected




Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The primary mission of the Church is to preach the love of God and to act as a guide (or shepherd) to all who are called to eternal life. The Kingdom of God is not, however, just a future hope. As Jesus often reminded his disciples, the Kingdom is already here among us. The presence of the Kingdom of God, as we read in the Sermon on the Mount, is marked by attitudes such as gentleness and mercy, commitment to peace, a hunger for what is right and a commitment to truth (Mt 5.). It is closely connected with our care for those who are hungry and thirsty, sick, homeless or in prison (Mt. 25).

While the Church is not identified with any political system or party, she recognises the importance of good government for the well-being of humanity. The Second Vatican Council praises “the work of those who for the common good devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of office” (Gaudium et Spes, 75). We read in the same document that political parties “must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good” and avoid the temptation to “give their interests priority over the common good.” In that context, the Council also points out that “All citizens should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good”.

Catholics, as citizens, are entitled to participate fully in debating the questions that matter for our society. My purpose in writing to you at this time is two-fold. In the first place I want to encourage you to reflect prayerfully and then to use your vote in the way which you believe will best serve the common good. Every candidate, whether or not you agree with his or her policies, is worthy of respect as a person. The most important place for you to express your judgement is at the ballot box. A decision not to vote, unless you are physically unable to do so, would be an abdication of your personal responsibility for the common good.

My second reason for writing is to invite you to reflect on some of the key challenges facing Irish society, which I believe should be of particular importance for Christians. These are questions which I would encourage you to consider raising with candidates during the campaign.  In his encyclical letter on the care of the earth, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis frequently comments that “everything is connected”. That is equally true of a General Election. The basic needs of people, such as housing, poverty, education and healthcare are all connected. The purpose of government is to seek the common good, which is the good of each and of all. The immediate focus of government is society as a whole, but the good of society can only be achieved when the natural rights of each person and each community are respected.

The Care of the Sick

The health service, in spite of the hard work and dedication of doctors and nurses, is in a permanent state of crisis. The biggest problem seems to be at the point of entry. This is connected with the failure to provide adequate step-down facilities for those who no longer need hospital care, but who are not in a position to care for themselves at home. An economy which assumes that every able-bodied man and woman will be part of the “work-force” is, by definition, an economy in which it is no longer possible, as it was in the past, for the elderly and the sick to be cared for at home. Most people in rural Ireland will also be aware of the pressure on primary care, with elderly GPs retiring and not being replaced. We don’t need promises from politicians; what we need is evidence of joined up thinking.

The Problem of Housing and Homelessness

The outgoing government will argue, not without reason, that the housing problem is one of the results of the general collapse of the economy just over a decade ago. They will say that, under their direction, the economy has recovered well. This is not much consolation to those who, through no fault of their own, have lost their homes and have been forced to live in temporary accommodation for long periods of time. The pressure on families and on children who are trying to deal with the normal challenges of growing up and the demands of education are enormous.

The following principles are crucial to resolving the housing crisis:

  • that the provision of housing cannot be left solely to the market;
  • that housing should not be treated in the same way as any other commodity; and
  • that housing policies should recognise the rights of families and seek to bring about greater equality in our society [1]

The rush to build new office blocks in the centre of our cities over the past ten years, in the midst of a housing crisis, demonstrates a lack of willingness to prioritise this most fundamental of human rights. The over-development of urban areas and the underdevelopment of rural Ireland are related factors in the housing problem, as they are in many of the other challenges facing our society. A coherent policy for rural development needs, therefore, to be part of the long-term solution.

The Care of the Environment

The urgent need for action to protect the natural environment has come into sharp focus in recent years. The encyclical letter of Pope Francis, reminds us that the earth is our common home and that, when the natural environment comes under pressure, it is the poor who suffer the most.[2] Our children are learning a great deal about the environment at school. Outside school, however, they are the next generation of consumers.

Public policy on the care of our common home must be effective and realistic. Difficult decisions have to be made, as they were in the past with the levy on plastic bags and the ban on smoking in the work-place. Care must be taken to ensure that the measures taken are consistent with the survival and, indeed, the development of rural communities. Otherwise our society will become hopelessly unbalanced and the environment of our cities will become more and more polluted.

Our Response to Migrants and Refugees

The recent arrival in Europe of so many refugees from conflicts in the middle East and elsewhere poses a challenge to solidarity. Relatively speaking, the numbers coming to Ireland are small and, while their presence poses challenges in terms of the provision of services, they also bring with them many gifts which will be placed at the service of our society, if they are made welcome and allowed to participate. In the final analysis they are people like us, who laugh and cry, who love and bleed and feel hunger. I am very concerned at two different negative factors which I and my fellow bishops have identified in recent months.

  • in communities around Ireland where the natural tendency is to welcome strangers, small numbers of activists, who appear to have a narrow nationalist and racist agenda, have been stirring up resistance to the arrival of refugees and migrants. Some of them profess to be Christians.
  • the state agencies which are responsible for the reception of asylum seekers and refugees have shown a marked reluctance to engage with local communities who should be properly briefed and prepared for the arrival of significant numbers of migrants and refugees, so that they can play their part in welcoming the new arrivals and helping them to integrate. [3]

The Education of Our Children

Irish children today are blessed in the quality of the schools they attend and the quality of the education they receive. These schools are, in many cases, the fruit of the most positive cooperation between Church and State, with the active engagement of teachers and voluntary boards of management. The primary purpose of Catholic schools is to serve parents who wish their children to have their education in an environment of faith. All our Catholic schools welcome, on a basis of equality and respect, children of all faiths and of none.

The case has been made that, in keeping with changes in Irish society, there needs to be greater diversity in the kind of schools that are on offer to parents. I fully accept that. Public representatives and state bodies need to be clear, however, that parents are the primary educators of their children and any changes in patronage must be planned in consultation with parents. Likewise, there needs to be a commitment that schools which remain under Catholic patronage are free to be Catholic in their inspiration. This is not just about the time that is allocated for Religious Education. It is about working together in an environment which affirms Catholic Christian values on questions of life and death, family and relationships. [4]

Concern for Our Young People

Notwithstanding the many successful operations of the Garda Siochána, our society seems to be flooded with drugs at the present time. In towns and villages all over Ireland today, young people, attracted by the idea of trying out something new, are being caught up in the drug culture. They are becoming the “mules” and they are being exposed to debt, addiction, serious health risks and the loss of educational opportunities. Some of them, sadly, have lost their lives because they ran foul of the suppliers.

The common perception is that the trade in illegal drugs is all about violent drug cartels. The reality, unfortunately, is that the drug cartels are being kept in business by the many apparently “respectable” people in our society who are prepared to buy and use cocaine and heroin, without a thought for the price that is paid by others. That connection needs to be made in our legislation and in the enforcement of the law without fear or favour. [5]

The Protection of Human Life

The right to life is the foundation on which all our other human rights depend. The passage of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act by the outgoing Oireachtas has radically undermined the right to life in our society. For many people, including practicing Catholics, the abortion question has now been decided, and it is time to move on. As I said in May 2018, however: “I want to encourage you with the thought that what was true yesterday remains true today. Every human being without exception has an inherent right to life which comes from God, in whose image we are all made.” [6]

Respect for every human life remains a core value of our Catholic faith. No seriously committed Catholic can simply accept that human life is disposable, at any stage. If we are to reverse the 2018 legislation, which may take many years, and if we are to prevent the legalisation of euthanasia, our first step must be to ensure that we elect public representatives who are committed to the right to life, from conception to natural death. For that reason, irrespective of traditional party loyalties, it seems to go completely against the common good for any committed Catholic to vote for a public representative who, in the outgoing Oireachtas, voted for abortion. It is also worth asking what exactly some elected representative intended when they abstained on such an important question as the right to life.

 +Kevin Doran
Bishop of Elphin
January 2020


[1]              For a fuller treatment of this question, see: Irish Catholic Bishops Conference. A Room at the Inn. Dublin: Veritas 2018. https://www.catholicbishops.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-Oct-01-Bishops-pastoral-letter-on-Housing-and-Homelessness-A-Room-at-the-Inn.pdf

[2]              Cf Pope Francis. Laudato Si. Dublin: Veritas 2015 http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

[3]              This question is explored in greater depth in: https://www.intercommagazine.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Rejecting-Racism-Welcome-Protect-Promote-and-Integrate-Bishop-Kevin-Doran.pdf

[4]              For a more detailed exploration of this theme, see: Bishop Kevin Doran. “A Future Full of Hope”. https://www.catholicbishops.ie/2014/11/19/future-full-hope-pastoral-letter-bishop-kevin-doran/

[5]              For information on pastoral responses to substance abuse, see: https://www.irishbishopsdrugsinitiative.ie/

[6]              Pastoral Message of Bishop Kevin Doran following the Referendum, May 26th, 2018 https://www.elphindiocese.ie/a-pastoral-message-from-bishop-kevin-following-referendum-on-8th-amendment/