What exactly is it about Irish Catholics that makes them think their Church doesn’t really mean the things it says? Donal O’Keeffe takes to the pulpit.

Last week, the Evening Echo reported that Ken Curtin, a Social Democrat candidate in the last general election, had been dropped as a reader at Mass because of his support of repealing the Eighth Amendment and liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws. Curtin was told by Father John MacCarthy, the administrator of St Colman’s Cathedral, that so long as he is a member of a political party which favours the repeal of the Eighth, he cannot be a lector.

My first thought was “Fair play to that priest.”

Hear me out.

I like Ken. He’s a decent guy and I gave him a scratch at the election. Ken and I would be of one voice on the issue of the Eighth Amendment, in that I too think it past time we removed the stain of religious mania from our constitution and past time also that we grew up as a nation.

Ten Irish women a day travel to the UK for a termination. That figure is down – by roughly two a day – but it’s down because women are now buying abortifacients online – itself a crime – and endangering their health and their very lives by doing so.

According to Ken, Father MacCarthy contacted the Irish Catholic and the media took the story from there. Ken then did the rounds of the media himself to express his upset and to demand a meeting with the Bishop of Cloyne. Ken says his faith is very important to him. I don’t doubt that. We live in a republic of equals – and Ken did a lot himself during last year’s marriage equality referendum – and nobody’s faith should be denied.

But – with respect to Ken – this isn’t about faith being denied. This is about the Catholic Church denying to a public figure – who advocates something which the Church opposes – the right to appear front-of-house on the altar during religious services. In point of fact, Ken is entirely free to practice his faith in the same way as everyone else in Cobh Cathedral – from the pew.

Out of interest, would the Social Democrats – assuming they actually have the luxury of picking and choosing their members – give a platform at a party event to someone whose politics were known publicly to be diametrically opposed to their own?

(There’s actually something about the Social Democrats that puts me in mind of the Catholic Church, given that the party seems founded upon the Sacred Mystery of the Holy Trinity, in this case Three Leaders In One Party. And, indeed, three TDs In One Party too.)

It’s not you, Ken. I’m fairly sure that any other political figure who publicly favoured repeal of the Eighth and who also wanted to be a lector would be told where to go pretty sharpish too.

This isn’t meant as a personal dig at Ken, but I genuinely wonder why anyone would think Father MacCarthy’s decision was in any way out of line. Unless of course they were of that particularly Irish breed of a la carte Catholic that seems to think the Catholic Church doesn’t really mean what it says.

Abortion? Contraception? Homosexuality? Sex before or outside of marriage? Homosexuality? Divorce? A lot of Irish a la carters have a touch to them of Father Ted bluffing on “A Song For Europe” that “Sometimes the Pope says things he doesn’t really mean”.

During the marriage referendum, Diarmuid Martin came under fire, first from members of the ultra-conservative Iona “Institute” for not advocating a No vote, and then from liberals for not advocating a Yes vote. Whatever about the holy rollers, what in heaven’s name did the liberals expect? Martin seems a decent chap but he’s the Archbishop of Dublin and only the fourth man to occupy the office since John Charles McQuaid was telling Dev how to run the country.

What did they hope? That Archbishop Martin would stop in for a sherry with David Norris in Panti-bar?

I think Ken Curtin’s argument hasn’t a leg to stand on, but I do think Ken deserves credit for having the courage of his convictions to speak out against the Eighth Amendment.

The Eighth Amendment gave us Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, which states that mothers and unborn have equal rights to life and the State will vindicate those rights where practicable. In effect, a woman, a sentient human being, is reduced in value to being of the same worth under Irish law as a days-old cluster of cells within her.

The Eighth is the reason we allow women to die in agony as they beg for mercy. As happened to Savita Halappanavar.

The Eighth is the reason we force teenage refugee rape victims to remain pregnant until such time as they are ready to be carved open by C-section. As happened to Miss Y.

The Eighth is the reason the very meaning of life – and death – can be reduced to the stuff of nightmares because doctors fear prosecution for murder if they allow a brain-dead pregnant woman a natural death. As happened two Christmases’ ago to Ms P.

The Eighth is the reason women whose babies will not survive are forced to carry them to term or else take the ferry. As happens every week.

The Eighth is the reason ten Irish women a day are forced to travel abroad for a medical procedure – which wouldn’t ever be denied if it was men who needed it – and the reason too that other women risk their lives in secret.

I’ll never understand a la carte Catholics. (A friend of mine calls them “Bouncy Castle Catholics”.) I know it’s easy for me to ask this, as someone who – to quote Dylan – had “no faith to lose to begin with”, but why on Earth would you think you can change the Catholic Church from within? This is the same Church which – even after all of the abuse scandals – still advises its bishops that reporting allegations of sexual abuse is “not necessarily” their responsibility.

The Catholic Church, to quote the brilliant film Spotlight, thinks in centuries. Why would it change its thinking on abortion, homosexuality or anything else just because you disagree with it?

The Catholic Church ain’t gonna change. If you want to call yourself a Catholic, then get with the programme or get out. There isn’t an associate membership. If you want to be a Catholic, if you want to stand on the altar and read from the Good Book, then abortion is wrong and so too are homosexuality, contraception, divorce and all the rest too.

On the other hand, if you believe that women own their own bodies, if you’ve never facilitated and covered up the rape of children on a Mass scale and if you don’t think your every deed is guided by God’s own hand, then I know whose conscience I would trust more.

You’re a grown-up. Your religion shouldn’t dictate your morality. Your morality should dictate your religion.

Oh, and while we’re at this, #repealthe8th.