Monday, 28 April 2014

Cora Sherlock: the steely solicitor seeking the repeal of the Irish abortion law

Cora Sherlock is a 38-year-old Dubliner, a solicitor by profession, a writer of children’s fiction and deputy chairwoman of the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland. Born into a close-knit family in Drogheda, she is the second of four children. Her mother was a primary school teacher and her father an antiques dealer. Cora has quintessential Irish looks: blue eyes, a pale complexion and straight blonde hair, framing an oval face. I met up her when she made a recent trip to London.  

When you meet her, your first impression is of someone who is mild-mannered, meek and softly-spoken. You could underestimate her mettle. But she has been a pro-life campaigner for more than 20 years. In 1993 Cora joined the Pro Life Campaign when she studied Law at University College Dublin.

What compels her to keep up the fight? She explains: “I got involved for the babies and stayed for the women.” After she got to know women who had had abortions it strengthened her resolve because, she says, “you can’t separate them”. She explains: “Abortion ends a human life and hurts women. Abortion devastates a woman’s self-esteem. Abortion says: ‘You should allow your baby’s life to be ended because you aren’t up to keeping the baby.’ Abortion subverts the whole reason for the women’s movement, which was meant to empower women.”

I tell Cora that I meet a lot of feminists who have had abortions, admit their self-confidence was battered by it and yet claim it was for their good. Cora thinks this is because “feminism often puts women in a defensive position where they feel forced to say: ‘I’ve had an abortion and I’m better than ever’”.

Cora has been deputy chairwoman for nearly nine years. The Pro Life Campaign is at heart a political organisation, a nexus between voters and politicians. Its driving goal at present is to overturn the abortion legislation that was passed in July 2013. It’s a distressing reality that the same politicians that made abortion legal in Ireland, were the very ones who gave a pre-election “pro-life promise”.

In 2011 Ireland was preparing for an election and the Pro Life Campaign wrote to politicians standing for places in the Dáil (the Irish parliament) to ascertain their stance on life issues. Emails flew back and forth between the Pro Life Campaign and Fine Gael, one of Ireland’s long-established political parties. A “pro-life promise” was negotiated with prospective Fine Gael legislators whereby they pledged not to legislate for abortion. It became a tenet of the party’s manifesto.

Cora recounts an intriguing turn of events that shows how much Fine Gael wanted the pro-life vote. “In the hours after we had got the pro-life promise, people from Fine Gael headquarters contacted us and asked us why we were not advertising it on our website to let pro-lifers know about their ‘pro-life promise’.”

But in the run-up to the abortion legislation in 2013, many claimed there had never been a pro-life promise. When I mention this the solicitor in Cora comes alive. “There is no doubt about the existence of the pro-life promise,” she says. “Fine Gael headquarters were eager for the Pro Life Campaign to advertise it to our 25,000 Irish followers on our Facebook page.”

Under the impression that this was a genuine promise, Cora canvassed votes for Fine Gael. In Irish politics, there is a bitter rivalry between Fianna Fáil (perhaps best known outside Ireland as Éamon de Valera’s party) and Fine Gael. Cora’s mother has always been a staunch supporter of Fianna Fáil. When she was securing votes for the party that had promised not to introduce abortion, Cora convinced her own mother to vote for Enda Kenny’s party. (“Mum won’t be voting for Fine Gael ever again,” she says adamantly.)

It was not long before the “promise” began to disintegrate. In December 2012, in the wake of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, Kenny said he would legislate for abortion. Of Savita, Cora says: “One family’s tragedy was manipulated so that it became the hard case on which abortion was legalised in Ireland. We know now that Savita did not die for lack of an abortion. It was spelled out in the inquest that she died from lack of the right medical care. Basic elements of essential care were overlooked. Her blood tests were not being checked and they did not diagnose her sepsis in time, but at a late stage. She was not given the necessary antibiotics for sepsis.”

I ask Cora why the people who called for abortion in Savita’s name have failed to acknowledge that they were in the wrong. “It would pull the rug out from under their argument,” she replies laconically,
In the first half of 2013 the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was hatched, allowing for abortion throughout the full nine months of pregnancy on such grounds as if the mother demonstrated suicidal tendencies. 

Cora worked tirelessly to halt the legislation. She took to the airwaves, wrote articles and organised vigils in which tens of thousands of people protested the bill on the streets of Ireland’s capital.
But it wasn’t left to the people of Ireland to decide. The Fine Gael party whipped the votes, denying their MPs freedom of conscience.

During a heady July night, the Dáil convened to vote on the abortion bill. The bar was left open and the booze flowed. Cora is outraged when she remembers back to that night. “We had the right as taxpayers to expect they would be debating abortion with a clear head,” she says.

But now that abortion in limited circumstances is lawful in Ireland, is it an impossible task to get it out? Cora shows unwavering optimism. “It’s not an insurmountable task to overcome it. The current government does not realise that we have droves of new pro-lifers coming to us, saying that they were never active before, but that they want to stand up and oppose the legislation by voting out the current crop of politicians and voting in pro-life ones who will repeal the law.”

But will there be adequate numbers of politicians willing to pledge that they will overturn the legislation? Is there not a shortage of potential pro-life legislators? “Well, there are the Fianna Fáil politicians who voted against the legislation in July 2013,” she says, “and there were rebel politicians in the Fine Gael party such as the thirtysomething Lucinda Creighton. She was honourable and stayed true to the manifesto. Ironically, she was thrown out of the party for having done so.”

But aside from the traditional political bodies such as Fine Fáil, are there any gutsy politicians who might stick their necks out? “Several come to mind,” answers Cora, “all people of honour who recognise the importance of defending human life at its most vulnerable stage.”

But the Irish pro-lifers were taken in by the Fine Gael “pro-life promise”: isn’t it possible they will be mollycoddled again?  “No,” Cora insists, “we’ll be wiser the second time round. There were enough pro-life voters to get Fine Gael into office on the strength of their pro-life promise, and these voters have not vanished. They will be the people who will elect pro-life politicians the next time, on the basis that they pledge to overturn the legislation.”

Playing Devil’s advocate, I ask Cora what will happen if every attempt to repeal the law fails. “There’s no doubt Ireland will be on the same slippery slope that other countries have gone down. Abortion works incrementally in the legal system, it becomes more widespread as the laws are loosened to allow for more and more cases.”

Cora is gathering together as many pro-life voters as possible, but says: “It’s a strange innocence that many Irish people think that what has happened in Britain could never happen in Ireland. They are in a dreamland if they think that there could never be sex-selection abortions, abortion on demand in Ireland or that babies with disabilities might be aborted.”

I tell Cora about a time that I was walking along a London thoroughfare when I saw a mother with a toddler in a wheelchair. The mother saw red when she met someone collecting money for children with disabilities. She demanded to know if the money was being “put to good use” in pre-natal testing and said that it would have been better if her child had not been born. Cora is shocked by this anecdote, but says: “It’s deeply saddening, but not altogether surprising. It’s worrying that our fellow Irish cannot see the danger of it happening in Ireland.”

You can read Cora Sherlock’s blog on the American pro-life website The Pro-Life Campaign ( is holding a vigil in Dublin on May 3 and extends a warm invitation to British pro-lifers to come over and take part in the event. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

John Paul II was the only person that Padre Pio ever told about his most painful and bloody wound

Padre Pio bore the wounds of Christ, and deliberately confided in the priest who would be 
the Vicar of Christ

 In the years after World War II, the young Fr Karol Wojtyla was doing further study in Rome. He journeyed into rural Italy so that he could spend nearly a week in San Giovanni Rotondo and be in the company of Padre Pio. At the time, swarms of people did not buzz around Padre Pio, so the young Fr Wojtyla had the opportunity to speak at length with the Franciscan who called himself the ‘humble friar who prays’.

Decades later, when Fr Wojtyla became the Holy Father, people speculated as to whether Padre Pio had told him that he would be Pope. Pope John Paul II clarified that Padre Pio did not tell him that he would be Pope.

But Padre Pio went further than reading the future for Fr Wojtyla, and did something much more decisive and significant. When Fr Wojtyla asked Padre Pio which one of his wounds (from the stigmata) caused him the most suffering, Padre Pio divulged, “it is my shoulder wound, which no one knows about and has never been cured or treated.”  After the most diligent analysis of Padre Pio’s life, it was revealed that Fr Wojtyla was the only person that Padre Pio ever told about his most painful and bloody wound.

Padre Pio had his reasons, which are unknown, for not telling the young Pole that he would be the Holy Father. But it’s certain that Padre Pio bore the wounds of Christ, and deliberately confided in the priest who would be the Vicar of Christ. It’s like Padre Pio was talking directly to the soul of one who God had ordained would be Pope.

But there’s something even more unique.  From what we know, Padre Pio did not tell other Popes, such as Paul VI (the reigning Pope when Padre Pio died) about his most excruciating wound. From all ruling popes and all future popes, Fr Wojtyla was the one entrusted with this secret.
On Sunday, Pope Francis will canonise the only pope who Padre Pio entrusted with the most private detail of his stigmata.

You might also like to read WHY I write about Padre Pio.

Over at The Catholic Herald, I wrote this blog in the run-up to the canonisation of John Paul II.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

This Easter celebrated comedy writer Tom Leopold celebrates 5 years as a Catholic

This November just passed, I interviewed Tom Leopold about his upbringing in Miami, life as a young comedy writer, how he met Barbara his lovely wife and about the intense times of suffering when his daughter Gussie has been battling anorexia, and the series of ‘coincidences’ that led him to becoming a Catholic. These days, Tom doesn’t believe they were ‘coincidences’ per se, but stepping-stones to Catholicism.   

Many of these key events were replaying in my mind during Passiontide and now that we are in the Easter Octave. 

On Good Friday, I meditated on Our Lord’s sorrowful Passion, while walking around the cluster of trees at the top of Hyde Park. In central London, it’s one of the few places that I get the sense of being in the Garden of Gethsemane.  After I finished the meditation, I thought back to Tom’s first time he identified with Our Lady…

Leopold’s first spark of faith happened some years ago in a curious place: Radio City Music Hall in New York. He took his family to see the Christmas show and they had a “corny” Nativity show. While he watched the actors play the Holy Family, Gussie cuddled up to him and he felt a spasm of sorrow that she had become so terrifyingly skeletal. “I began to identify with Our Lady as a mother, that she had to suffer through her Child dying on the Cross. I had this incredibly powerful realisation where I saw the connection between me and my little girl, and Our Lady and her Son Jesus.”

Picking up a point from Tom’s experience, it draws attention to Our Lady’s sorrows. She was the masterpiece of God’s hands, the sinless one and yet, she was subjected to the most extreme suffering when she watched her child nailed to the cross.

On Easter Sunday, when I was praying the Glorious Mysteries and concentrating on the Resurrection, another key event from Tom’s conversion replayed in my mind…

He wandered by accident into a cinema that was showing Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. “What really got me was Jim Caviezel, playing Jesus, in the tomb,” he recalls. “He is like a runner, down on all fours, waiting for the gun to fire. It’s the Resurrection, and his body is completely recovered. He bolts out of the frame and we see Jesus has triumphed over death. It blew me away. But I still was not thinking of faith or religion.”  Briefly touching on Mel Gibson, Leopold jokes charitably: “Mel has a lot of issues. He took a few too many blows to the head during Braveheart.”….. Nowadays Leopold regularly bumps into Jim Caviezel, “the best movie Jesus”, in the Catholic churches of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

On Easter Sunday 2009, Tom was received into the Catholic Church, and this Easter marks the fifth anniversary of him becoming a Catholic. 

Tom Leopold, Yours Truly, Gussie and Barbara Leopold

You may read Tom Leopold’s full interview here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The CBC Report on "the Francis Effect"

Last night, CBC broadcast their report on Pope Francis. At the start of my bit, I’m quoted as saying that a number of people assume that I’d become a woman priest were Pope Francis to allow them. Perish the thought! My on-camera appearance was edited not to include what I said next which was, “I’d never want to be a woman priest”. 

I don’t especially mind that they cut this sentence out. I was not being interviewed on the subject of myself (I’m too private to give a good personal interview). Instead, I was meant to report on the false expectations that people have of Pope Francis and the yawning chasm between the public perception of Pope Francis (e.g. that he’s a soft liberal who will change the teaching in accordance with feminism) and the real Pope who has underscored that he’s not even going to entertain plans of creating women cardinals or ordaining women priests. 

 Liberal Signs  Consverative Map 

I explained the history of the Pope’s opposition to same-sex marriage. But what was edited is that I said the Pope has shown great warmth to gay people. In Buenos Aires, before he was Pope, he kissed the feet of a gay man with AIDS. My main point is that the Pope does not view a person in terms of their sexuality, but in terms of their soul. 

Cardinal Lacroix gave a very balanced interview, and spoke well on the need for respect for life. If you liked Cardinal Lacroix's contribution, you can tweet at him, on @gclacroix

Monday, 21 April 2014

Happy Easter - He is Risen!

Wishing all my readers and dear friends a very joyful Easter. May you get every blessing in the Risen Lord. He has conquered death!

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Path Less Taken goes black...

As it's Good Friday and the most solemn day of the year, I have changed the design on my blog to a vaguely charcoal black, as a mark of respect when we contemplate Our Lord's Sorrowful Passion. Here is a famous painting of the Crucifixion by Nicolas Tournier.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

British Blogger Eccles may become a superstar in Canada

Eccles might be showcased on TV soon.  It all started when I was being interviewed on Pope Francis by CBC. The news team wanted to film me at my computer and when I said that I got a comment from Eccles on this post, they asked if they could film the screen. 

It may mean a spike in Eccles’ blog stats. But what if some good folk in Canada get it into their heads that they want to come to Britain and pinch Eccles? I fear that they will poach our sensational satirist. 



As anyone can plainly see, Eccles’s good looks and evident charisma mean that he could 
be a television celeb in his own right. Eccles has been hailed on Twitter as Britain’s best-looking blogger. And it can’t have been just me who noticed that Eccles's charming facial features are more on display than ever before because of the intense spring sunshine lighting up his face.  

Whenever I blog about Pope Francis...

....there is a sharp rise in blog stats and there's a surge in comments. On average, I might get 500 hits a day, when I blog about Pope Francis it jumps to a minimum of 1,500. You can't deny that there is an intense interest in our Pope.

But I never thought that my own blog stats would rise, on account of readers wanting to access my blogs on Pope Francis. You see, there is such a wealth of articles, stories and features on the Pope the secular, mainstream media, not to mention the myriad blog posts published about him, that I thought fewer people would be interested in my blogs on Pope Francis. Surely their appetite for info about the Pope would be sated by the glossy mags.

According to my Traddie friends, I have become 'a rare bird', who goes to the Tridentine Mass, but writes favourably about Pope Francis, and writes about his personal piety.  So, I suppose it's the approach that I take when writing about Pope Francis that makes my writings on him a little different and adds variety to the reading diet of people who are insatiable for news about His Holiness. In my mini-bio of Pope Francis, I included that he says 15 decades of the Rosary each day. This has not featured highly (if at all...) in the mainstream media coverage of him!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Judas Complex

Today, on the eve of Spy Wednesday, I read Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith's blog post entitled, 'Love and envy: exploring the psychology of Judas'.

It's a very good blog. Fr Lucie-Smith entertains the conflicting views on Judas. At school, Fr Lucie-Smith was taught a feel-good version that Judas become a saint because he handed back the 30 pieces of silver and did penance by hanging himself on a tree. 

Nowadays, Fr Lucie-Smith does not believe Judas became a saint. But he does caution us to see the warnings stamped all over Judas' woeful ending. 
In those far off schooldays, I learned another important thing: Judas had only to go to Jesus hanging on the Cross and say sorry, and he would have been forgiven. After all, Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, and He promised salvation to the Good Thief. But sorry is so often the hardest word, and for the want of it Judas was lost. In that too, he presents us with a terrible warning. 
I, too, hold that Judas 'presents us with a terrible warning'. We like to think of Judas as an isolated character, a lone wolf, that bears no resemblance to our very self. It's handy denial of the human condition. People often scream 'Judas' at others, but seldom is the time they apply the label to themselves. But the Judas Complex did not end with Judas, as everyone who has been betrayed knows well. For self-confidence preservation reason, we would hate to look in the mirror and call ourselves Judas, we like to point the finger at another person and call them Judas, but perhaps for the preservation of our eternal soul, we should look inside and see the Judas within, and say sorry in time.

Do pop over to The Catholic Herald and read the whole blog.

Yesterday, I was interviewed on the question, "are liberals in love with a Pope of their own creation?"

 Yesterday morning, it was a luminous, sunny day here in London.  A team from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation came to my small, sunlit flat. Intrepid reporter, Ellen Mauro interviewed me on camera, about ‘the Francis Effect’ and whether or not liberals love the real Pope Francis or their idea of Pope Francis.  
There is an audience of millions the world over, who are fascinated by Pope Francis and they think he will dramatically change Church teaching. They are under the impression that Pope Francis will admit women to the priesthood, lift the ban on gay marriage, allow contraception for married couples, and make exceptions for abortions in hard cases. 

He is of liberal-sounding speech, but conservative action.

Take for example, last autumn when Francis said that he finds devout Catholics who are unhealthily fixated on abortion. This led many to think that Pope Francis would allow for abortions in certain cases. But look back to Pope Francis in 2006 when he fought with the President of Argentine, Mrs Kirchner. He went head-to-head with her because he opposed the loosening of abortion laws in Argentina. Or, during his first year as Pope, when he plucked up the courage to ring a pregnant mother under pressure to abort, and told her that he would personally baptise her baby.

I discussed the above and many more topics such as the sex abuse crisis, was it appropriate for Pope Francis to ask for forgiveness, Pope Benedict’s papacy in contract to that of Pope Francis, gay marriage, contraception, and Pope Francis’s quote that the reservation of the priesthood to males ‘is not a question open to discussion’. 

He is of liberal reputation, but conservative record.

(People who are more open-minded than me, might think at this point, reading this post, that I am underscoring the word ‘conservative’ to serve my own ideals, that I am trying to make Pope Francis look traditional because that’s the way I’d like him to be.) 

But regardless of what I like, or how people like to think of him as a soft lefty, you have to see that there is a huge gap between fantasies about him and the reality of his actions.  

Where will it all end, will liberals be so disappointed that their wishes are not being granted by Pope Francis, that their love will turn to hate? 

The heart of my interview really concerned the unsteady foundation on which the liberals base their love for him. The foundation is based on a false misconstruction – that Francis will re-build the Church in the image of modern secular liberalism. 

When the foundation crumbles, will they disown Pope Francis?  Taking a pessimist view I could see the headlines turning to the 'great disappointment' suffered by liberals. Being an optimist, I could see many open-minded people taking a greater interest in the Church, and even trying out Catholicism, perhaps even converting.  Perhaps the end result will be a bitter-sweet mix of both. 

I was interviewed for over an hour, and it will be heavily edited and most likely only a tiny snippet will be used in the program on Pope Francis that will air this coming Easter Monday on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  

The reason they were interviewing me was on account of a post that I wrote for The Catholic Herald entitled, 'Catholic journalists and bloggers have a duty to tell the truth about Pope Francis'.

Watch this space, I will post a link to the episode on Easter Monday, the day it will be broadcast. 

PS - For people reading this post today, Spy Wednesday, and who are looking for something that pertains directly to Holy Week, you might like this most recent post
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