The outcome of the abortion referendum in Ireland in May was obviously a huge shock to the pro-life movement in Ireland and overseas. It was not simply that we were beaten, it was the scale of the thing.

We were defeated by a two-to-one margin, which was exactly the size of our victory back in 1983 when a pro-life clause was inserted into the Constitution. Even the pro-choice side was surprised by the margin of its success.

Four years before the 1983 referendum, Pope John Paul II visited Ireland, becoming the first pontiff to do so. It was a massive national occasion. More than a million people attended Mass in Phoenix Park in Dublin. During the visit, John Paul said that the Irish people were at a fork in the road and could either keep the Catholic faith or walk the secular path of other Western societies.

“The Irish people have to choose today their way forward,” he said. “Will it be the transformation of all strata of humanity into a new creation, or the way that many nations have gone, giving excessive importance to economic growth and material possessions while neglecting the things of the spirit? The way of substituting a new ethic of temporal enjoyment for the law of God? The way of false freedom which is only slavery to decadence?”

It is now clear what choice we have made. The abortion referendum result swept away any illusions we might have had on that score. Exit polls revealed that even a third of weekly Mass-goers had voted in favour of repealing the pro-life amendment.

This is the situation into which Pope Francis will be walking next month when he travels to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families.

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