A most striking example occurred in Catholic Ireland. Some time in 1949 the Irish Government appointed Dr. Noel Browne Minister of Health. Within eighteen months the new Minister had reorganized, improved, and streamlined the Irish Health Service to a degree never achieved before. He had abolished queuing for tubercular treatment, provided financial help for tubercular patients and their dependents, provided sanitarium treatment for all waiting patients. He launched a $20,000,000 hospital scheme, designed to give Ireland one of the most up-to-date hospital services in the world. This comprised a national cancer service, a nutritional survey, and, last but not least, a Mother and Child scheme. In fact, the last was the most important of all. The reason was an obvious one: Ireland's infantile death-rate was the blackest reproach to the Irish nation, being the worst in the whole of Europe. During the previous fifty years all other countries had at least halved the death-rate, many bringing it down by more than three quarters. "Ireland alone is a clear exception to this rule," stated a World Health Organization report, based upon the dramatic disclosure that Ireland's death-rate was still seventy-five per cent of the rate common at the end of the last centuryan infantile death-rate nearly treble that of England and Walesi.e. eighty-three per thousand against thirty.
It was this incredible infant-sacrifice that had prompted the Health Minister to begin his new Mother and Child scheme. The scheme was designed to give medical services free to all mothers and children, without any Means Test, to provide mothers with specialist gynecological care, and to give health education to both. To avoid friction with the religious authorities, the Health Minister specified in advance that the "education" would be physical and not moral. Doctors, it was directed, were to help in the promotion of these new measures.
As in Britain and the U.S.A., so also in Ireland, the medical profession was once more true to its reputation and proved to be far more concerned with money-making than with social welfare. Strongly objecting to the free-for-all medical scheme, it put up a most rabidly bitter opposition. The Health Minister, having guessed the medical reaction, had already taken steps to circumvent their objections, steps which enabled him confidently to go ahead with the scheme.
At this point, again as in Britain and the U.S.A., the Irish medical profession found its cause championed by a most formidable ally: the Catholic Church. The Irish hierarchy came challengingly to the fore, lined up against the Health Minister, and defiantly declared themselves opposed to the Mother and Child scheme. Their reason: the scheme
constituted a ready made instrument of totalitarian aggression.
In a democracy any individual or group has the right to support or to oppose the State's measures, particularly when conduced that democratic tenets are endangered. Their Lordships, the Irish bishops, therefore, were within their rights in opposing the scheme. Which they did. But when the hierarchy came to the fore to save Irish democracy from "a ready-made instrument of totalitarian aggression," in the name of a dictatorship, then even the most light-hearted Irishman, particularly if married and once or repeatedly a father, was bound to raise an eyebrow at their Lordships' unexpected democratic crusading fervour.
The Mother and Child scheme had been condemned by them, not in obedience to the clamour of the poor Irish expectant mothers, indignantly objecting to the State's wanting them to have all the care and attention that all prospective mothers are entitled to have, but because the scheme did not fit in with the dicta of a bachelor in Romenamely, with the teaching of the Pope.
According to Papal injunctions, the right to provide for the health of children belonged to the parents, and not to the State. Their Lordships, from the very start, made this quite clear in their declarations. Whether the parents could or could not pay the still medical fees, or even feed their children properly, their Lordships did not even deign to mention. Theirs is the care of souls, not of bodies.
The decrees of the Church having to be blindly obeyed, the Mother and Child scheme had to be wholly scrapped, was their verdict. This on the ground that "it would deprive ninety per cent of parents of their rights, because of ten per cent of negligent or necessitous parents." To tax the whole community " on the pretext of relieving the necessitous ten per cent was iniquitous," they declared, with genuine Christian compassion.
Thereupon, making a truly exceptional gesture, they paid a generous tribute to democratic practice and graciously condescended to enlighten with a few explanations thosethe majoritywhose minds had been rendered opaque to the light of Catholic theology by villainous convictions. Among these, that a bunch of scarlet-robed bachelors like their Lordships knew nothing about motherhood, family, and all the responsibilities connected with not only conceiving, but caring for, feeding, clothing, and educating children in a practical fashion, and not in the abstract, from desolately silent episcopal palaces.
Papal teaching rules that physical education, in addition to religious education, belongs to the family and not to the State, the hierarchy emphasized. Education in connection with motherhood implied instruction concerning sex-relations, marriage, chastity, and like matters. This was not the competence of the Health Minister or, even less, of the State, because it was that of the Church. Gynecological care must not be given to any Irish mother by the State because it might include provision for birth control, birth limitation, abortion, and so on, practices wholly condemned by the Church. Finally, their Lordships ruled against the Health Scheme because
the elimination of private medical practitioners by a State-paid service has not been shown to be necessary or even advantageous to the patient, the public, and, above all, to the medical profession. 1
That was not all. Their Lordships, in matters of authority, are exceedingly practical people. After their outright rejection of the scheme, they set up an inquisitional court, composed of the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Ferns, and the Bishop of Galway. Thereupon, having summoned the Health Minister before it, they duly interrogated him. Dr. Browne explained. The scheme did not go against any teaching of the Catholic Church, their Excellencies could rest assured. He was a Catholic himself, and had thought out very carefully all the implications involved in the Mother and Child scheme. He rebutted the hierarchy's argument, point by point. First, the "ten per cent " were really a third of the population, who were receiving medical aid under Means Test, from public authorities or charities. Secondly, "education" would be limited to telling expectant mothers only about diet and pre-natal habits e.g. "no smoking." Gynecological care did not imply the teaching of birth control, family planning, or abortion, but would be limited only to difficulties arising out of "mismanaged pregnancies."
The Irish hierarchy had the patience to listen, and then, having dismissed the Health Minister, they summoned before their Tribunal none other than the Irish Prime Minister. Mr. John Costello, the Premier of a democratically elected Government, representing an independent nation, did not object to the summons. On the contrary, flattered, he informed the members of the Irish Parliament how the Archbishop of Dublin had "kindly sent for him."
The hierarchy had condemned the scheme, he told the House, therefore the Irish Government, having decided to comply with the hierarchy's command, had to reject the Mother and Child Health Service launched by Dr. Browne.
Dr. Browne once more pointed out to both his lay and his hierarchical opponents that no one was compelled to use the scheme. To prove his casenamely, that there was no new principle involvedhe reminded them that the Mother and Child scheme now proposed by him had originally derived from an Act of the De Valera Government some years before. What Dr. Browne did not say, however, was the fact known by most members that the scheme had never been implemented because of the Irish Catholic Ministers' fear of defying the hierarchy's opposition.
His explanations were in vain. His ministerial colleagues, to a man, disowned him. His Party, in whose programme there loomed prominent the Means Test, publicly repudiated him.
The Irish Prime Minister had to forgo his rights and duties as the citizen of an independent nation and as a member of a democratically elected Government in order not to violate his allegiance to his Church. "As a Catholic, I obey my Church authorities, and will continue to do so," he declared to the members of Parliament." There is going to be no flouting of the Bishops on Catholic morals and social teaching," confirmed the Irish Labour Leader, Mr. William Norton. "In Ireland a conflict between the spiritual and temporal authorities is damaging to national unity," added Mr. MacBride, the Party Leader and External Affairs Minister, brusquely ordering his Ministerial and Party colleague, Dr. Browne, to surrender his office.
At such mass surrender to the dicta of the Catholic Church numerous leading members, including Deputies of the Dail, resigned outright their Party allegiance in protest against such unbelievable behaviour. The last straw, however, had yet to come:
As a Catholic, I accept the ruling of their Lordships, the Hierarchy, without question,
finally declared Dr. Browne himself, rescinding the Health Service and resigning. 2
At this, several daring Deputies got up in Parliament and openly protested that the Government of a democratic country was not being exercised by the elected representatives of the people, but by bishops meeting secretly and enforcing their views on ministers and hence on the whole nation. 3 But the will of the Church had prevailed. And that was that.
When the Bishops made their declaration on the moral principles involved in a proposed scheme (commented a leading Catholic organ in England), its promoter immediately recognized their right to speak on the subject, and accepted it as axiomatic that the Government would not wish to do what the Church considered wrong.4 It is absolutely right and just," declared another.5
The moral implication of this astounding Irish case was but one: the laws of the Catholic Church were above those of the State. "We wish that were true of contemporary England," was the revealing comment of the English hierarchy." 6
We wish that were true of our country
is the perennial wish of all the Catholic hierarchies the world over. And theirs is anything but a mere wish. It is the very spirit by which all their exertions are intrinsically impregnated; the ultimate objective of all their ceaseless activities. As such, it should not be lightly dismissed. For, as the Irish hierarchy have so forcibly demonstrated, the heavy hand of the Catholic Church can still foil the will of the people, wherever and whenever her hierarchies are permitted to speak with an authority which should, and must, belong only to the State.
Excerpted from: Catholic Imperialism and World Freedom, by Avro Manhattan, C.A. Watts, London, 1952.
1 The Irish Medical Association, after the scheme was defeated, came out with a plan of its own, previously submitted to the scrutiny of the Irish hierarchy. Its efforts to keep medicine as a pure money-spinner were very poorly disguised under the label of "voluntary insurance." The scheme was endorsed by the Irish Catholic Societies' Vocational Organization Conference, I952.
2 April, I951. For more details, see the Irish Presse.g. the Irish Times and other organs.
3 e.g. Captain Cowan, a Catholic.
4 Universe, 27.4.1951.
5 Catholic Herald, 4.5.1951.
6 The Leader of Universe, 27.4.1951.
The death has taken place in Galway of Dr. Noel Browne, a former Government minister, pioneer in the fight against TB and author of the highly controversial Mother and Child Scheme in the early 1950s.
Dr Browne (82) was a minister in the Inter-Party Government of the late 1940s and early 1950s and a TD until the early-1980s.
He is best remembered as the Health Minister who led the fight to eradicate TB in the 1940s and 1950s.
He will also be remembered as the man responsible for the Mother and Child Scheme, which caused a major row between the Government and the Catholic Church.
Dr Browne in later years was a Labour Party TD and a member of Fianna Fail and he also served as an Independent TD before retiring from national politics.
In the 1980s he wrote his autobiography 'Against The Tide', which became a bestseller. He is survived by his wife Phyllis and two daughters and four grandchildren. They lived in recent years in Connemara, which he said he loved because of "the absence of people".
The Taoiseach said that Dr Browne would be "sorely missed" and said he was fearless in the pursuit of what he thought was right. President Mary Robinson described him as an outstanding Irishman who would be remembered for his years of service as a parliamentarian with a commitment to the health and welfare of Irish people.
Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern described Dr Browne as a radical thinker who made a huge contribution to Irish society. He said Dr Browne's role in tackling tuberculosis would never be forgotten.
Progressive Democrat leader Mary Harney said he had done an immeasurable amount of work in the campaign to separate church and state.
Dr. Brown's autobiography is entitled Against the Tide and is available from Amazon Online Books.
For more info. on the late Dr. Brown visit the Irish Times
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