Catholic Dean Enabling Isle of Man Abortion Push

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 5, 2018   

Msgr. John Devine denounces pro-lifers, stays silent on legalization bill

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DOUGLAS, Isle of Man (ChurchMilitant.com) - Just months after the United Kingdom marked 50 years — and more than eight million dead — since its 1967 legalization of abortion, lawmakers on the Isle of Man, a British crown dependency, are pushing their own abortion scheme.

Since 2017, Isle of Man (or "Manx") parliamentarians have been working to overturn protections for the unborn. Their Abortion Reform Bill, which is on the verge of being passed, will establish the most permissive abortion regime in the British Isles, legalizing the procedure well into the second trimester. 

On Sunday, Church Militant spoke with journalist and Anglican vicar, Dr. Jules Gomes, a leading voice of the Manx pro-life movement. Gomes, a columnist for The Conservative Woman, said that since the debate began over a year ago, most Christian leaders have done little to fight the bill. Of the 94 churches on the island, he lamented, just two have committed themselves, top to bottom, to open, organized resistance. Neither church is Catholic.


Like his friends and allies inside the Catholic Church, Gomes is scandalized by this. The Roman Catholic Church should be out in front, he told Church Militant "because the Roman Catholic Church has the best and strongest position on abortion."

But the trouble isn't at the parish level. There, Manx Catholics are broadly, prayerfully, even passionately pro-life. The trouble, Gomes said, is at the top.

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Dr. Jules Gomes

Part of the archdiocese of Liverpool, the Isle of Man is administered locally by archdiocesan representative Msgr. John Devine, OBE. As dean of the island church, Devine has responded to the abortion threat by all but ignoring the bill while pouncing on pro-lifers.

Though insisting he has "concerns" about the bill, from the pulpit and in the media, the monsignor harangues British pro-life group Abort67 for using images to show what abortion actually does to an unborn child. In February, he declared, "People who have abortions are not murderers and are not bad people. Similarly, politicians proposing changes to legislation on abortion are not bad people either but individuals attempting to do what is right."

Abortion activists were delighted by the monsignor's statement and lost no time using it to justify their own position; one took to Facebook to slam pro-lifers: 

It is also very revealing that the leader of the Catholic Church on the island has distanced himself from your campaign. In his letter to the chief minister he rejects "the extreme views of the 'lunatic fringe,'" describes your tactics as "counter-productive" and states that you do not speak on the Church's behalf. In his recent sermons he told parishioners that "our search to find the truth can never be about making the rest of the world wrong so we can have the satisfaction of being right. That is a characteristic of the Pharisee."

Perhaps you need to reflect on this? I know you number many Catholics amongst your members.

Devine's statements are telling, Manx pro-lifers note, but just as revealing is what he doesn't say.

For more than a year, parish-level Catholics have asked Devine repeatedly to join them, to lend them the power of his voice and his position. But, Gomes explained, "he just refuses to do anything." The monsignor even bans pro-life literature from his parish, St. Mary's Church.

What the Isle of Man desperately needs now is prayer. 

Saint Mary's is a stone's throw from Parliament — the site of many pro-life demonstrations. Despite its proximity to these rallies, Devine is never seen. "Not once has he come out and met the pro-lifers or talked to us or encouraged us when we were demonstrating," Gomes told Church Militant.

In fact, the island's senior Catholic clergyman has shunned a host of pro-life organizations:

  • Twice, a leading Catholic pro-lifer reached out to Devine, asking him to join the Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform (HEAR) effort to promote the dignity of the unborn. He refused.
  • The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, Britain's oldest and largest pro-life group, contacted the monsignor offering to provide a paid intern to help coordinate local Catholic resistance to the abortion bill. According to a Catholic pro-lifer, Devine "declined it and shouted down the telephone."
  • The United Kingdom pro-life and crisis pregnancy charity Life has contacted the monsignor repeatedly to discuss, at his convenience, their work on the island. He hasn't responded. Requests to introduce him to Life's new CEO also went unanswered.
  • Gregg Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, spent several days visiting the island to encourage local advocates. Devine didn't attend a single meeting, including those hosted by Catholic churches.

Reportedly, Devine has failed the wider Manx community in another role. The monsignor is a ranking member of CAiM (Churches Alive in Mann), Isle of Man's ecumenical council of churches. When pro-lifers approached the council asking for help in fighting the abortion bill, CAiM refused.

As CAiM's "most senior member after the Anglican bishop," Gomes explained, Devine "would have the strongest position on the board, and he could have urged the rest of the group to do something about it, but he did little."

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Pro-life rally in central Douglas

Gomes pointed to a final oddity involving the monsignor. Though refusing to condemn the bill, CAiM did produce a statement of some sort and submitted it to government ministers. But when a group of Catholics asked Devine for a copy, he refused to give it to them. "This is rather strange," Gomes reflected, "you're producing a statement on behalf of your church and you're telling your church, I'm not going to show you what it's saying?"

Gomes himself asked for a copy of the CAiM statement on abortion. He was denied access also, being told "it was decided to restrict its circulation to MHKs [government lawmakers] and for each denomination to respond publicly to the proposed legislation consistent with their own denominational positions."

"Again, I found this very strange," Gomes said, "that something that should be in the public domain, that my Catholic friends asked for was not given to them by Msgr. Devine, and now the person leading CAiM is refusing to release it to me when I'm asking for it."

What the Isle of Man desperately needs now is prayer, Gomes stressed — prayer for its unborn, its lawmakers and its pro-life advocates, Catholic and Protestant alike. Prayer, too, for Msgr. John Devine, who remains inside his rectory as politicians plan murder just down the street.

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