Human life “from its tiniest origins” must be protected, Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway and Kilmacduagh said at his installation Mass on Sunday.
The Feb. 11 Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, was attended by more than 2,000.
Kelly used part of his address to the full cathedral to issue a strong call to protect the unborn, ahead of an abortion referendum that will take place in the Republic of Ireland by the end of May.
The referendum will decide whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans abortion in Ireland, known as the Eighth Amendment. The amendment was passed by a referendum vote in 1983, when nearly 67 percent of Irish voters approved it.
The amendment reads, in part, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
Abortion is already permitted in Ireland when a women’s health or life is in danger, and some Irish women travel to the United Kingdom for abortions. According to Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, 3,265 Irish woman traveled to the United Kingdom for abortions in 2016.
There is already legislation being proposed which, pending the outcome of the referendum and approval by parliament, would grant unlimited access to abortions up to 12 weeks of gestation.
In his address, Kelly said that every human life has "immense dignity, respect and reverence that is due to every living person, regardless of ability, health, colour, size, nationality or otherwise.”
After the Mass, Kelly told the Irish Independent that he planned on prioritizing the preaching of the Gospel of Life ahead of the upcoming vote.
Kelly added that his stance on abortion had nothing to do with a mistrust of women.
"Without all the women in my life, where would I be or any of us? I am so grateful to my mother for giving me life and so grateful she gave life to eight other children," he said.
Several other Irish bishops have urged respect for human life after the referendum was announced.
“The innate dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, is a value for the whole of society, rooted in reason as well as in faith,” stated Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh in a recent pastoral message.
“The Catholic Church, in common with other people of goodwill, teaches that ending the life of an unborn child, like the taking of any other innocent human life, is always evil and can never be justified,” Archbishop Martin continued.
In a recent pastoral letter, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said that “the reference to the right to life (of the child and of the mother) would be removed from the Constitution and not replaced with anything else.”
“When it comes to the right to choose, there is a tendency to forget that there is another person involved; a vulnerable person who has no choice and who depends entirely on others for protection,” Bishop Doran said.
“If society accepts that one human being has the right to end the life of another, then it is no longer possible to claim the right to life as a fundamental human right for anybody.”