The Pope has now intervened in the Irish abortion debate, making it clear that the church is deeply unhappy at efforts to change abortion law in Ireland. 

Vatican watchers had no doubt that Benedict was firing a warning shot at Ireland specifically with his latest remarks, and that they will surely have an impact. Abortion is a tangled, difficult issue in Ireland as it is indeed everywhere else in the world. 

Essentially, for decades Ireland could sweep the abortion issue under the carpet as Irish women went to England in large numbers (and still do) -- over 5,000 a year for abortions – and they were only the ones who gave Irish addresses. 

Then came the X case when an underage girl made pregnant through a rape by a relative was refused permission to travel to England by a court which held that she would be committing a criminal act if the baby were aborted. 

Read more: Irish Bishops accused of hating women by top female politician during abortion hearings

The girl was suicidal, doctors agreed. That led to the usual hue and cry in Ireland with every side launching hysterical attacks on the other. 

Calm, rational debate on this issue will not be found in Ireland, or indeed anywhere. Essentially the upshot of the X case was a later Supreme Court ruling that Ireland needed to get it house in order and legislate so an X type of case could not happen again.  

The Supreme Court case established the right of Irish women to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.  They said the government must legislate as such. 

Of course that legislation has never occurred as Irish politicians, as is their wont, avoided the issue like the plague, despite a European Court ruling that they had to legislate. 

The issue simmered away until the latest explosion when an Indian national, Savita Halappanavar, was allegedly told her dying fetus could not be aborted until her heartbeat stopped. 

Mother and baby died, leading to hue and cry the length of the country, and the politicians finally made the move to safeguard the life of the mother. 

Or did they? 

The church has acted strongly, attacking the new legislation now proposed as opening the door for abortion in Ireland. 

Read more: Catholic Church calls on Irish government to hold abortion referendum

It is really no such thing. The political profession is merely forced to address an issue that they would prefer to forget about. 

The church’s standing in all this, given their recent troubles in Ireland, is also uncertain, but they are all in trying to prevent the new abortion legislation. 

Time was if the church opposed the politician dutifully deferred. That day is gone, and the battle will be joined in the coming months.
A leading church figure recently felt it necessary to note that Catholics in Ireland who used contraceptives (about 98 percent) were still in reasonable good standing, which was big of him. That nugget points up much of what is wrong in church/state relationships in Ireland today. 

The reality is that tragedies will continue to occur until the messy business of what happens in life, such as rape by family members, no termination of fatally ill fetuses, etc., is given a correct legislative framework. 

The politicians need to grasp this nettle in Ireland once and for all, despite the criticism. It is the only way to protect the women who find themselves in such horrific circumstances.

Protesters call for abortion legislation outside of Leinster House in the wake of the Savita tragedyPETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images