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I was born, I'm currently living, and will eventually die. After that I face my judgment, and we'll talk then.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Beating the dead horse of abortion part 4: "The Teachings of My Church"

“I am a practicing Catholic, although they're probably not too happy about that. But it is my faith. . . . I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.”

“I know when it begins for me; it’s a personally and private issue. For me as a Roman Catholic, I am prepared to accept the teachings of my Church. . . . But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

These two quotes are from Rep. Pelosi and then-Sen. Biden respectively. They highlight the disturbing belief among Pro-Choice Catholics that the Church has not officially condemned abortion, or if it has, it is a non-binding condemnation, and that Catholics might support or even have abortions. In an article entitled “Abortion and Catholic Thought: The Little-Told History” from Catholics for a Free Choice, the claim is made that,

“Church teaching on abortion has varied continually over the course of its history. There has been no unanimous opinion on abortion at any time. While there has been constant general agreement that abortion is almost always evil and sinful, the church has had difficulty in defining the nature of that evil. Members of the Catholic hierarchy have opposed abortion consistently as evidence of sexual sin, but they have not always seen early abortion as homicide. . . . Also contrary to popular belief, no pope has proclaimed the prohibition of abortion an "infallible" teaching. This fact leaves much more room for discussion on abortion than is usually thought, with opinions among theologians and the laity differing widely. In any case, Catholic theology tells individuals to follow their personal conscience in moral matters, even when their conscience is in conflict with hierarchical views.”

Some of these claims have been discussed in the earlier posts in this series. This final post will examine the issue of abortion as addressed by both Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. The post will refute the above shocking claims, and hopefully clear up the mess that has developed over the years concerning the Catholic Church and abortion.

Let’s travel back to examine the early Church. The early Church was a unique group in the first century. Although the pagans of the Greco-Roman world were more open to the true God (see my earlier blog series on Christmas) than their more demonic counterparts (see The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton for a really good analysis of this comparison), the Greco-Roman world was not particularly Pro-Life. Recall, for example, the Roman obsession with gladiators and other blood sports. Roman society at the time of the early church supported abortion and infanticide (killing new born babies). One wonders if this might be the reason why there is no mention of the infanticide of King Herod in extra-biblical sources. Abortion through surgical and chemical means is described in several classical Roman works, including one by the famous writer Pliny the Elder. St. Hippolytus of Rome, a Christian writing around 222 (and the only antipope that converted and became a saint), notes that some women take drugs and “bind themselves” to expel the growing fetus. Citations such as these show that abortion and infanticide was pretty prominent during the early years of the Church.

It is no surprise, then, that abortion is addressed in one of the earliest works of post-Biblical Catholic literature, the Didache, which was written in the first half of the 2nd century. There we read the phrase “You shall not procure abortion, nor destroy a new-born child” (2:2). The close association between abortion and infanticide shows that in the earliest Church Fathers saw not only the evil of abortion, but may have equated it with murder. As mentioned earlier, St. Hippolytus of Rome condemned abortion, as did many other Church Fathers. Tertullian states that, “It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makes little difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death at birth. He who will one day be a man is a man already” (Apologeticum, 4:8, quoted in John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 61). St. Basil the Great, one of the great Eastern Church Fathers, says that “A woman who has deliberately destroyed a fetus must pay the penalty for murder. . . . Those also who give drugs causing abortions are murders themselves, as well as those who receive the poison which kills the fetus” (“Letter to the Bishop of Iconium,” 188:2, 8). Other Early Fathers addressed abortion, including St. Augustine (see part 2 of this series); even if the Church Father did not condemn abortion as murder, as was the case with some of them, the act of procuring an abortion was always seen as a severe, mortal sin.

Did this condemnation carry on into the rest of Church history? As we saw in our discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas, abortion was condemned in the middle ages as a mortal sin. Whether it was condemned as a sin of murder or a sin against chastity, medieval scholars agreed that abortion was a sin against nature, intrinsically evil. While philosophers and scientists debated the exact moment of ensoulment, the Church remained firm in its condemnation of abortion. As the late John Paul II noted in great encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “Throughout Christianity’s two thousand year history, this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion” (Evangelium Vitae, 61).

It was not until relatively recent Church history that there was any debate over the condemnation of abortion. This was due to developing medical practices from the early Renaissance, when the means of removing a fetus to “save a woman’s life” became possible. This was eventually condemned by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 in his Papal Bull Effraenatum, along with all abortions at all points during pregnancy. The penalty for abortion in this Sistine Canon Law was the same as murder, as well as an added excommunication. Pope Gregory XIV, who succeeded Pope Sixtus V, wrote in his letter Sedes Apostolica in 1591 that abortion was still condemned, but only “where no homicide or no animated fetus is involved,” and that procurer of abortion was “not to punish more strictly than the sacred canons or civil legislation does,” which was a rather mute point in that the laws against abortions were still almost as strict as Sixtus had declared.

The next milestone in the Church’s treatment of abortion came in 1869, when Blessed Pius IX reaffirmed the immorality of abortions and reaffirmed the penalty for abortions as excommunication. It was Pius that solemnly declared that ensoulment occurred at conception. By this time, microbiology was in its early stages, and several developments in science had shown what St. Thomas Aquinas and those before him had missed as far as the development of the human embryo is concerned. As David Albert Jones notes, this declaration “reflects a recognition that thirteenth century science could no longer be relied upon as a guide to human embryology.” The penalty of excommunication for procuring an abortion was formally canonized as Church law in the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The Church did not then, and has not yet, declared a civil punishment for procuring or aiding in procuring an abortion. Such a declaration is up to civil authorities.

The popes which followed the 1917 Code of Canon Law have strongly supported the Church’s view on abortion. Pius XI, in his encyclical Casti Connubii, continued the condemnation, although it “did not purport to be infallible teaching,” as Catholics For a Free Choice noted in their essay quoted earlier. The Second Vatican Council (aka, Vatican II) condemned abortion in its decree Gaudium et Spes (paragraph 51). Paul VI condemned abortion in his controversial letter Humane Vitae in 1968, and John Paul II likewise condemned abortion in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae in 1993.

It is clear from examining the above cited texts that the Church has since its founding condemned abortion. But are the Pro-Choice Catholics correct in asserting that “no pope has proclaimed the prohibition of abortion an "infallible" teaching?” How would we know if a pope has declared a teaching as infallible? To find the answer we need to go back to the First Vatican Council, where the dogma of papal infallibility was defined.

Vatican I declared that

“The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when carrying out the duty of the pastor and teacher of all Christians in accord with his supreme apostolic authority he explains a doctrine of faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, through the divine assistance promised him in Peter, operates with that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer wished that His church be instructed in defining doctrine on faith and morals; and so such definitions of the Roman Pontiff from himself, but not from the consensus of the Church, are unalterable.” (Vatican I, as recorded in Henri Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, paragraph 1839)

In other words, when a pope declares a doctrine or teaching on faith and morals, declaring said teaching in his position as pope, the position handed to Peter from Jesus, that teaching that the Pope declares is infallible. That teaching is true, always and forever.

Pro-Choice Catholics have argued that none of the popes have prohibited abortion infallibly. Are they correct, or is there an instance in papal declarations of a pope prohibiting abortions using the language of an infallible statement?

The answer is that yes, there is an infallible papal declaration concerning abortion. To find the declaration, we turn again to Evangelium Vitae, written by our former pontiff Pope John Paul II.

Evangelium Vitae, or The Gospel of Life, is Pope John Paul II’s examination of life issues, particularly those which have been debated in recent years. He spends a good chunk of the encyclical discussing abortion, but it is in paragraph 62 that the late pope examines 20th century Catholic teachings on abortion. John Paul reviews the teachings of Popes Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and the Second Vatican Council, showing that his predecessors and the most recent ecumenical council condemned abortion, holding that all life from conception to natural death is sacred. He also examines the Code of Canon Law, reflecting on how the newer promulgation of the Code in 1980 retained the punishment of excommunication for those who procure or help someone procure an abortion that was extant in the 1917 Code. After reflecting on these teachings, John Paul makes the following statement:

“Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”

Is this statement infallible? Let’s examine the wording. John Paul says “by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors,” meaning that he is invoking his papal authority in this statement. He is not talking as a mere theologian or philosopher, as St. Thomas Aquinas did. John Paul is speaking as pope, by virtue of his authoritative position. He next says “in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine,” showing that this stance on abortion is not some idea off the top of the pope’s head, but rather is one which the Universal Magisterium has taught. The entire teaching authority of the Church supports this decision. Then there’s the statement: “I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.” This is papal decree. Abortion is always evil, specifically because it kills “an innocent human being.” This is a blatant condemnation of abortion as murder from a pope who is invoking his papal infallibility. The crucial last statement of this section “seals the deal,” so to speak, when the pope concludes, “This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” When a pope declares something as infallible, the teaching is never original to that document. There is always some history behind the teaching. Such is the case with abortion. John Paul knows this, and thus notes that his papal decree is in union with these earlier teachings.

He has declared abortion immoral, because it is murder, in a decree using his papal infallibility.

How do we know, one might object, that he was using this language to be infallible? Well, let’s look at another passage in Evangelium Vitae, specifically the one dealing with the death penalty (56). The pope first introduces the issue death penalty, then discusses the theological views about the necessity of the death penalty in today’s society, then explains the reasoning behind limiting the amount of executions in modern society, and then in the end states “the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” The statement of the pope on this matter is more a suggestion than a requirement. That suggestion carries a lot of weight coming from the pope, but it is not a moral declaration, with the formal language of his above quoted condemnation of abortion.

Let’s look at another passage, this one dealing with the universal condemnation against murdering innocent human life. This is a teaching even Pro-Choice Catholics (hopefully) support, as it is clearly a teaching of both Scripture and the Church. John Paul says

“Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (57)

The language used to condemn murder is the same language used to condemn abortion, and later euthanasia (65). This should leave no doubt that John Paul II condemned abortion infallibly, thus invalidating the claims of Pro-Choice Catholics that such a declaration has never occurred.

The final point we approach in this post is that of Free Will. The Catholics for a Free Choice, Rep. Pelosi, and then-Sen. Biden all refer to the free will of other people. We as Catholics, they say, should not “impose” morality on others. It is an interesting and important point because we cannot force others to act a certain way. God made Man with an intellect and free will, so that Man might draw closer to God. As a result, man has a conscience to lead him to God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1782) notes that “Man has the right to act in conscience and freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.” That means if one’s conscience tells him or her to do something, it is best to follow it. However, an ill-formed conscience might lead someone to do evil. For example, a person with an ill-formed conscience might not see anything wrong with robbing a store. His spiritual development has been marred by his circumstances, and thus his morality is askew. That being said, if a person such as this little thief meets one who has a better developed conscience, who knows right from wrong, IT IS THE MORAL DUTY OF THE PERSON WITH A BETTER DEVELOPED CONSCIENCE to explain to the one with an ill-formed conscience what he is doing is wrong.

This is the case with abortion. When someone meets someone who supports abortion, it is the duty of those who know it is wrong (and anyone, especially any Catholic, who has read this blog series should know by now that it is morally evil) to tell the other and try to explain why.

However, there is a difference between educating others about immoralities and allowing or encouraging them. This is its own sin, the sin of scandal. Both Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Biden have made reference to how they think abortion is wrong, but that they do not want to impose their beliefs on others, since other people have free will, and thus they vote to allow abortion. As mentioned in the previous post, this is a very grave mistake. This view of “I don’t want to impose” soon becomes encouragement for abortion. Support for abortion is support for an immoral act. It is similar to not having laws against stealing because one does not want to impose his or her moral views on stealing on the populous. Yet stealing is illegal in the US because there is a universal right to property. To steal is an invasion of this right. Following Pelosi and Biden’s views of morality, however, stealing should be legal. One does not want to impose one’s moralities, after all, on an unwilling people. But basic moralities are the pillars upon which a society stands. To remove such pillars can only lead to collapse and rubble. Ignoring moralities leads to such rubbles, and even more rubbish. Rubbish and ruin is the direction in which a society heads when it does not respect morality, particularly that which involves life.

I hope that this series has been helpful for its readers, and that someone, somewhere, might come to a better understanding of the Catholic Church’s view on abortion.

Thank you, and God Bless.

1 comment:

  1. Just finished the whole series. Awesome!!