In the light of renewed interest in the public debate about abortion, Queensland Bioethics Centre director RAY CAMPBELL, who is a spokesman for Brisbane archdiocese on ethical issues, considers where Catholics stand on the issue
THERE seems to be some confusion regarding what the Catholic Church believes about abortion and what individual “Catholics” do and believe.
It is said by some that Catholics have abortions at about the same rate as do others in the population. This appears to be true. However, if we consider only those Catholics who actively participate in their local church through such things as weekly Mass attendance then the percentage is considerably lower.
Similarly it is said that more Catholics support the decriminalisation of abortion than oppose it. But once again for the statistic to be meaningful one would have to distinguish between nominal Catholics and Catholics who participate in their Church.
Polls are notoriously ambiguous on the question of abortion. Most of the popular polls ask one simple question, such as “are you in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion?”
A majority tend to answer “yes” to this question. However more in-depth polling reveals some interesting answers.
In an extensive poll conducted by Market Facts (Qld) Pty Ltd, the majority of respondents indicated they supported “abortion on demand”. The respondents were then asked if they favoured abortion for social and financial reasons.
Only 39 per cent indicated that they did! Yet most abortions are carried out for social and/or financial reasons.
So the support for real “abortion on demand” is not as great as the pro-abortion lobby would have us believe.
What individual Catholics believe regarding the moral rights and wrongs of abortion is much harder to establish.
However, what the Catholic Church believes and teaches is very clear. From the time of the apostles to the present the Church has taught that abortion is a grave moral disorder.
Because of the confusion generated in a world which tends to have lost its moral compass over abortion, Pope John Paul II spelt our the Church’s position very clearly in his encyclical, “The Gospel of Life”.
Having repeated the constant teaching of the Church regarding the sacredness of every human life, John Paul II stated: “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.
“No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” (n.62)
It is clear by the wording that Pope John Paul II was proclaiming this as the irreformable teaching of the Catholic Church. This is part of what the Catholic Church believes.
The Church also believes that we should do all we can to support pregnant women, and to bring healing to those who suffer after having been through an abortion.
Catholics who say they are Catholic and yet reject this teaching are in a rather odd position. The Catholic Church is a communion of faith.
One enters into this communion by virtue of baptism at which time we (or our parents and godparents) declare our common faith. One remains a Catholic by continuing to share in that communion of faith.
To the extent that one rejects what the communion of faith believes as expressed through the definitive teaching of the Magisterium, to that extent at least one is not in communion with the communion of faith.
So a Catholic who holds that abortion is simply a “woman’s choice” is to that extent not in communion with the Catholic Church, and to that extent is not speaking “as a Catholic”.
Moreover this is a slippery slope. In order to justify the acceptance of abortion one has to reject a definitive teaching of the Magisterium. But that amounts to a rejection of the authority of the Magisterium to teach, although many people do not realise that this is what they are doing.
This authority to teach is constitutive of the Catholic Church’s self-understanding. So the “pro-abortion” Catholic does not share in the communion of faith regarding the Church itself. How far down the slope does one go before one stops being a Catholic?
Pope John Paul II did not simply repeat the teaching of the Church on abortion. He called upon all to work to establish a “culture of life”, to be “people of life and for life”. May we all heed his call.