Wednesday, 18 March 2009

More On the Brazilian Abortions

As I wrote about yesterday, the case of the 9-year old girl who was forced to have an abortion (yes, you read correctly - "forced" - how much say do you think she had in the matter?) after she was raped by her step-father was seriously misrepresented in the media, and the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, +Rino Fisichella, exacerbated the situation grotesquely by his untimely interference with a number of singularly ill-informed and erroneous comments.

Now, the persons who were actually implicated in this matter has responded with a statement in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper. Among other things, they say (emphases mine):

All of us - beginning with the parish priest of Alagoinha (undersigned) - treated the pregnant girl and her family with all charity and tenderness. The Parish priest, making use of his pastoral solicitude, when aware of the news in his residence, immediately went to the house of the family, in which he met the girl and lent her his support and presence, before the grave and difficult situation in which the girl found herself. And this attitude continued every day, from Alagoinha to Recife, where the sad event of the abortion of the two innocent [babies] took place. Therefore, it is quite evident and unequivocal that nobody thought in "excommunication" in the first place. We used all means at our disposal to avoid the abortion and thus save all THREE lives. The Parish priest personally joined the local Children's Council in all efforts which sought the welfare of the child and of her two children. In the hospital, in daily visits, he displayed attitudes of care and attention which made clear both to the child and to her mother that they were not alone, but that the Church, represented by the local Parish priest, assured them of the necessary assistance and of the certainty that all would be done for the welfare of the girl and to save her two children.


[Rino Fisichella] believed he could speak about [a situation] he did not know, and, what is worse, he did not even have the trouble of first speaking to his brother in the episcopate, and, for his imprudent attitude, he is causing great scandal among the Catholic faithful in Brazil who are believing that Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho was rash in his pronouncements. Instead of seeking his brother in the episcopate, he chose to believe in our openly Anti-clerical press.

They also quote a Catholic obstetrician who has issued this statement:

"...As an obstetrician for 50 years, graduated in the National Medical School of the University of Brazil, and former chief of Obstetrics in the Hospital of Andarai [Rio de Janeiro], in which I served for 35 years until I retired in order to dedicate myself to the Diaconate, and having delivered 4,524 babies, many from juvenile [mothers], I never had to resort to an abortion to 'save lives', as well as all my colleagues, sincere and honest in their profession and faithful to their Hippocratic oath. ..."

Thanks to Rorate Cæli for covering the spilling out of this can of worms.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

On the Abortions of Brazilian Incest Rape Victim

I haven't blogged about this case yet... probably because I knew I couldn't come up with anything to say about it.

The story, as related in the saecular media, goes something like this: A young Brazilian girl is repeatedly sexually abused by her step-father from the age of three. At age 9, she becomes pregnant with twins. Her exasperated mother, completely out of it, is convinced by the conscientious doctors that her young girl will die if she doesn't get an abortion. Mother reluctantly agrees to abortion. Evil, narrow-minded Archbishop immediately comes out of his palace, wagging his finger and declaring to the world that poor, helpless mother and conscientious doctors are automatically excommunicated - i.e. cast out of the Church. Big scandal ensues, and two French Bishops and the leader of the Vatican's pro-life academy rush to the rescue of poor mother and doctors, saying that evil, narrow-minded Archbishop was being very cruel and uncompassionate and that the Church shouldn't pronounce judgment in such a case.

Initially, I bought into this version of events. I didn't agree with the abortion (for reasons that shall be explained below) but it didn't seem as if the Archbishop was going about his job in a manner as sensitive as required by the situation. I wondered why he didn't start by expressing his sympathy with the mother and child under those difficult circumstances and then proceed to rationally set out the reasons why abortion was not the right action to take.

But guess what - the story told by the saecular media is a fib. Go figure. Like it hasn't happened enough times that the media has lied about the actions of the Church for one to stop believing it.

Turns out, as LifeSiteNews reports (wish I had read their version first), that the mother was initially told that the child was not in danger of death and that abortion was not necessary. The mother, evidently not agreeing with this, then took her daughter to a different hospital where the doctors did recommend abortion. The diocesan authorities also knew of the incident beforehand, so they had probably had contact with the mother, warning her that what she was planning on doing was unjustifiable.

In short, the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, José Cardoso Sobrinho, acted in complete accordance with his duties as a pastor and in a manner corresponding to the gravity of the situation. The mother was no poor, gullible wretch who merely followed the advice of the doctors; she knew exactly what she was doing and the consequences thereof. And as for the two French Bishops and Rino Fisichella from the Pontifical Academy for Life, they were guilty of the very busybodying of which they had accused +Sobrinho.

So, what is wrong with abortion in the case of a 9-year old rape victim? I think this is a case where most people, even pro-lifers, would believe that there was an exception to the unacceptability of abortion. I fully understand these sentiments, as I have shared them myself for a long time. However, the fact is that abortion is never permissible. Never means never.

How can that be? The little girl was not at fault in any way, rather, a tremendous injustice has been comitted against her. No-one is saying that is not the case. However, this injustice is not diminished by comitting another injustice against the, likewise completely innocent, child in the womb. Two wrongs don't make a right!

But what if the young girl was in danger of dying from the pregnancy? First of all, in the case mentioned the doctors disagreed on that. Second, it would still not be permissible to deliberately kill the innocent child in the womb, because it is not permissible to do evil so that good may come of it! This is a utilitarian mindset which is not only unchristian; it is also completely alien to the whole idea of the unique dignity of man. If treating the mother were to inadvertently cause the death of the child, that would be another matter. But you may not simply choose to kill one person so that another might live. Say you were dealing with conjoined twins, and it was evident that they would both die unless you separated one from the other - but in that case only one would live, the other would die. Would you draw lots and deliberately kill one of them so that at least one might live? The task of choosing which human life is most worth living is simply not ours to make as mere humans. And thank God for that.

I urge prayers for the poor girl, who has been severely traumatized both by the persistent sexual abuse and (as if that wasn't enough) probably by the abortion as well.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Divine Beauty: Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Once the grandest church in Christendom, the Church of Divine Wisdom was expropriated by the Turkish conquerors of Constantinople in 1453 and changed it into a mosque. Today it is a museum, somewhat soulless and a shadow of its former self, but spectacular nonetheless. To think that this enormous structure was built in a mere five years - and that in the sixth century!

On the newer picture below can be seen the result of a recent restoration of the roof of the apse:

Bill Clinton Says Embryos Aren't Fertilized!

No joke. In an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta (who was rumoured to be considered as new U.S. Surgeon General) on Larry King Live, former U.S. President Bill Clinton repeatedly referred to embryos not being "fertilized". For some reason I can't embed the video, but it can be found here.

A transcript:

Gupta: Let's talk about something you talked a lot about in the early part of your presidency, stem cells. There was an order today providing federal money for embryonic stem cell research. First of all, let me just ask you, as someone who studied this, is this going to always be as divisive an issue as it is now? Is this going to be the abortion of the next generation? Or are people going to come around?

I think - the answer is I think that we'll work it through. If - particularly if it's done right. If it's obvious that
we're not taking embryos that can - that under any conceivable scenario would be used for a process that would allow them to be fertilized and become little babies, and I think if it's obvious that we're not talking about some science fiction cloning of human beings, then I think the American people will support this....

Gupta: Any reservations?

Clinton: I don't know that I have any reservations, but I was - he has apparently decided to leave to the relevant professional committees the definition of which
frozen embryos are basically going to be discarded, because they're not going to be fertilized. I believe the American people believe it's a pro-life decision to use an embryo that's frozen and never going to be fertilized for embryonic stem cell research....But those committees need to be really careful to make sure if they don't want a big storm to be stirred up here, that any of the embryos that are used clearly have been placed beyond the pale of being fertilized before their use. There are a large number of embryos that we know are never going to be fertilized, where the people who are in control of them have made that clear. The research ought to be confined to those....But there are values involved that we all ought to feel free to discuss in all scientific research. And that is the one thing that I think these committees need to make it clear that they're not going to fool with any embryos where there's any possibility, even if it's somewhat remote, that they could be fertilized and become human beings.

This wasn't a slip of the tongue. He said it a full seven (7!) times. It sounds like he's got his scientific terms badly mixed up - I think most people, even if they are not scientists, know that an embryo by definition is the result of fertilization - i.e. the fusion of egg and sperm cell.

Even if most people can't be expected to know that, I find it sigularly damning that he, as former President of the United States doesn't - especially as his administration, even he himself, has crafted policies on this matter. If I'm not mistaken, the Clinton administration gave the green light for government-funded experimentation on human embryos to go ahead. One might legitimately ask, based on this interview, whether that policy was based on false assumptions?

Even if Bill Clinton couldn't be expected to know better, Dr. Gupta, who is a prominent neurosurgeon, definitely should. Yet he lets Clinton get away with this gross misconception. And to think that he might have been Surgeon General! The man is a disgrace to his profession.

From Creative Minority Report. The redoubtable Jill Stanek has a story on this as well. Apparently it's not the first time Clinton has said this.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Discovering Ethics II: Basic questions 1 (Pinckaers 1995)

I started working through Servis Pinckaers OP's work The Sources of Christian Ethics here. Moving on from placing the issue in its historical context, Pinckaers posits some basic questions regarding the relationship between ethics and a number of fundamental issues intrinsic to human existence.

1. What is a person obliged to do and not do - what Kant called the moral imperative? This was touched upon in the previous post. Pinckaers points out that Catholic moral teaching of the last six centuries has tended to assign an unjustifiably large importance to the role of moral obligations. For instance, ethicists have discussed how often we are obliged to pray, or perform works of charity. Some, especially Protestants, will infer that this is silly since we are required to do so incessantly. This is a bit beside the point, for such discussions took place in the context of determining when people were obliged to go to Confession - if a person had not performed a charitable act for two months, should that be considered a grave sin which needed to be confessed? This is a valid question for a Catholic. However, there is a danger, Pinckaers argues, of equating morality simply with the science of obligations and duties. This is a reduced view of morality, since - as the Saints demonstrate - what drives Christian life is the interior workings of the Spirit, which, while ensuring the honouring of obligations and duties, also calls Man to go beyond them.

2. The role of happiness. Some more modern moralists are perplexed that St. Thomas Aquinas, the great master of theology, has very little to say about obligations. But, Pinckaers argues, this is because he frames his teaching on morality in a somewhat different way than later generations of moralists. St Thomas, in fact, bases his whole moral teaching on the question of happiness, beatitude. This is not something novel. Both the Pagan Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Church viewed the question of happiness as the primary principle in dealing with morality. When St. Augustine is asked what we should ask of God, he replies, "Ora beatam vitam" - "Ask for the happy life." Right living, it was unanimously believed, would lead naturally to a state of happiness. Friendship is another important theme, especially among the Greek Fathers. St. Thomas defined charity as friendship with God. Pinckaers notes:
This theme has completely disappeared from modern books on morality. The reason is obvious: friendship, being essentially free, could hardly be considered an obligation. Friendship can create obligations, but the inverse is not true. As a result, friendship has been excluded from the field of morality as an indifferent sentiment...

As Pinckaers points out, the approach of the Fathers and St. Thomas is profoundly scriptural, much more so than that of later moralists. The wisdom litterature, the Beatitudes in Matthew's Gospel, St. Paul all speak of morality in the context of the search for happiness. Later moralists seldom quote Scripture apart from the Decalogue.

Now, I and many others would infer that all this talk about happiness is very good, but is there not a risk of perverting the quest for genuine happiness - which is found only in the beholding of the glory of God - into a self-seeking hedonism? Pinckaers acknowledges this concern, but, he argues,
The quality of our desire for happiness depends on the love that inspires it and on our concept of the human person. If the love is selfish, and still more if the human person is seen as a being with needs craving satisfaction, then the desire for happiness is bound to be self-centered... If, on the other hand, a person is capable of true, unselfish love for God and neighbour... then the desire for happiness can lead that person to be open to God and neighbour and become generous.

According to Pinckaers, obligations and happiness are not antithetical to one another. A proper moral theory of beatitude should well be able to accord obligations and the Commandments their proper place within it. Going on, he says,
This would be to place Christian ethics in a very different context. It would be seen as the science of happiness and of the ways that lead thereto... In Scripture, God always approaches us with promises of happiness before speaking of precepts. Inspired by the desire for happiness, the movements of the human heart and all its actions, even on the level of emotion, can work together to foster moral growth...

I completely agree with Pinckaers that this must be the starting points of Christian ethics. After all, the Beatitudes were the starting point of Christ's moral teaching. This in no way reduces the radical demands of the Gospel, but rather places them in their proper context. As I see it, what many perceive as "traditional" Catholic moral teaching, i.e. that of the last six centuries, for all the truth it contains has shown to be vulnerable in that it stresses law for law's own sake, thereby separating it from the concerns and challenges of the individual. This has probably been a factor in the large-scale defections from the Church in recent decades. In contrast, by positing law as the answer to Man's legitimate search for happiness, its relevance in the life of each individual shines forth clearly, and we realize that our innate longing for happiness is fulfilled by adhering to the revealed truth about God, our ultimate end.


I had to post this... Courtesy of Free Canuckistan