The Toronto cardinal Thomas Collins wrote Liberal leader Justin Trudeau about his proscribing all future Liberal candidates if they were not “pro choice’, now the official party’s platform. Most people regard Trudeau’s policy as foolish and alienating. Collins is not the only one shaking his head. For many the “right to life” position is a strong conscience one. Life is sacred and it begins at conception. This is one Catholic position but it is not the Catholic position.
The stance on abortion has never been absolutist. Two of the giants of Catholic theology saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas stated that the early fetus had the moral status of a plant or vegetable. It took months before the fetus was ‘ensouled’ and thus a person. “Six weeks for a male embryo and three for a female” stated Aquinas.If the great Doctor knew modern embryology would this ensoulment be the last trimester? Questions, questions.
No to any abortion is the province of the radical religious right. To most Catholic moralists, there must be nuance here. Bishops are not the sole source of Catholic truth. Theologians and the sensus fidelium, the lived wisdom of the Catholic people including women who have faced this choice—must be heard from. They are part of the teaching church. This is why the absolutist position has never been proclaimed de fide. There are many non-frivolous reasons why women chose abortion. This may be lamented but is it always immoral? And what about the Catholic insistence on the primacy of conscience? This is a very complex issue. And the Catholic position is much richer than the absolutist stance Ubi dubium,ibi libertas—where there is doubt there is freedom is an ancient truism.
Most people want to see abortions reduced. One way of course is by effective contraception but we all know where too many male bishops stand on that one. They would not be bishops under John Paul ll. So we have absolutist bishops condemning contraception. Is there something they are missing? Will bishops have to bear unwanted children? Care for those children if conceived ? Do they want to send women into depression and mental illness? Priests, bishops and theologians are mostly men. Is there any serious listening to those who will bear the brunt bear of rearing children? Does a fertilized egg trump a woman’s experience? Are we dealing with a whiff of sexism in the Roman church? Should men control women’s reproductive rights?After the massive sex abuse scandal maybe we should look twice at priests’ obsession with the issue of abortion.
Cardinal Collins was on rocky ground when he waded into Pope Francis territory. He told Trudeau the pope could not become a Liberal politician if he had come to Canada. Collins would be one bishop Pope Francis referred to for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception. We recall Francis saying saying the church has become “obsessed” with those issues to the detriment of its larger mission to be “home for all.” Collins previously tried to pressure Catholic schools into proscribing gay and lesbian clubs. He was rebuffed by the teacher union whose membership was much closer to kids in Catholic schools. The teachers made the decision, not the bishop.
The cardinal’s letter chiding Trudeau was appropriate. Slipping Pope Francis into the conversation was a two edged sword. Should Catholics now abandon the Liberal Party? Where will they go? All parties are de facto “pro choice.’ Is there a hidden agenda here? Collins is known to be close to Tory cabinet minister Jason Kenny having invited him to a national bishops’ meeting. Will Catholic voters migrate to the Tories whose policies on poverty, the environment, and the common good are as far away from Catholic social teaching as you can get. Who knows?
Collins is always front and centre at “pro life” rallies. Fair enough but he is never seen at pro life rallies for the earth and its threatened climate. Is this not a pro life issue? Abortion will never be settled at the ballot box. Canadians are stale mated here On the other hand Canadian Catholics need to raise their voices on climate justice, the major moral issue of our time. The institutional church and religious leaders like Cardinal Collins seemingly have no pastoral plan to combat the ongoing degradation of the earth. Bishops are never seen at climate justice rallies.They need to heed the brilliant nun Sr.Elizabeth Johnson who names the present situation: “Christian churches often choose not to face this calamity with the energy they spend on other matters. It’s as though the planet were undergoing its agony in the garden, and we, the disciples of Jesus, are curled up fast asleep.”
Wide awake on abortion, fast asleep on climate justice, a recipe for irrelevance. A failure of episcopal leadership.