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Eight Short Essays

Eight Short Essays: Article 8


Article 8: The Magisterium's Dilemna: A Test Case

I. Introduction

We lay people have been told that Evangelization is not the exclusive rôle of the clergy, but also ours; that we must, by our words and actions, bring people back to God and to His Church.

This is indeed a good idea. But first the Magisterium must make it possible for us to do so. Indeed, we cannot defend what we ourselves consider indefensible, that is, many Church policies which are for us and many others squarely against the message of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

The Magisterium's way of doing things has to change. It has to forget its diktats and stop acting as if it has the only acceptable solutions to every problem facing the life of the faithful. It has to stop wanting to macromanage our lives. It has to lead gently the flock in its care rather than try to bully it into submission.

I have tried in many of my articles so far to indicate respectfully to the Magisterium that the bullying approach is incompatible with Jesus' message. But why should it listen to me? The answer is simple: because more and more among Catholics are not listening to it anymore as they have, like me, figured out that the Magisterium is in the wrong; that it is contradicting itself without even realizing it.

The Magisterium is in a Dilemna which it has to resolve. That this is indeed the case I intend to show by examining its position in a very sorry case which came up recently and gave the Church a black eye, that is, the case of a young girl's abortion.

To do so, I will copy two texts that state the facts and provide the opinion of many members of the Magisterium. These texts were found on the Diocese of Montreal web-site or hyperlinked from it and so should be considered releable.

The first text is a Declaration from my own Bishop; the second, an Article written by a Vatican based reporter on Comments made by the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. This article also gives the opinions of other members of the Church's Hierarchy.

I have refrained to add to these two texts any of the many declarations coming from the grass-roots. But to show the indignation and the determined refusal by some committed Roman Catholics at the Parish level to consider Church's Law as having any validity in these matters, I have added in appendix the declaration of a group in my neighbourhood1, group that I have no link to except that its membes are, like me, members of the One, Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and are such just as much as His Holiness Pope Benedict, My Bishop Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, and the members of the Roman Curia.

II. Declarations from the Magisterium on a Young Girl's Abortion

  1. Declaration by His Eminence Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, archbishop of Montréal

    The following English text, a Declaration by His Eminence Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, my Bishop, was found on the Diocese of Montréal's Website. It is reproduced here in extenso as it stood on that website on March 25th, 2009:

    Last week, I refrained from commenting publicly on the unfortunate story of the young 9-year-old Brazilian girl who had been raped by her stepfather since the age of 6. The media covered it extensively.

    My silence must not be construed as indifference, quite to the contrary. But how does one understand what’s going on without having full information?

    I was surprised by the position taken by the Bishop of Recife. How could he arrive at such a decision? I would have chosen differently. The human drama experienced by that child and her family was already horrible enough without having to think of excommunicating the persons involved. The situation called for compassion in word and deed.

    I was happy to learn that the Brazilian bishops, better placed than we to appreciate the local context, have disassociated themselves from the decision of their colleague in Recife. I also appreciated the commentary, published last week in the Osservatore Romano, by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. I share his view that direct abortion is always a morally unacceptable action.

    However, in this case, it seems evident that the situation called for understanding and compassion rather than condemnation and excommunication.

    That being said, my conviction stands: life must be respected from conception till death.

    † Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte
    Archbishop of Montréal
  2. D'Emilio's 16th March 2009 Article about the Most Rev. Rino Fisichella's Comments

    The following article, written at Vatican City on 16th March 2009 by Frances D'Emilio of the Associated Press, was found on the San Francisco Chronicle's Website and is reproduced here in extenso as it stood on that website on March 25th, 2009. This article was hyperlinked from the Diocese of Montréal's Website with the following description "Commentary from the Most Rev. Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life":

    An influential prelate said Brazilian doctors didn't deserve excommunication for aborting the twin fetuses of a 9-year-old child who was allegedly raped by her stepfather because the doctors were saving her life.

    The statement by Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican newspaper the Holy See on Sunday was highly unusual, because church law mandates automatic excommunication for abortion. Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, upheld the church's ban on abortion and any implications of his criticism of excommunicating the doctors and the girl's mother weren't clear.

    Fisichella argued for a sense of mercy in such cases and respect for the Catholic doctors' wrenching decision, and strongly criticized fellow churchmen who singled out the doctors and mother for public condemnation.

    "Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to save her innocent life and bring her back to a level of humanity of which we men of the church should be expert and masters in proclaiming," Fisichella wrote.

    The doctors, Fisichella noted, had said the child's life was in danger if the pregnancy continued.

    Earlier this month, the archbishop of Recife, where the child and her family live, made a public announcement about the excommunication, which is the church's most severe penalty. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, a top Vatican official, has supported the archbishop.

    But Fisichella criticized the archbishop's public denunciation, writing that the girl "should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction."

    Fisichella stressed that abortion is always bad. But he said the quick proclamation of excommunication "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy."

    The Vatican teaches that anyone performing or helping someone to have an abortion is automatically excommunicated from the church, and the Vatican prelate underlined that abortion is "always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act."

    Abortion is generally illegal in Brazil. But the procedure is allowed when the mother's life is in danger, when the fetus has no chance of survival or in rape cases where the woman has not passed her 20th week of pregnancy.

    Doctors said the girl was 15 weeks pregnant when the abortion was performed. Health officials said the life of the 80-pound girl was in danger.

    The pregnancy was discovered when the girl fell ill and her mother took her to a clinic. The child then told officials she had been abused by her stepfather, who is in police custody.

III. An Analysis of the Previous Texts

I will now analyze the positions which have been expressed by the various representatives of the Magisterium named so far.

First, I will mention the facts as stated by the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life:

1. A nine year old girl from the Archbishopric of Recife, Brazil, is made pregnant with twins by her step-father;
2. Her Catholic doctors state that her pregnancy endangers her life.

To this we can add the following facts:

3. The Law in Brazil states that abortion is legal up to the 20th week of pregnancy if the mother's life is in danger, or if the foetus has no chance of survival, or in rape cases;
4. The nine-year old girl was aborted when in her 15th week of pregnancy;
5. The penalty for procuring an abortion or getting someone aborted is automatic excommunication according to Church law (in this case the girl was too young to be excommunicated as she was not officially demanding one: her mother did);
6. The archbishop of Recife, the girl's diocese, was just making public what had already happened, i.e. the ipso facto excommunication of the mother and the doctors who performed the abortion.

These are the hard facts. According to Brazilian Law, the girl qualified for an abortion as she had been raped, as her life was in danger and as her pregnancy had not reached twenty weeks. According to Church Law, all abortion, irrespective of the circumstances that caused the pregnancy and irrespective of the consequences on the health of the mother, are illegal and the punishment is automatic excommunication for all concerned in the termination of the pregnancy.

The step-father was not excommunicated as he did not push for the abortion. He was just remanded in custody awaiting trial for rape of a minor in his care by the Brazilian authorities.

The twins, had they been born and had their mother somehow survived, would have been her half-brothers or half-sisters as well as her children. They also would have been their step-mother's brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law as well as her grandchildren.

I must say that I find such family relationships so abhorrent that they should not be allowed to happen. This gut feeling is not mentionned by any Church official. Obviously, if the archbishop of Recife felt it, it did not deter him at all. But after all he was not necessarily stating his own opinion by rendering the excommunications public: he was simply stating a fact, that is, the ipso facto excommunication of all involved in any abortion as clearly stated by Church Law.

But this point of view, which is nothing else but the Church's Law, is not shared by my Bishop and by many many others clerics, including the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, as we have seen.

Their position flatly put this Law in question. Let me examine exactly in what ways.

First, they call for a revamping of that Law in some cases. The President of the Pontifical Academy seems to call for an exemption from excommunication, automatic or not, if the life of the mother is in danger.

But someone can object on the following ground: abortion means the certain death of the foetus while the death of the mother, although likely according to the doctors, is not a certain fact. The only two things that are certain are that the foetus will surely die if an abortion is performed and that the doctors' considered opinion is that the mother's life is endangered by her pregnancy. So the right thing is to risk the life of the mother to save the foetus from certain death. After all, the biological rôle of a woman is to give birth. And terminating her pregnancy goes against that.

My Bishop calls for an exemption from excommunication in this particular case on compassionate grounds: "However, in this case, it seems evident that the situation called for understanding and compassion rather than condemnation and excommunication." His position requires to examine the reasons for each abortion before deciding if it passes whatever test the Church would demand to avoid excommunication. This goes against the very principle of automatic excommunication for abortion, replacing it by a kind of Church Court that would decide if such and such an abortion is, although an evil act, not a case for excommunication.

Archbishop Fisichella calls for exemption from excommunication in cases where it would cause scandal among Catholics and non-Catholics. He said that the excommunication by the Archbishop of Recife "unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy". So excommunication should definitely not be automatic but should be based on a test not defined as such by the Magisterium but by the people, as it is the people who are or not scandalized by the Magisterium's lack of compassion.

It should thus be apparent that at least some members of the Magisterium are very unhappy with the present Law of the Church on abortion; that they want it revamped, reviewed, to arrive at a more compassionate solution. Unfortunately, once you open the door to one, you open the door to all others.

The average abortion case is not as extreme as the case of this little girl, but rarely are abortions asked for on a pure whim; there are reasons why someone is ready to go through with this. And to the person involved, these reasons are such that the procedure is justified. This might not be someone else's opinion, but it is the one of the person who undergoes the abortion.

On what grounds can I dismiss her reasons outright? Does she not have a say in the matter? On what grounds am I better placed to judge her predicament than her? On what grounds is the Magisterium better placed to judge her predicament than her? How can it say that Jesus would not understand her and would reject her because of it? Is not this last statement exactly what they state by their Law? Or is their Law having nothing to do with Jesus' message?

IV. The Conundrum

The fundamental problem here is: which part of the Church's teaching does the Magisterium want to give precedence to? Her teaching that God is Love, that we must follow in the footsteps of His Beloved Son Jesus? Or her teaching that all those who do not follow the instructions she has carefully formulated over the years will definitely end up in Hell?

For those who would bristle at this last sentence, let me remind them that missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation without an adequate reason is a grave sin and thus punishable by Hell. That there are in Church's Law many causes for excommunication and a great number of anathemas. The Church does teach that if you die in a state of grave sin you go to Hell, and excommunication is due to a grave sin. To have this state of affairs revoked, you need to reconcile yourself to the Church, as the saying goes, repent from what the Magisterium considers a sin. And this cannot happen until you really agree with its position on the matter. Nothing else will do.

This Church in which we live right now demands obedience from all and sundry. The Magisterium's rôle is to formulate the laws we have to follow under pain of Hell. This is the raison d'être of the Church law. And there is no input from the people as they do not know what is right and what is wrong.

Indeed, we are told that our conscience is dulled if we think differently from Church Law but right if we abide by it. We do not make decisions, we follow the decisions made for us under the pain of Hell.

Mind you, the Magisterium produced these laws for a very worthwhile reason. The Magisterium considers that it has the excessively important duty to clearly state was is good and what is evil so as to make sure that their flock ends up in Heaven. After all, the Laws it has produced after careful study of Scripture and the Fathers are God's Laws.

In fact, the Magisterium clearly believes that those who do not follow Church Law will be punished by God - not them - with Hell; that God does indeed send people to Hell. To me, this implies that their God is a Heavenly Sadist Who recreates (resurrects) dead people so as to then be able to punish them by having them tortured for ever.

The Magisterium seems to have made God into a kind of partly benevolent ruler, Who provides rules that guarantee Heaven to His obedient subjects and Hell to His unruly ones just like temporal rulers provided laws to guarantee the security of their obedient subjects and harsh penalties to their unruly ones.

When most of the world's peoples lived under political régimes where the Law was imposed on them by their King or Emperor, the people could make sense of a God that demanded of them as much obedience as their King or Emperor. This Magisterium's view of God could easily be accepted. Furthermore most were unable to check for themselves what the gospels actually said as they could not read. The people had no choice but to believe what they were told.

With the advent of democracy the people started to have a say in what was or not a proper law. These were to be for their good and not just the good of the King or Establishment. Questionning became the proper thing to do. Add to this the education of the masses and the people, now litterate, could read the gospels themselves and find out what Jesus actually said.

These changes were reinforced when the Magisterium introduced the vernacular in the liturgy and saw to the production of the New Cathechism, in which the various statements are actually backed by the earliest texts on the subject so as to answer legitimate questions about their relationship with the original message. Both these changes show a Magisterium with a different approach, a Magisterium who wants to convince people rather than demand blind obedience.

The authority of the Magisterium, especially its good judgment, was definitely put into question by its reaction to the sexual scandals perpetrated by some priests on children. Indeed, in many cases the Hierarchy threatened with excommunication the parents who complained (after all, the revelation of such abominations would cause scandal!) while letting the priests at fault free to continue their evil acts.

The Magisterium's concept of God as a Heavenly Sadist now comes face-to-face against its new teaching - if I can call going back to the Gospels a new teaching - that God is Love. Perhaps the Magisterium does not even now see the contradiction that is created; but the common folk can clearly see that the Heavenly Sadist is no God-Father; that He is not the God of our Lord Jesus Christ but some kind of scarecrow.

Ordinary people have also come to realize that they know more about love and compassion than the Magisterium does.

They see the Magisterium preaching about love and compassion while not showing any; preaching that God speaks to us personally while insisting that they must tell people exactly how to live their lives under the pain of Hell. No wonder the Magisterium's credibility is at an all-time low!

The Magisterium is faced with an alternative: either proclaiming the Gospel that Jesus Her Lord and Saviour proclaimed although this message caused His horrible death and will mean for it accepting a much more humble rôle or continuing as it has these last Centuries.

The basic problem lies in the kind of authority the Magisterium wants for itself; one based on mutual respect, on acceptance of differences of opinions, of cultures, and so on, or one based on force. The last fifty years show a definite movement towards the former at the expense of the latter. But the very unhappy coexistence of two rather mutually exclusive view points must come to an end at one point.

Many bishops have come to a conclusion close to this. And I believe that more and more among the Magisterium know that they have to convince rather than coerce, that the Church's fundamental message, the one that our Lord and God Jesus brought us, is one that the people can readily assent to.

For those Bishops God is really Love; Christ died for all, the just and the unjust, the good and the bad; He excluded no one from His Presence, He gave Himself totally to all. He certainly did not tell us to excommunicate; He certainly did not tell us that we will go to Hell if we do not do as we are told. He came for sinners, people like me. He told people that some things were wrong, but He did not reject them for that. He continued to the bitter end to pray for His persecutors, for each and every sinner past, present and future, making excuses for each and everyone of them. He was and is Love-Made-Man.

I believe that this view of God will win in the end. After all, the Church must follow her Beloved Spouse, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, of Whose side she was born through Water and Blood, as He laid in death on His Cross on Good Friday. May His name be blessed for ever!

Good Friday, April 10th, 2009.

Appendix: A Grass-root Reaction

I have added here a text published in French in the local paper Le Flambeau for Mercier-Anjou dated March 31st, 2009 and found on its page 4. This text is from the Pastoral Councils of Anjou / Saint Justin and Mercier-Est, as reported by Sylvia Cerasi. I hasten to add that I am in no way associated with whese people, although the translation found following the text is mine. The original published text is provided to permit anyone to check my translation, as again I am not a bona fide translator:

Compassion first and before every thing

The members of the Pastoral Councils of Anjou / Saint-Justin and Mercier-Est were meeting on the 12th March last with the Episcopal Vicar and his assistant. The subject of the hour has had our attention for quite some time, viz the excommunication in Brazil of the mother of a 9-year old little girl who had been raped by her step-father and was made pregnant with twins, as well as that of the medical team who considered the abortion necessary for the health of the young mother.

Confronted by such a scandalously hard position, our reactions were punctuated by a feeling of desolation, a profound disapproval of the religious autorities concerned and indignation in the face of such a flagrant lack of compassion.

We want to express to the population of Anjou / Saint-Justin and Mercier-Est that we are available to welcome and accompany all those who live difficult situations, that we affirm our solidarity with those who are most wounded in life as well as our refusal to judge anyone: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8 7). What cames first for us is to act with compassion whatever the situation. Our mission is essentialy a pastoral one. We refuse to exclude anyone. We are inspired in this by Jesus-Christ, our shepherd, "who came not to judge the world but to save it" (John 12 47).

We express that way our commitment to take care of life, to serve all the people of our area, the members of our Christian Communities and especially the families and groups of our area.

- The members of the Pastoral Councils of Anjou / Saint-Justin and Mercier-Est, André Tiphane, Episcopal Vicar, Est region, and Johanne Egglefield, associate to the Episcopal Vicar.

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 6th, 2004

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