Wednesday 27 August 2008

"Mistaken reasoning" of those who say Catholic church should drop its opposition to contraception: Bishop O'Donoghue

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue’sFit For Mission? Church, Being Catholic Today” provides a major commentary on the Catholic church in England and Wales, including in relation to pro-life issues.

It represents a significant response to the call made by Pope John Paul II: “With great openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians, families, groups and communities in our Dioceses” (Evangelium Vitae, 95)

“Fit For Mission? Church” follows in the style of Bishop O’Donoghue’s “Fit for Mission? Schools” in which he calls on parents, schools and colleges to reject anti-life sex education.

I began reading “Fit For Mission? Church” because I knew it would contain a robust challenge to the culture of death – and I was not disappointed.

On pro-life issues, I would single out the importance of Bishop O’Donoghue’s understanding of the prophetic significance and authority of Humanae Vitae. Indeed, I think it’s important for all believers in God to hear the first thing that Bishop O’Donoghue says about the authority of that document:

“I have heard it expressed many times that the obvious rejection of the Church’s teaching on contraception by many Catholic couples is an apparent expression of the sensus fidelium [what the Catholic faithful sense to be the Catholic faith] and, consequently the Church should drop its opposition to it and adopt a more permissive attitude. This mistaken reasoning forgets three elements essential to the authentic sensus fidelium: Firstly, the sense of the faith must be founded on the Word of God and not secular opinion. Scripture is clear that there is an inseparable bond between sexual love, procreation and God’s creative power and lordship over life…”

Bishop O’Donoghue’s highlights the key point: God’s creative power and lordship over life. And, when this teaching is rejected, mankind and its governments assume arbitrary power over life and death. Whatever a person’s position on Bishop O’Donoghue’s theological perspective (and SPUC includes people of all faiths and none) even those who don’t believe in God can observe the consequences.

Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, so derided by the liberal “intelligentsia”, accurately forecast that once contraception became “regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty” (HV, 17), brute power which would be used by governments to impose birth control policies on their populations. We now have coercive abortion in China and secret abortions for schoolchildren in the UK – and we have legislative proposals, which include coercive and totalitarian elements, in Kenya and in the Philippines.

Moreover, to my own mind it’s quite clear* that countless human lives have been destroyed as a result of the rejection of Humanae Vitae and its teaching on the wrongfulness of the separation of the unitive significance and procreative significance of the conjugal act, not least through birth control and IVF practices, including amongst Catholics (*albeit on the question of the separation of the unitive significance and the procreative significance of the marital act SPUC itself has no policy. The Society is made up of people of all faiths and none and SPUC’s remit is solely concerned with defending the right to life from conception till natural death.)

As Southern Cross Bioethics Institute put it in their commentary on the Philippines Reproductive Health Bill: “A ‘contraceptive’ is abortifacient (literally ‘causing abortion’) when one of its modes of action is to precipitate the destruction of the developing embryo. For example, intrauterine devices prevent the implantation of the embryo in the uterine lining and hence cause its destruction”. This is something which should concern everyone.

And as I mentioned last month on my blog (in a post about “The Tablet’s” ill-informed campaign against Humanae Vitae) IVF – which gave birth to the first IVF child thirty years ago – has led in the UK to over two million embryos discarded, or frozen, or selectively aborted, or miscarried or used in destructive experiments. (2,137,924 human embryos were created by specialists while assisting couples in the UK to have babies between 1991 and 2005, according to BioNews. During this period, the HFEA informs us that the total of live babies born through IVF procedures was 109,469.)

On a positive note Bishop O’Donoghue observes in his diocese of Lancaster that “the Church has richly developed her doctrine on marital love, seen in Pope John Paul II’s comprehensive theology of the body, the deepening understanding of marriage as a covenant and the Billings Ovulation Method”.

And I love the passion with which the bishop proclaims the truth about human life when he says:

“The advocates and apologists for the culture of death dismissively accuse Catholics of being ‘indoctrinated’ or ‘brain washed’. They are wrong. The one thing we have in common is that we value human life, because we know how much God values every human life. The value of every human life is at the heart of the Gospel, ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’. (Romans 5:8).

“Every crucifix in church and home proclaims the victory of life over the culture of death. The paschal mystery of Christ, (Eucharist, passion, death and resurrection) are the ultimate expression of the Law of Self Gift:

“At every opportunity proclaim the right to Life – the most fundamental human right that underpins authentic work for justice and peace…“

Pray, Protest and Petition the institutions that promote the culture of death – Parliament, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nurses, Brook Advisory Centres, broadcasters, the tabloids and broadsheets.“

I also ask all parishes to support Catholic organisations, such as Life groups, that provide counselling, advice, support and hospitality to women considering abortions.

“Also consider actively supporting the following groups promoting the Gospel of Life: The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children; Sisters of the Gospel of Life, Life and other pro-life organisations.

Finally, I note Bishop O’Donoghue’s concern, expressed in a note circulated by his secretary that “the section [9.9] on the Bishops' Conference is but a very small part of the document. There are far more important parts … .” I’ve no doubt that’s true and I am looking forward to re-reading and to studying the document in greater depth.

However, what he says about the bishops’ conference is important: “We must keep it clearly in mind that the Bishop is not the manager of his local branch of the Catholic Church, who reports to the board of the national Episcopal Conference…” It’s important because, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the Catholic authorities in England and Wales are co-operating with the government in providing our children and grandchildren with secret abortions in Catholic schools. Bishop O’Donoghue headlines this section of his document “The Need for Confident and Courageous Bishops” and he highlights the following extract from the Catholic church’s teaching in Lumen Gentium: [Bishops] are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice... Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be revered by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth.” (LG 25).

I do not believe that the policy of the Catholic authorities in England and Wales regarding secret abortions in Catholic schools is one which is in tune with teaching “endowed the authority of Christ” or with “teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff”. It’s important to be reminded that individual Catholic bishops in England and Wales are free to reject such a policy – as Bishop O’Donoghue, a confident and courageous bishop, has done. He calls on parishes to “Review the parish’s co-operation with schools to challenge the culture of death among young people” and much else besides.