by Deacon Nick Donnelly
I come from a very pro-life Catholic family, which in part is due to my brothers and I being born very premature, and a brother and sister dying just after birth. Since a young boy I have been very aware of the preciousness and the sanctity of human life. My own two children, Gabriel and Ariel, died in the first trimester and I’ll never forget seeing their hearts beating on the ultrasound screen at seven weeks gestation. One of the reasons why I love the Catholic Church is because of her unambiguous defence of the sanctity of the lives of pre-born babies, expressed in Vatican II crystal-clear statement, ‘abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes’(Gaudium et Spes, 51).
The Church rightly calls the murder of one baby through medical abortion an ‘unspeakable crime’, but what do we call the murder of two billion babies worldwide since 1966? John Smeaton, the Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, gave this statistic during a recent lecture in Rome. He describes the figure of two billion abortions as a ‘conservative estimate’compiled by ‘leading researchers from both the pro-abortion and pro-life lobbies.’John Smeaton added two caveats to this appalling statistic: ‘the number of human embryos destroyed in the past 50 years by abortifacient birth control drugs and devices worldwide is simply incalculable’and the worldwide total number of babies killed as a consequence of IVF is unknown, though we know “in the UK alone, 2 million embryonic babies have been killed as a result of in vitro fertilisation procedures since 1990.”
The murder of a quarter of the human race since 1966
There are seven billion human beings alive on the planet, so more than a quarter of the human race has been murdered over the past fifty years. What phrase can possibly convey the evil of two billion unspeakable crimes committed since 1966? John Smeaton calls this ‘the greatest catastrophe in the recorded history of humanity.’Thirty five years ago Fr John Powell SJ called abortion ‘The Silent Holocaust’. Hitler’s Extermination camps killed 11 million people, including 6 million Jews; Stalin’s reign of terror killed 49 million people. The murder of each of these 60 million people was a crime against humanity that cries to heaven for justice. Now with abortion the USA alone has almost equaled the number of people killed by Hitler and Stalin over the past 43 years. Since the ‘legalisation’of abortion by the USA in 1973, Americans have murdered 56 million of their fellow citizens.
Survivors of Hitler’s extermination of the Jewish people called the network of concentration and extermination camps in Europe, ‘the Holocaust Kingdom’. Faced with more than two billion murders of the most innocent and vulnerable human beings it is not an exaggeration to say that you and I are not citizens of a ‘Holocaust Kingdom, but of a ‘Holocaust world’. We don’t live in a civilised world noted for its culture, art, science and laws, we live in a world that thinks nothing of slaughtering a quarter of the human race. In fact the killing of babies has become a billion dollar industry in which tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and administrators make their comfortable livings directly from killing babies or selling the body part of the victims.
This is a crime beyond ‘crimes against humanity’, this is a crime beyond ‘genocide’. The mass killing of human beings has become such a banal and routine crime that it has gone from being ‘unspeakable’to ‘unspoken’. Far from condemning such wanton destruction of human life the main stream media both promotes abortion as a social good while at the same time suppressing the reality of what it means to kill a baby through saline injection and dismemberment.
A failure to act that undermines the Catholic Church on abortion
The Catholic Church has consistently condemned the killing of babies through abortion for 2,000 years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this very succinctly:
‘Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.’(Didache) (CCC, 2271).
My concern about the position of the Catholic Church, about the greatest moral crisis of human history is this —though the teaching that abortion is a grave moral evil has not changed and remains unchangeable, certain actions and inactions taken by bishops and organisations of the Catholic Church have undermined this unchanging teaching. Faced with the greatest catastrophe in human history these failures of moral leadership are in danger of rendering the Church’s condemnation of abortion mere words, with no substance behind them. This is why actions speak louder than words when it comes to abortion.
The following actions and inactions have undermined the authority and credibility of the Church’s condemnation of abortion and need to be rectified as a matter of urgency:
The Mater Hospital agrees to co-operate with Kenny’s abortion law
In 2013 The Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, issued a statement confirming that, though a Catholic hospital, its doctors and nurses would co-operate with Enda Kenny's abortion act, which explicitly mandated it to serve as one of the providers of abortion services. The statement said“The Mater Hospital has carefully considered the Act. The Hospital’s priority is to be at the frontier of compassion, concern and clinical care for all our patients. Having regard to that duty, the Hospital will comply with the law as provided for in the act.” The Mater Hospital is owned and managed by the Sisters of Mercy, the Archdiocese of Dublin, the Catholic Nurses’Guild of Ireland, and the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
The hospital board decided to provide abortion services against the advice of the then Father Kevin Doran, the representative of the Archbishop of Dublin, who had told the press before the statement, “The Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos.” When asked what would happen if the Board decided to co-operate with abortion Fr. Doran replied, “I suppose I can assume there would be very serious discussion between the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin and the management of the hospital.”
How did Archbishop Diarmuid Martin respond to a Catholic hospital in his own archdiocese publicly stating that it would kill unborn babies? He first explained that though he was the president of the hospital he had “no powers in the governance of the hospital”. A surprising admission considering that as the ordinary of Dublin he has authority over all Catholic institutions in his jurisdiction.
He then paid tribute to the Mater Hospital as if its agreement to provide abortions had not been made, praising their "great tradition of caring for very difficult pregnancies and doing it well within the ethos of the hospital over years. There have been extremely complicated (pregnancies) and I know that they are scrupulous in the policy of trying to defend both the life of the mother and the unborn child. I hope that that continues.” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin concluded his brief response by saying that “he would be seeking further clarifications on the exact meaning of the hospital's statement.”
Fr. Doran later resigned from the Board saying, “I can confirm that I have resigned because I can’t reconcile my own conscience personally with the statement, largely because I feel a Catholic hospital has to bear witness. It’s about bearing witness to Gospel values alongside providing excellent care.”He later added, that he found the hospital’s “statement of adherence to a law which provided for the direct taking of human life was something which I, as a Catholic priest, couldn’t support and so I resigned.”
Three years later Catholics are still waiting for the Archbishop to explain the Mater’s response to his request for further clarification about them agreeing to kill unborn babies. He has remained silent about the scandal of a Catholic hospital agreeing to perform abortions. The Mater’s Board have not withdrawn their statement. In 2015 the Chairman of the Mater’s Board, Thomas Lynch, insisted that the hospital’s position “has not altered”.
Adviser to Agency of English Bishops’Conference advocates early abortion
Prof. Tina Beattie, a theological adviser to CAFOD, the Development Agency of the Bishops’Conference of England and Wales, has advocated early abortion for the past six years. She is also an adviser on Bio-ethics to the National Board of Catholic Women that represents the views of Catholic women’s organisations to the Bishops’Conference.
The scandal of Dr Beattie’s pro-abortion views has recently come to ahead among faithful Catholics as a consequence of the part she has played in composing and organising others to sign an Open Letter to the Polish Bishops. The letter urges the Polish bishops to reconsider their support of the Polish government’s plans to stop all abortion. Though claiming in the introduction of the letter that she and the other signatories ‘uphold the sanctity of all human life, including the right to life of women and their unborn children’, they latter insist in the letter “we believe that access to early, safe and legal abortion is essential’. The Open Letter also accepts abortion in cases of ‘sexual violence’; serious threats to the mother’s health, and in cases were the baby is ‘profoundly disabled or terminally ill’. Dr. Beattie’s letter also refers to the mystery of the Annunciation in the context of their argument that women should be allowed freedom of choice when it comes to aborting their babies:
‘We are mindful that, when God chose Mary to become the mother of His Son, He did so not by force or compulsion but by invitation and request. Mary was free in deciding whether or not to conceive a child. Many women and girls do not enjoy such freedom.’
Dr Beattie and other signatories using the mystery of the Annunciation in an argument to justify freedom of choice regarding abortion is misleading and misguided. We never have the freedom to commit gravely evil acts. To use Our Lady’s freely given ‘fiat’ to the incarnation of the Son of God as an argument for freedom of conscience to choose abortion is also a shocking misuse of the role of a theologian in the Church.
Dr Beattie has also published academic papers and articles in the media making the untenable case for a distinction to be made between early abortion and late abortion. In 2010 Dr Beattie supported ‘early abortion, as well as access to eﬀective methods of contraception’. In the same year she referred to the mystery of personhood in the Most Holy Trinity to justify support for early abortion:
‘Given that in Christian theology the understanding of personhood is fundamentally relational because it bears the image of the Triune God, it is hard to see how an embryo can be deemed a person before even the mother enters into a rudimentary relationship with it.’ She seems to have forgotten that the child in the womb is already in relationship with God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you through and though”.
In 2015 Dr Beattie’s views were elicited for a debate in Reform Magazine looking at the question, ‘A Good Question: Is Abortion unchristian?’She replied, ‘However, I think we need to reclaim the traditional theological distinction between early and late abortion. Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to enforce morality.’Dr Beattie appears to ignore the fact that since the beginning the Church has consistently condemned all abortion as gravely immoral. There is no substantive evidence of any distinction between early and late abortion in the teaching of the Church.
Unsurprisingly, faithful Catholics have been horrified that a Catholic theologian not only advocates abortion but that she is also a theological adviser to CAFOD. At the time of writing over 5,000 people have signed a petition calling on CAFOD to drop Dr Beattie as an adviser. To date, CAFOD have issued a statement implicitly, not explicitly, distancing themselves from Dr Beattie’s views, insisting that ‘the opinion expressed in the letter does not represent nor reflect CAFOD’s policies.’However, in response to concerns from Catholics and supporters CAFOD has justified retaining Dr Beattie as a theological adviser:
‘Professor Tina Beattie is a member of CAFOD’s Theological Reference Group. Tina is one of around ten theologians who volunteer their time, meeting a couple of times a year to share ideas on theological issues. CAFOD's Theological Reference Group includes academic theologians from England and Wales and from the global South, including Zimbabwe, Brazil, Argentina and the Philippines. It is important for CAFOD to have access to a wide range of theological opinion on issues of relevance to international development. The theological reference group is one way in which CAFOD accesses this range of academic thought.’
The failure of the bishops to publicly uphold the Church’s condemnation of abortion in response to the Mater hospital co-operating with abortions and Dr Beattie advocating early abortion is in danger of making anything they say about abortion empty words. How can they speak with any conviction about the catastrophe of 2 billion babies murdered by abortion if their actions don’t match their words? Tragically, history will look back at their inaction as failing the moral imperative of our time. Actions speak louder than words. The unborn have no voices except ours, they have no means for action except us.