Abortion was recently legalized in Chile by the votes of the “Christian” “Democratic” politicians. This is an issue about which all Chilean Catholics should reflect. I will attempt here to place it in perspective.
In 2009, there was a horrible battle at the Academy for Life between the president of the academy, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and the other members. In that battle, the members asked for Fisichella’s resignation, and he tried to remove them all. Benedict XVI intervened in 2010 and removed Fisichella.
The occasion of the battle was the publication by L’Osservatore Romano of a harsh criticism by Fisichella against the Brazilian bishop of Recife, accusing the latter of being “unmerciful” and not pastoral when the bishop supposedly declared excommunicated the doctors, nurses, and relatives of a nine-year-old girl who was submitted to an abortion. Fisichella went as far as to legitimize the doctor’s action on the grounds of the difficulty of the situation.
The truth of the matter is that the bishop of Recife, after intervening in a truly pastoral way with the girl’s family, declared that the doctors who had participated in the abortion were all excommunicated according to canon law, which they were. Further, the doctors involved were professional abortionists.
Since Fisichella’s criticism was not truthful, the Brazilian bishop tried to publish a response in L’Osservatore Romano, but his piece was not printed. Thus, the bishop was forced to threaten a canonical suit. At that moment, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith intervened and dissolved the polemics among the prelates. Some months later, Fisichella tried to take revenge against the members of the academy, and this was when they privately appealed to Benedict XVI, who intervened in the way mentioned.
Whoever followed this case learned that a strange current has entered the Church that opposes moral absolutes, and thus the Law of God, even when the lives of innocent persons are involved. It was alarming for me. Some clerics with power at the Vatican were ready to justify even the act of abortion, of killing innocent unborn babies in some difficult cases, thereby violating the doctrine of both Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor. They also were ready to violate the teachings of Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics, II, 6 (1107a11, homicide is always wrong) and of the scholastics in general and of Aquinas in particular: negative precepts oblige always, unlike positive precepts, which are submitted to the uncertainties of the concrete.
Now this nightmare has arrived in Chile, my new home (after the old one was destroyed by revolutionaries). Indeed, the Christian Democratic Party, in coalition with socialists and other pro-Marxist groups, has recently legalized abortion, passing a law that turned abortion into a right in certain cases. This law even attempted to impose abortion on Catholic institutions as a duty, but in this respect, it was found unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Chile.
Some of the bishops of Chile did oppose the actions of those in the parliament, but in general, the faithful feel that the body of bishops as a whole was weak. Among the faithful, it is said that they thought the battle was lost, and therefore, there was no point in exerting strong authority about it. But in the light of the results and their causes, a Catholic observes two things: (a) there are supposedly lost battles that one must fight, as is the battle for the defense of innocent life, and (b) couldn’t it have happened that if the pastors had spoken clearly about the moral and canonical dimensions of this issue, the (formerly) Catholic politicians would have acted with a more enlightened conscience? Couldn’t the bishops in this way have prevented the passing of this radically unjust law?
The most notorious exception in the episcopate, and, I would dare say, the only one who seems to have understood the moral and canonical dimensions of the issue, was the long retired Cardinal Jorge Medina. This outstanding prelate came to the fore with a letter in which he stated clearly that abortion is a hideous crime; that the law in the parliament did not just suppress the punishment of such crime, but turned it into a right; and that all politicians who voted in favor of legalizing abortion are in public mortal sin and must be deprived of the sacraments and of Christian burial unless they repent publicly (canons 915; 1184, 1; and 1185). He also said Catholic voters should withdraw their support from these politicians, and, first of all, to Carolina Goic .
The reactions to this merciful and truly pastoral letter were merciless and instant. At least three priests in different media outlets and two “Catholic” politicians attacked Cardinal Medina. Felipe Berríos, S.J. stated in an interview that Medina’s letter was ruthless (“desalmada”), an example of terror. (See a reference to the interview here). Percival Cowley, SS. CC., resorted to the typical ad hominem attack: besides a couple of empty and irrelevant phrases, Cowley stated that (a) the cardinal supposedly had done nothing during Pinochet’s dictatorship to defend human rights and that (b) the mature conscience of other people should be respected (meaning that prelates should not interfere with canonical arguments). Pablo Walker, S. J. insisted that an adult conscience in a lay society should not be addressed through threats of eternal damnation.
The two politicians came from the Christian Democratic Party. Ignacio Walker argued that no power on earth can force him to vote in parliament against his conscience. He added that (a) whoever acts against the teaching of his conscience sins; (b) there is a just autonomy of temporal realities, where he as a parliamentary of a lay republic can vote in whatever way he thinks “ethical”; and (c) the cardinal quoted just some canons, but he did not quote the Gospel, where Christ speaks about mercy, like the mercy now shown to the poor women who are dragged to have an abortion committed against their children. Carolina Goic resorted to the argument by authority: “I feel,” said she, “much closer to the Church of Father Berríos, to that Church which is with the poor, which is where it matters to be, and not to that punishing Church. … In that letter [Cardinal Medina’s] I see that other Church.” She said she is against abortion but voted to legalize it out of compassion toward women.
The replies give the impression of an orchestrated campaign to embed in Catholics’ minds a bundle of lies and murderous superficialities. One must follow his conscience, but conscience is nothing other than reason regarding or applied to actions. The act of conscience is to judge the moral rectitude of an action. As with any judgment, conscience can be true or false, right or wrong.
Directly killing an innocent human being is murder. Many lay people in Chile forcefully argued this point, and the Constitutional Court of Chile had proclaimed it with brilliant clarity in its decision of April 28, 2008. But laity and court alike met deaf ears in the parliament, as well as in the Christian Democratic Party and among many of the Santiago clerics.
The role of Cardinal Medina was not that of arguing for the nowadays obvious truth about the beginning of human life, the personhood of all human beings, and the criminality of any direct killing of innocents. His role was the role of the pastor who addresses his sheep. A really pluralistic society is that in which the Catholics remain Catholic and behave in accordance with their faith and find arguments in accordance with natural reason in public discussion. In a really pluralistic society, Jews, Evangelicals, and others do the same, as a corrected version of John Rawls’s overlapping consensus could allow. But when the Christian Democrats and their Jesuit mentors say “pluralistic society,” they mean one in which all are atheists or agnostic and ignore the requirements of natural reason and of decency to please the requirements of Planned Parenthood International and of the Global anti-population lobby. They strive to dress and perfume these requirements as “merciful.”
Thus, Cardinal Medina turns out to be the only merciful pastor who comes to the “peripheries” to rescue his sheep from such a base degradation as approving with their parliamentary vote the legalization of a hideous crime. The officials of the Diocese of Recife stated this well in 2009: “We are convinced that the disclosure [by the bishop of Recife] of this therapeutic penalty (the excommunication [according to canon 1398]) will do much good to many Catholics, making them avoid this grievous sin. The silence of the Church would be very prejudicial, especially considering that fifty million abortions are being performed every year around the world, and in Brazil alone one million innocent lives are ended. The silence may be interpreted as collusion or complicity.”
This sad story does not end here. Many lay people came to the defense of Cardinal Medina. But, up to my knowledge, no pastor did, with the exception of Bishop Bacareza, who answered Senator Walker through a fine piece published out of Chile, in Infocatólica.
In August, the Conference of Bishops did issue a document in which it stated that the prohibition of abortion is a moral absolute. But they did not use their jurisdictional power, which they should have when the lives of many innocent babies are at stake and there was no reason not to use it – except, in my opinion, the fear of displeasing the world.
In my conversations with the faithful who understand these issues, I have perceived that the authority of the bishops has suffered not a little from this affair concerning abortion. But perhaps what was most damaging has not yet been said.
There are two things. First, the homily at the ecumenical Te Deum on September 18. When abortion was just passed as a right, our beloved Cardinal Ezzati stated the following: “Respecting the legislation which the State has given itself, our option for life is concretized in our greater efforts to keep giving company to women who live in limited situations in their pregnancy, to those who decide to continue with it and those who think that abortion is a solution. The Church … offers its hand and extends its embrace in service of all persons who need peace, support and consoling” (see Message of the Permanent Committee, August 21, 2017).
These words were received with pleasure by Carolina Goic.
I know that Cardinal Ezzati did not mean to validate this law. He even emphasized “the sacrality of life, of every human life, from conception to natural death through the whole arch of its development, which is the first and most fundamental human right, the granitic pillar on which all other rights are grounded.” However, it seems to me an error of judgment to have added that the Church respects this law. The Church respects the sinner but not the sin, and this law is a sin. The Church cannot respect a law that declares abortion a right. The bishops should not abandon their prophetic role; they must denounce the evils of this world, even if the world turns a deaf ear. More importantly, they should warn the faithful concerning the dangers the grievous sin of abortion poses for their souls. Cardinal Medina, it seems, has set the right example, and the faithful yearn to see their pastors follow his example.
The other most damaging event for the authority of the Church is the invitation extended by the Pontifical Academy of Science to Michelle Bachelet, the promoter of the legalization of abortion in Chile, to give a lecture on no less a subject than “Initiatives of the Chilean government in order to mitigate or eradicate the negative consequences of climate change.” Out of their love of life and of souls, the bishops should do whatever is in their power to prevent this further scandal among the faithful. They should forcefully protest before the nunciature of His Holiness in Chile so that that conference is canceled.
I write all this with fear and trepidation, out of my love for the Church and the successors of the apostles. These will have to give account to the Lord regarding the souls entrusted to their care. I would not like to be in their shoes; so hard it seems to be a pastor of the people of God in our days.
 This woman, by the way, has turned the Christian Democratic Party into the Feminist Revolutionary Party.
Carlos Augusto Casanova Guerra was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1966. He received a law degree from the Catholic University Andrés Bello in 1988. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at the Universidad de Navarra. He has served as an attorney at the Procuraduría General de la República de Venezuela (attorney general) and at the Office of Juridical Consultants of the Congress of Venezuela (1989-1996). Later, he was professor and coordinator of graduate studies in philosophy at the Universidad Simón Bolívar (Caracas, 1996-2003), visiting scholar at B.U. (2002-2003), Notre Dame fellow working with Ralph McInerny (2003-2005), professor and director of the Chilean campus of the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein (2005-2012), professor of the School of Philosophy of the PUC Chile (2005-2012), and professor of the Universidad Santo Tomás de Chile (2013-). He has published eight books and some 50 philosophical papers. He translated into Spanish in a bilingual edition St. Thomas Aquinas’s Commentaries on the Psalms and the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas (with Rafael Tomás Caldera). He was one of the 45 scholars who signed the letter to the College of Cardinals concerning the possible heretical readings of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He is now a member of the John Paul II Academy for Life and the Family.