Wednesday, May 19, 2010


When I was a child, I was a Roman Catholic, although never a very good one. I had only the barest amount of Faith, and even that much with great difficulty. I often found religious strictures and beliefs to be confusing at best and contradictory at worst. But what sealed things for me was attending a Catholic high school. No one, in my experience, can make even simple theological disputes into conflicts that rival world wars faster than a group of teens. When I began to express the idea that Satan was a fiction, in many ways the perfect (if not literal) scapegoat for people to hide behind to avoid facing up to their own bad acts, I became the target of a crusade to convince me that the Adversary was quite real. The primary argument was a simple one of duality - if I didn't believe that Satan was a real, if spiritual being, then I couldn't believe in God either. The potential that the Universe was ruled by a kind and loving God paled before the reality that my classmates needed no supernatural assistance to be jackasses, and so I chose, to the consternation of a surprisingly large number of people, to spend the remainder of high school and pretty much all of college as a staunch, if dour, Atheist with a low opinion of Humanity.

It turns out, perhaps, that I was already lost by that point. In our Theology classes, perhaps the second most contentious topic, after pornography (which took most of us off guard with its sheer breadth) was abortion. We were taught that abortion was pretty much always wrong - with basically one exception.

"Deliberately we have always used the expression 'direct attempt on the life of an innocent person,' 'direct killing.' Because if, for example, the saving of the life of the future mother, independently of her pregnant condition, should urgently require a surgical act or other therapeutic treatment which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired or intended, but inevitable, the death of the fetus, such an act could no longer be called a direct attempt on an innocent life. Under these conditions the operation can be lawful, like other similar medical interventions — granted always that a good of high worth is concerned, such as life, and that it is not possible to postpone the operation until after the birth of the child, nor to have recourse to other efficacious remedies."
- Pope Pius XII (Acta Apostilicae Sedis 1951)
Now, the Benedictines who ran the place perhaps took a step farther than this, and basically allowed that the child could be the direct target of a surgery designed to kill it - so long as a) there was no other way to save the mother and b) there was no way to save the fetus. In other words, it if the pregnancy itself were the condition that put the mother's life at risk, and it did so in such a way that the baby could not be saved, then abortion was allowable. Of all of the things that confused or disturbed me about Catholic doctrine, there was some comfort in the fact that it didn't include the idea that God capriciously expected people to watch loved ones die for no reasonable Earthly benefit.

Well, it turns out, depending on who you ask, that we were being lead into Error. Who knew?
"They were in quite a dilemma," says Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College. "There was no good way out of it. The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die. I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make."

"She consented in the murder of an unborn child," says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. "There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means."
I don't know if something changed along the way, or if Church officials have simply decided that making an exemption for cases in which everyone dies is simply too big a loophole. Or if, as in so many other things, those who represent a particular viewpoint are being incorrectly portrayed as representing the whole. Regardless, the moody, misanthropic Atheist of my young adulthood is whispering: "I told you so."

No comments: