St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, County Armagh was founded on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1840.
The truth on abortion history in Ireland
“Amongst the ‘purists,’ the troublesome pro-lifers with the ‘fundamentalist view’ that Austin derides, we have the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.”
“Lord save us from the Purists” – A Reply to Austin Ruse and the Irish Referendum on Abortion
Protection for the unborn in Ireland has remained strong since the defeat of a divisive referendum in 2002 that would have allowed abortion until implantation. The pro-life forces defeated what would have been legalization of abortion for the first time in Ireland. In recent months, some of the Irish groups involved in the current abortion debate have been promoting the idea among American pro-lifers that somehow the current crisis and near legalization of abortion in Ireland today is to be blamed on the pro-lifers who, alongside the majority of the Irish people, defeated the insidious 2002 referendum.
This is pertinent at the moment, because the groups that have led in this retelling of history to American pro-life supporters are unwilling to tell the truth about the matter. And it is important for America’s pro-life organizations to be aware of the facts.
Prominent among these unreliable groups is the Pro Life Campaign (PLC). This group was instrumental in secretly negotiating with the government in 2002 and then campaigned for the 2002 bill that would have not only allowed abortion for the first time in Ireland, but also repealed the law that until then had criminalized abortion: the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. This law has been enormously helpful in keeping Ireland abortion-free. Also adding its voice to the chorus telling the fictitious story that authentic pro-life organizations are to blame for today’s push by the abortion industry is the Iona Institute.
This is all crucial to the current struggle in Ireland. For this month, Mr. Enda Kenny (the Irish prime minister) made public his legislation to introduce abortion in Ireland. As expected, once again, the center of the pro-abortion campaign is the repeal of the law that criminalizes abortion in Ireland: the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. Kenny’s proposed legislation not only violates fundamental human rights, international guarantees given to Ireland in the European Union, and the Constitution of Ireland, but also would allow abortion up to nine months under certain circumstances. The government is holding hearings and attempting to co-opt Catholics to bless the proposal.
I state from the outset that the facts about the 2002 referendum need to be told, because the two groups rewriting history about that battle 11 years ago – the PLC and the Iona Institute – are doctrinally and politically unreliable. The PLC are mostly paid lobbyists, who have proven completely ineffective (and expensive) in swaying any of their political friends to defend the culture of life.
In their efforts to promote themselves and retell the facts, these groups unfortunately enlisted Mr. Austin Ruse, of the New York City-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (CFAM). Ruse’s assigned role, it seems, has been to simply regurgitate the false claims of the Iona Institute and the PLC regarding the 2002 referendum. He did this in the pages of Crisis magazine on March 1, 2013. His article, “Lord, Save Us From the Purists,” was factually incorrect, irresponsible, and damaging to the people who are really doing the pro-life work in Ireland. In it, Ruse attempts to blame the current crisis in Ireland on the pro-life groups that defeated the 2002 attempt to legalize abortion in Ireland.
Austin Ruse Acted Irresponsibly
As to the facts of the matter: I talked to Austin on the phone just weeks ahead of his foray into the Irish abortion question. When we spoke, he told me he did not know the ins and outs of the abortion situation in Ireland. With this I fully agree.
The first line of his article exhibits a tremendous lack of balance and objectivity: “Ireland is on the verge of making abortion legal in some circumstances and the fault can be laid on the doorstep of a tiny handful of misguided pro-lifers ten years ago.” What a remarkable accusation. In fact, the pro-life groups he blames – the so-called purists – have been tirelessly working to keep Ireland abortion-free.
As is obvious to anyone with common sense, the drive for legalized abortion continues to be a problem in Ireland, because the pro-abortion forces will not relent. Austin claims that ultimately allowing the pre-implanted human being (as the 2002 referendum required) to be sacrificed was necessary, and was the correct pro-life position, in order to prevent the greater evil of more abortions down the line. This theory is philosophically and theologically incorrect and opposed to reason and the Catholic faith. The easy deal Austin proposes is the precise reason why pro-life benefactors in America ought to closely watch the Iona Institute and the PLC for doctrinally erroneous and politically unreliable activity.
Austin argues vigorously that the “no” vote against the 2002 referendum is the cause of the current crisis. His forceful attack on the pro-life forces for defeating the abortion referendum is at best misleading. He fails to tell the reader that he was among the seven international pro-life leaders that at the time of the referendum (2002) who signed a scathing letter claiming that it was immoral to vote for the referendum. Now, he adamantly supports it.
The PLC and their newfound friends in the U.S. have been approaching benefactors, telling false stories about the work that they do and the problem of the “purists,” who are to blame for the abortion crisis in Ireland. Scorched-earth tactics such as these are not how we in America raise funds. Austin needs to cease lobbying for these groups and be honest.
Ruse’s incredible attack on the “purists” who voted “no” on the 2002 referendum is deceptive. In February of 2002, a group of international pro-life leaders wrote a scathing letter objecting to Cardinal Connell’s decision to agree to the “yes” vote in the 2002 referendum, and it accused the referendum of opening the door to abortion on demand. The letter stated, contrary to Ruse’s most recent claims, that “Catholics informed of the bishops’ views on the issue were free in conscience to vote differently[.]” Ruse’s letter at the time also stated that the Irish bishops were wrong on the referendum. It stated, “We believe that Christians cannot in good conscience support either the Bill’s specific proposals or the bill as a whole.”
Amongst the signatories of the very direct and “purist” letter was Mr. Austin Ruse himself.
Austin has accomplished a 180-degree flip-flop. Please note that the interpretation of Evangelium Vitae No. 73, which Ruse now uses to attack the pro-life movement, is the same exact argument he used in 2002 to attack the “yes” vote on the referendum. His attack on pro-lifers today in Ireland is incredible when in 2002 he was writing to support the “no” vote. Notice another irony: the man he attacks in his recent Crisis article, John Smeaton, is the name on the 2002 letter right below Austin’s own signature as the president of Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM). (Readers may review the full text of the letter, posted at the website of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, here.)
More ironic, Crisis also signed the letter for a “no” vote in 2002.
I believe that Austin should consider apologizing publicly and retract what he said in his Crisis article. What he wrote, in my view, is unbalanced, factually incorrect, and completely unnecessary. His present position is quite contrary to his own “purist” position at the time of the referendum.
The Facts About the 2002 Referendum
But Austin is also completely misinformed about the 2002 referendum on abortion and how it relates to the present debate. He writes today, “The last national referendum happened in 2002 that would have put unambiguous protection for unborn children in the Irish Constitution.” He further claims that “… all mainstreams pro-life groups enthusiastically supported the referendum.” Facts matter, and Ruse ignores what actually took place.
Ruse had not read the 2002 referendum bill in question when we spoke recently. The bill was intended to amend the Irish Constitution, which according to Irish law can be done only by national referendum. The “yes” vote, which Ruse laments did not take place, would have for the first time introduced abortion into Ireland as a constitutional right. The referendum wording states this plainly (emphasis added): “1.–(1) In this Act, ‘abortion’ means the intentional destruction by any means of unborn life after implantation in the womb of a woman.”
This past May 13, at the Pro-Life March in Rome, Ireland’s delegation from the Life Institute addressed the crowd on the current crisis and the fight to defend both woman and child from the moment of conception to natural death. This “purist” position that Austin Ruse scorns in his article was ratified that same day, when Pope Francis made a surprise visit among the pro-life “purists” to urge them to stay focused on the protection of life. His words in part, earlier that day from St. Peter’s square, should leave no doubt that Austin Ruse’s position (today) in the Crisis article is doctrinally incorrect. Ruse claims that voting to permit the death of the embryo in its first days was philosophically and theologically the correct “deal” for the Irish people in 2002. Yet Pope Francis’s words yesterday were quite unequivocal (emphasis added): “I greet the participants of the March for Life which took place this morning in Rome and invite everyone to stay focused on the important issue of respect for human life, from the moment of conception…I am pleased to recall the petition that today takes place in many Italian parishes, in order to support the initiative European ‘One of Us’ to ensure legal protection to the embryo, protecting every human being from the first moment of its existence.”
Austin recommends the Iona Institute and the PLC, but the latter was singlehandedly the most vociferous force trying to put pressure on pro-lifers in Ireland to vote “yes” on the 2002 referendum abortion bill. For years, these two organizations have been blaming the pro-lifers for the current crisis and their refusal to concede on abortion if even at the expense of human life in its most early stages. Now, Austin seems to agree with them.
The referendum was not enthusiastically supported, as Austin claims, by, “all mainstream pro-life groups[.]” In fact, only one group was chosen by the Fianna Fail government as a negotiating partner at that time: the PLC. This was undoubtedly because the PLC, known as a lobby group, has at its head a paid politician who, at the time, was a member of the same political party that was introducing abortion into Ireland. Undoubtedly, Austin realizes that moral freedom to defend life gets blurry when political ambitions come into play. The government knew that the PLC was quite malleable. The majority of the pro-life groups opposed the referendum had in fact met with PLC leadership ahead of the referendum, to make clear that in no way was the PLC speaking on behalf of the pro-life community in Ireland. A member of the PLC executive board resigned as soon as he understood the “deal” the PLC was prepared to make on life issues.
The current legislation requires a sound rejection by the Irish people, not another negotiation about who will be sacrificed and up to what time period.
Austin also fails to mention that even the pastoral letter of the Irish bishops at the time was not designed to trade lives in an easy “deal,” as he claims. Doing what Austin and the PLC wanted, a deal that would allow the killing of some in the hope that more lives would be preserved, was not the intention of the Irish bishops.
This facile “deal,” and the trivialization of the issue by Austin, is astonishing. In fact, the bishops’ letter at the time stated (emphasis added), “But even if the proposal is enacted, outstanding issues remain…in particular we are concerned that adequate and clear legal protection be offered to the unborn prior to implantation. This is urgent in view of what is happening and what is likely to happen in the area of cloning and research on human embryos, and also in the area of assisted reproduction where particular problems arise regarding the storage and disposal of human embryos. It is of vital importance that embryos are never treated other than as human persons whose inherent dignity are valued and vindicated.”
The great divergence was not on the fact that the Church in Ireland was willing to trade some lives for others. The Irish government had given guarantees that would be made explicit after the referendum regarding destructive embryo research. The pro-life community felt this was not enough, and that the government, with all the European pressures, would eventually collapse and not protect the pre-implanted embryo. The Church never affirmed, as Ruse, claims, that the “deal” was morally acceptable to the bishops.
Much information and the true intentions of the government became clearer as events unfolded. Even at the time of their letter, the bishops stated, “In this regard, we are about to make a substantial submission to the Government Commission on assisted Human Reproduction, setting out in detail our moral concerns in this area.” Years after the referendum, the above commission produced its results, and it was then clear that the bishops’ substantial moral concerns had indeed (as the pro-life community had predicted) been ignored.
The pro-life community ran out of time because, by the time the PLC revealed the wording of the amendment offered in the referendum, the deal was non-negotiable. It is largely believed that had the PLC worked on the side of the pro-life community, the changes in the constitutional amendment wording could have been accomplished. But they did not. The PLC refused to make the wording of the referendum available to the rest of the pro-life community and even to a member of the European Parliament, pro-life leader Dana Scallon. This until it was too late.
The Iona Institute and the PLC have repeatedly peddled the false “purist” narrative that had they won the referendum, all would be swell in Ireland. They have to this day been blaming the majority of Irish people and the pro-life community for the problem of abortion. This is a fantasy to justify their poor rationale for pushing the “yes” vote.
The Church Did Not Back the “Yes” Vote
Mr. Ruse falsely states that the whole Catholic Church was enthusiastically for the “yes” vote. The pastoral letter of the bishops of Ireland, as well as individual bishops, gave assurances that Catholics could in good conscience vote “no.” The bishops wrote (emphasis added), “We share the concern of many groups and individuals, (hardly the “tiny minority” Ruse describes as purists), that the new proposal strengthens legal protection for the unborn only after implantation in the womb. We understand the reluctance… to vote for a measure which does not seem to vindicate the right to life of the unborn from the moment of conception.” In fact, the papal nuncio at the time, Archbishop Lazzarotto, also stated that a “no” vote was in no way contrary to Catholic doctrine.
Roderick J. O’Hanlon, as former High Court judge in Ireland and president of the Law Reform Commission, described the proposal at the time as “intrinsically evil,” adding that the “yes” vote would have “definitely liberalized Irish abortion law[.]” Mr. John Rogers, who was attorney general in Ireland from 1984-1987, wrote a 2002 open letter to caution Cardinal Desmond Connell that his belief that pre-implanted embryos would be protected was not solid in law. He wrote, “Would the protection extend to the unborn prior to implantation in the womb as Cardinal Connell contends?” (Note that the cardinal was not striking deals of lesser evils, or voting for laws that would sacrifice the unborn before implantation to secure further prohibitions on abortion down the line. This may be Austin Ruse’s position and that of his friends, but it is an error in fact and a falsification of the Church’s position at the time. The cardinal agreed that the non-protection of the pre-implanted embryo was unacceptable but believed that perhaps this would not come to pass.)
Experience in the pro-life movement teaches that strict wording is essential to prevent abortion on demand from infiltrating a nation. Attorney General Rogers, along with many in the pro-life community and the majority of the Irish people, did not buy the government’s assurances. Ruse’s position is not Catholic doctrine – not by a long shot. In the 2002 open letter to Cardinal Connell, Rogers continues, “… it cannot be stated with any confidence that the Constitution, as amended by the addition of article 40.3.4 will protect ‘the life of the unborn in the womb’ before implantation, which is what Cardinal Connell contends to be the case…Accordingly, I feel I must say that the Cardinal’s assurance to those opposed to abortion on this issue is unconvincing and one which it would be unwise for them to rely.”
The support for the 2002 referendum was anything but an “enthusiastic” majority. In fact, most Irish citizens did not even vote. Ruse paints what I can describe only as a fictitious picture of what took place. The medical and political community were also completely divided. Moreover, Professor Charles Rice of Notre Dame University also warned against the proposal.
By February of 2002, plans for the referendum to take place in March 2002 already had produced signs of the ominous dangers that were coming to Ireland. One month before the vote, the government had assigned 30 hospitals where the “procedures” would be taking place. The “procedures” would require the “reasonable opinion” of one practitioner, and furthermore, medical records of the “procedure” would not be subject to any sort of scrutiny. It would be helpful to recall that in the U.K., two signatures were required, but none of that prevented what is today virtually abortion on demand in England. It is utterly naive of Ruse to believe that once abortion has its foot in the door, it can be halted forever. Where has he been all these years? Please.
Battle against Destructive Embryonic Research
Austin Ruse also fails to understand the other complications attached to the bill. Besides introducing abortion in the early stages as a constitutional right and decriminalizing the practice of abortion in Ireland, the other big battle that was being fought was against the IVF industry and the embryonic destructive research lobby, which were seeking access to pre-implanted embryos. The European position allowed destructive research of the human embryo up to 14 days (that is, before implantation). Mr. Ruse is surely unaware that the European Parliament had voted the use of $17.5 billion of taxpayers’ funds (this despite it being illegal not only in Ireland, but also in other member-states) for embryonic stem cell research. Of this colossal amount, $300 million was to be dedicated, in a budget line item, to destructive embryo research. Ireland’s legal protection had always been interpreted as protecting life from conception, and in this regard, it stood incompatible with the European Union’s policy for the destructive embryo research industry to have access to human life in the first 14 days.
At the time of the 2002 referendum, lobby groups had also tried to pass an amendment for “therapeutic cloning.” The European Union was also pushing to decriminalize the use of “supernumerary” embryos. This was illegal in countries such as Germany, Austria, and Italy, who were asking the Irish to support blocking the legislation. Clearly, failing in Ireland to protect the pre-implanted embryo would have had greater consequences than Austin’s shallow commentary explains. The Irish government, which was pushing the referendum with the help of the PLC, did not join the coalition to block funding for destructive embryonic research, and clearly the stakes at the referendum were getting even higher.
Three days before the referendum, it was reported that one of the major hospitals in Ireland would have access to EU funding for human embryo research if the referendum were to pass. Congressmen in the United States were fully aware of the push for a “yes” vote from the embryo research industry. All that Ruse needs to do is ask people such as Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), who was working with Dana Scallon and others to stop the mad rush to destroy human life in Ireland and in Europe. The bishops’ position was never the position that Austin Ruse proclaims: to do evil that greater evils may be avoided.
Instruction from Dignitas Personae
Doctrinally, amongst the “purists,” the troublesome pro-lifers with the “fundamentalist view” which Austin derides, we have the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
In the instruction Dignitas Personae from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pesky “purists” again rear their ugly heads for Ruse & Company. States Dignitas Personae (emphasis added): “It is appropriate to recall the fundamental ethical criterion… in order to evaluate all moral questions which relate to procedures involving the human embryo: Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence… from the moment the zygote has formed, demands unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being…the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized…” (no.6) Furthermore, Dignitas Personae states, “… This ethical principle, which reason is capable of recognizing as true and in conformity with the natural law, should be the basis for all legislation in this area.”(No.7).
It seems the Irish majority is indeed quite “purist.” The new papal nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, stated recently that “2013 is an incredibly important one for the sanctity of human life in Ireland… Peoples of conscience from all religions and no religion need to work vigorously and courageously to protect and nurture human life from conception to natural death.” The four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland had this to say: “The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity depend on our respect for the right to life of every person from the moment of conception to natural death.”
A few years after the referendum, pro-life leader Dana Scallon (whom Austin scorns in his article) would receive the prestigious San Benedetto award for her pro-life work in Europe. The following year, the award was given to Cardinal Ratzinger. Why Austin is taking aim at Mrs. Scallon at this late hour is beyond me.
Decriminalizing Abortion via Repeal of the 1861 Act
But there are more, and more important, particulars about the 2002 referendum that must be understood. The referendum, which Ruse praises, would have also repealed a crucial item of Irish law: the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. This statute forbids abortion, making abortion a criminal offense. This 1861 law has been ridiculed by some of the groups which lobbied to vote “yes” on the referendum – principally the Pro Life Campaign, which derides it as Victorian and outdated.
The particular articles in the 1861 Act that would have been repealed by the 2002 referendum are exactly what Prime Minister Enda Kenny wants repealed in his current abortion legislation. Included for the present legislation is the repeal of the same articles that would have been abolished in 2002. This includes Article #58, which reads: “Every woman being with child, who with intent to procure her own miscarriage (abortion) shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whomsoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman…shall administer to her or cause to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument…shall be guilty of felony.”
Article #59 of the 1861 Act was intended to punish not only the person procuring an abortion and those who perform abortions, but also those who supply the means for an abortion. These persons, according to the 1861 Act, “…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” Ruse fails to see what he saw clearly in 2002: that voting to decriminalize abortion is not the proper application of voting for an imperfect law, and the claim to prevent the greater evil by voting for a lesser evil does not apply when voting to decriminalize abortion.
Dana Scallon, who is one of the targets of Austin’s scathing criticism, was at the time of Austin’s article unveiling a new coalition between North and South, Protestants and Catholics, united in the defense of life from the moment of conception and the 1861 Law. The impressive coalition had letters of support from Lord David Alton, Lord Nicholas Windsor (member of the Pontifical Academy for Life), the government of Malta (the only other nation in Europe where abortion is criminal from the moment of conception), and Mr. Luca Volentè, one of the champions in Europe of the pro-life cause. These “purists,” who Ruse claims are causing a crisis in Ireland, are known to those of us who work for the pro-life cause in Europe as unimpeachable defenders of life in the international public square and leaders who have stood squarely against the onslaught of the pro-abortion lobby.
It should be telling for Mr. Ruse to know that recently in Knock, Ireland, a majority of pro-life groups met under the leadership of an Irish bishop to affirm the defense of the 1861 Act and the protection of life from the moment of conception.
It should also give Mr. Ruse pause to consider two things. The repeal of the 1861 Act, which would have happened ten years ago if Ruse (by his thinking today) and some of the groups he recommends would have had their way, would have been in clear contradiction to the intervention of Pope Benedict XVI, one day before the parliamentary hearings in Dublin this year. I was in Dublin at the time. From Rome, the pope stated his “… dismay that, in various countries, even those of Christian tradition, efforts are being made to introduce or expand legislation which decriminalizes abortion.” The pontiff’s message was unmistakable: voting or legislating to decriminalize abortion is contrary to Catholic doctrine. The papal intervention made front-page news in Ireland. It is high time for Ruse and his friends to stop rewriting history.
Austin’s trusted advisor on all things Irish, Mr. David Quinn (Iona Institute), would have no problem with much of this doctrinal divergence from Catholicism. Quinn is on record as having no issue with contraception and a host of other things. Quinn has been evolving doctrinally (I admit), but I submit he is still unreliable. Writes Quinn (emphasis added), “O’Toole’s problem is with pro-life Catholics, or ‘fundamentalists[.]’ … About some such Catholics he is right, but they are a dwindling minority. I am an orthodox Christian and Catholic, but I supported the decriminalization of homosexuality. I was for divorce…I believe if people want to use contraception, that is their right. More recently I opposed those who were against the provision of a vasectomy service in Donegal hospital I also supported removing churches form state-funded schools[.]”
Why is Mr. Ruse recommending these individuals to the American pro-life community? I certainly do not. I respectfully disagree, and I think the American pro-life community needs to be aware. I hold for the reasons stated in this article and others that these groups, although well-connected in politics and the Church, are in fact doctrinally and in action not reliable.
Real Pro-life Leaders in Ireland
The national campaign being waged against the Irish government’s efforts to legalize abortion has been led by two other groups which opposed the 2002 referendum. The January 20, 2013 rally that took place in Dublin was organized and led by Youth Defence and the Life Institute, more “purists” by Ruse’s calculation. These groups are holding weekly town hall meetings to defeat candidates who are willing to vote for abortion. They have funded a media campaign in newspapers and direct mail appeals to the Irish nation, asking citizens to oppose abortion on grounds of suicidal ideation in pregnant women.
This coalition is now in the process of collecting 100,000 pledges of Irish citizens who vow never to vote for the majority party, Fine Gael, if it brings abortion legislation forward.
Church Teaching on Imperfect Laws
Mr. Ruse, ten years after the referendum he writes about, still fails to grasp the teaching of the Church regarding the doctrine on imperfect laws, explained in Evangelium Vitae No. 73. On September 18, 2002, just months after the 2002 referendum in Ireland, the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, provided the needed clarification. Their coverage was intended for theologians, so that they could help people understand correctly the Holy Father’s view on why the support for imperfect laws on abortion is possible. The task of explaining this was assigned to Professor Angel Luño of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. L’Osservatore Romano carried Luño’s argument in full.
When explaining what is unjust about pro-abortion laws, Professor Luño stated (emphasis added), “ Not only are those laws seriously unjust which allow the state to attack a human right, but also those through which the state fails in its duty to prohibit and punish…the violation of fundamental human rights by others…” The evil is not merely in the promotion of abortion but in the decriminalization of abortion in law, “…there is a moral obligation not to follow the provisions, to oppose them civilly… But there is, above all, the duty of doing everything legitimately possible to repeal such laws.”
Defeating the 2002 Referendum in Ireland, which was trying to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right in Ireland, was the existing moral duty at the time.
Only after repeal of an unjust law has failed can one consider lessening the impact of the “law” by voting for imperfect legislation, and this only under certain conditions. States Luño in L’Osservatore Romano, in explaining the doctrine, two key principles need to be maintained (emphasis added): “The first states, that “although it is true that it is at times lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater… it is never lawful, even for the greatest of reasons, to do evil that good may come of it… even though the intention is to promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of a society in general” (emphasis added) (Humanae Vitae, no. 14). Writes Luño: “No one may licitly carry out the command to kill ten innocent people in order to prevent the killing of thirty. What is intrinsically evil cannot be the direct object of the will, no matter what the cost.”
But there was another prohibition which the Irish people were able to understand, thanks to the “purists” whom Austin derides. Writes Luño: “The second principle concerns cooperation: ‘it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil.’ This is defined as, ‘… a direct participation in an act against innocent human life, of a sharing in the moral intention of the person committing it’ (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, n. 74).” Explains Luño, “It is not morally possible to collaborate in the creation or application of a seriously unjust law, for example, those which permit abortion or promote abortion (cf., John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, nn. 72-74).”
You cannot vote to introduce abortion, hoping to avoid further problems in the future. It’s that simple.
Professor Luño then presents a discussion by Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s current secretary of state, of three scenarios to aid in understanding the issue of support for morally imperfect legislation and guide in a proper application of Evangelium Vitae, No. 73. Cardinal Bertone’s presentation was titled “Catholics and pluralist society: ‘imperfect laws’ and the responsibility of legislators.” Bertone’s third scenario was the Irish case. The cardinal defines this third scenario as follows: “Third scenario: This is the situation of a country where abortion is illegal. Changes in public opinion, the position of political groups, and other factors make it reasonably certain that within a short period of time it will be impossible to prevent the approval of a very permissive law on abortion. The following problem then arises: would it be morally licit to take the initiative, with the intention of forestalling a further worsening of the situation, by promoting a law which depenalizes abortion in just a few cases – rigorously defined – and which would also contain serious provisions aimed at preventing abortion?”
Luño explains why the answer to this question should also be negative, and why it does not meet the requirements of proper philosophical and Catholic doctrine: “The fundamental reason is that, in this case, the backers of the law would be morally responsible for a seriously unjust law and one which also represents a worsening of the prior legal situation, even if it might be relatively positive in comparison with a possible or probable future legal situation. One should not take the initiative of making oneself responsible for something in itself morally wrong in order that others do not do something worse. (This is required by the moral principle presented in Humanae Vitae, N. 14.) Furthermore, he wrote, “…Public statements by persons who in some way represent the Church, call for particular prudence, so that certain criteria or prudential positions are not interpreted erroneously as doctrinal positions in favor of laws which do not guarantee complete protection for human life.”
Austin Ruse, a respected person in the pro-life movement and a friend, lamentably paints a distorted picture of the 2002 referendum. It is also quite unclear why Austin is trying to litigate after ten years these issues, at this critical hour.
Everyone can judge for him- or herself. But we do our duty to correct Mr. Ruse’s misleading and aggressive article in Crisis magazine, as it is factually incorrect not only about the 2002 referendum in Ireland, but also about the current situation and who the players working to keep abortion out of Ireland really are. It conceals the facts of his own position on the 2002 referendum.
One hates to publicly contradict a friend who normally is more accurate and careful on pro-life matters. But on the Irish question, Austin proves to be an unreliable guide.