Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Bishops back a right to life ... until you exit the womb

Did the Catholic bishops feel no sense of irony when they declared on Tuesday that no government has the right to "legislate for something which will interfere with the inviolable right to life of every human person"?

If they were serious, would they not now be calling on Catholics to mobilise to get to Fermanagh next Monday and let Putin, Obama and the rest of the G8 know they are not welcome on these shores?

The Pakistani Government has endorsed the minimum estimate of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that at least 400 people innocent of any offence, including more than 100 children, have so far been blown to bits in the salvos of drone bombs unleashed from half a world away by Barack Obama.

By what moral stratagem have the bishops managed to discard the victims of drones from the category of human beings endowed with an inviolable right to life?

Wherein lies the right to life of the Chechen people under constant threat of annihilation by the gangster government of Vladimir Putin for the crime of wanting not even independence, but a degree of autonomy?

Russia is every day pouring arms into Syria for the Assad regime to use against its 'own' people. Meanwhile, William Hague and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, criss-cross Europe trying to persuade their allies to join them in arming the other and equally vicious side. Where's the acknowledgement there of Syrian people's inviolable right to life?

We could go on. The United States gifts the Israeli government billions of dollars in missiles, warplanes, tanks and guns to crush the hopes and lives of Palestinians.

Iran arms Shia Islamists, while the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia counters with shipments of killing equipment to its Sunni proxies.

All over the world, major powers procure the killing of innocent people by the tens of thousands and the most that Catholic and other religious leaders can offer in response is an occasional vague suggestion that there's something vaguely wrong about this.

But a bishop declaring that such behaviour is so grievously sinful against God that citizens should rise up in righteous fervour and take to the streets of, say, Enniskillen against it? No chance.

In shameless contrast, they use their vast propaganda apparatus and their ideological control of state-funded schools to draw upwards of 20,000 people on to the streets of Dublin last Saturday to pressurise the Kenny government to withdraw a timid measure on abortion.

(This is what the bishops have in mind when they speak of a 'Catholic ethos' – their 'right' to shape the moral sense of children, thus to corral the minds of another generation within their ambit.)

All this in spite of the fact that an absolute ban on abortion has no place in Christian tradition and didn't become the official teaching of the Catholic Church until the 19th century, which in the perspective of Rome is no more than a wet week ago.

President Ronald Reagan met Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in June 1987. Reagan was facing considerable difficulty in persuading Britain, West Germany and Italy to accept the installation of Pershing and Cruise missiles.

Anti-war organisations – and, it should be acknowledged, a number of US bishops – pleaded with the Pope to speak out against the escalating nuclear arms race. A US under-secretary of state said at the time: "Had the Pope gotten up one Sunday and said 'We don't want these missiles in Europe', we probably could not have these missiles." He probably knew there was no need for worry.

A Channel Four programme showed the Pope later being pressed as to whether he had urged Reagan to back a new nuclear arms control agreement. John Paul dodged the question like any cornered politician before snapping: "I am convinced that it is necessary to respect also the secrets of each person."

But there was and is no question of any Pope respecting the "secrets" of a woman who feels unable to continue an intolerable pregnancy. John Paul found time to issue the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in which, under the heading You Shall Not Kill – God's Holy Law, abortion was denounced as a sin which cried to heaven for vengeance.

Is John Paul remembered on this account as a morally flawed man? No. He has been fast-tracked to sainthood, having been 'beatified' on May 1, 2011 amid great rejoicing and reports of miracles. Plane-loads of people travelled from Ireland to Rome for the prayerful celebrations.

The implicit teaching of the bishops is that your inviolable right to life lasts only until the instant you exit the womb.

After that, you take your chances.

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