To decriminalise abortion is a contradiction of the most fundamental principle of the legal system
By Anthony Murphy
Catholic Voice (published with permission)
In this interview, His Eminence, Raymond Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, speaks on abortion and on the duty of Catholic politicians in this regard.
The 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade has just passed which legalised abortion in America under the auspices of “health care”. Could you comment on the devastation and misery which this has brought to thousands of women and also why abortion is a crime which should never be decriminalised?
The celebration of the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade underlines for the United States of America the incalculable harm which has been done by the legalization of abortion. Abortion has nothing to do with healthcare, the infant in the womb is not a disease but a gift of new human life. Over 50 million lives have been taken since the handing down of Roe vs. Wade, a decision which practically permits the taking of the life of the infant in the womb up to the very moment of birth. It is not possible to comprehend all of the devastation worked by procured abortion on demand during these past forty years. There is, first of all, the devastation of the loss of innocent and defenceless human life in such staggering numbers. At the same time, there is the tremendous suffering of the women who have undergone an abortion and who have come to understand that they have violently taken a new human life conceived in their wombs. To commit abortion is contrary to the deepest being of a woman. The taking of an innocent and defenceless human life can never be right, can never be justified. Therefore, to decriminalize abortion is a contradiction of the most fundamental principle of the legal system, the principle that human life is to be safeguarded and defended at all times. It is clear that, in the United States of America, the decriminalization of abortion has resulted in millions of deaths, in the loss of respect for woman and in the ever greater violence which sadly marks American society today.
The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar has triggered a frenzy amongst abortion activists in a similar way to which deception and lies were used in the case of Norma Jean McCorvey’s pregnancy in 1973. What lessons can the Irish government learn from the McCorvey case to prevent the Savita Case becoming Ireland’s Roe vs Wade?
The death of Savita Halappanavar is indeed tragic. It is, however, contrary to right reason to hold that an innocent and defenceless human life can be justifiably destroyed in order to save the life of the mother. The Irish people, and especially the Irish government, should be very alert to the kind of argumentation which will be used by the secular media and by secular ideologues, in general, claiming that the destruction of the new human life in her womb could have saved the life of Savita Halappanavar and, therefore, would have been justified. Such an argument is absurd in itself. Even though, if the reports are correct, Savita Halappanavar requested an abortion, her request would not have made it right for the law to permit such an act which is always and everywhere wrong.
Catholic bishops have been criticised for saying that abortion introduces a “culture of death”, also some politicians have complained that Pro Life groups have sent them information including images detailing the horror of abortion. They appeal for what they call a “civilised” and calm debate. Is there anything civilised about abortion and does the use of graphic imagery help create awareness of the gravity of the evil which occurs when an abortion is committed?
With regard to the complaint of some about the language of “culture of death,” and also about certain images which portray the horror of abortion, one must observe that we have a habit in society today to use language which helps us to avoid the reality about which we are speaking. Blessed John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter The Gospel of Life, insisted that such evils as abortion and euthanasia must be called by their proper names and not by euphemisms which tend to keep from our consciousness the objective reality of the evil involved (cf. no. 58). Therefore, the use of the language of “culture of death,” is not only accurate, but it is also most helpful, for it draws our attention to the pervasive effect of abortion on demand on society in general. In other words, the practice of abortion on demand leads to multiple forms of violence in the family and also against our fellow citizens who have grown weak, either under advanced years or because of special needs which they have or because of a grave illness.
With regard to the use of graphic images, in the context of the plea for a civilized debate with regard to abortion, certainly one must be careful not to use graphic images for the sake of being graphic. On the other hand, our fellow citizens should know what an abortion actually is. Images of the act of abortion or the results of abortion, when carefully presented to the public, can help the public, in general, to recognize the grave evil which besets us and to take appropriate action.
What is the duty of a Catholic politician when faced with this type of legislation and can there ever be a situation where he may vote for abortion even if he believes it to be restricted?
The duty of a Catholic politician when he is faced with anti-life or anti-family legislation is to support all of those measures which will most reduce the evils which attack human life and the integrity of marriage. Sometimes it is not possible to eliminate at once completely the evil. The Catholic politician cannot vote for any legislation which would confirm the evil or even advance it, but, at the same time, if there is some legislation which will reduce the practice of the evil, he would be justified in supporting that legislation, as long as he also acknowledges the intrinsic evil of the practice involved and the need for his constituency to take appropriate action to eliminate the practice altogether.
It is clear from Canon 915 that abortion is a mortal sin and a collaboration with evil, can those who claim to be Catholic vote for it and remain full members of the Church? Also what is the role of the local bishop with regard to this matter?
With regard to Canon 915, it states that those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin should not be admitted to receive Holy Communion. There can be no question that the practice of abortion is among the gravest of manifest sins and therefore once a Catholic politician has been admonished that he should not come forward to receive Holy Communion, as long as he continues to support legislation which fosters abortion or other intrinsic evils, then he should be refused Holy Communion. In my own experience, when I have informed Catholic politicians who were supporting anti-life or anti-family legislation not to approach to receive Holy Communion, they have understood and have followed the discipline of the Church as it is set forth in Canon 915.
Depending on the situation, the Diocesan Bishop may be involved directly in admonishing the politician, but it is also within the pastoral care of the parish priest to admonish anyone in his congregation who is persisting obstinately in manifest grave sin not to approach to receive Holy Communion. The local Bishop should teach clearly in the matter and also encourage his priests to make sure that the Church’s discipline is observed, in order to avoid the grave sin of sacrilege on the part of the Catholic politician who approaches to receive Holy Communion when he is persisting obstinately in grave moral evil, and to prevent the scandal which is caused when such individuals receive Holy Communion, because their reception of Holy Communion gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm.
In your book, Divine Love Made Flesh, you explain that Catholics who support abortion legislation should refrain from receiving Holy Communion not only because of the public scandal but also out of love for Our Lord. Could you explain?
In response to the last question, surely the consideration of public scandal must be in the mind of those who approach to receive Holy Communion unworthily. However, at a much deeper level of faith and of personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, a person obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin will refrain from approaching to receive Holy Communion because of his love of our Lord and his sorrow for the grave sin which he is commiting against our Lord and His Holy Church. In fact, it is the recognition of the grave offense against the Lord which will most inspire a conversion of heart in the Catholic politician who publicly supports anti-life or anti-family legislation. One recalls here the words of Saint Paul in chapter 11 of the First Letter to the Corinthians, in which he addressed a situation of the sacrilegious receiving of Holy Communion among the faithful at Corinth, Saint Paul wrote that the person who receives Holy Communion unworthily sins against the Lord and therefore brings about his own condemnation. The passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians reads: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).