The ongoing debate about abortion has prompted me to post yet another blog about the subject. Again, allow me to state categorically I AM OPPOSED TO ABORTION !! However, I believe there are extreme circumstances and exceptions that require more understanding than just a simple statement, such as made recently on both sides of our border, by members of the clergy; stating that abortion cannot be permitted under any circumstances . At no time did either bishop suggest that such a decision can only be made through a powerful prayerful appeal to God that leaves the concerned individual with a clear conscience. To pronounce judgment after fact is clearly wrong.
It is a sad fact that Catholics, and others, are not taught to trust in a God who will speak directly to our needs and fears. It's too bad that some Catholics do not familiarize themselves with their rights under Canon Law as well as their liabilities under Concordats. It is indeed a sorrowful situation in which Catholics are discouraged from reading the Bible for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of God's compassion and forgiveness. It is sad fact that Catholics and others have lost their connection with nature. Through our narrow understanding we failed to see the Holy Water that consists of the Great Lakes and the Oceans and all the other waters around us.
When I read the story about the woman in Phoenix and Sr. Margaret McBride for the first time I wondered immediately why Bishop Olmstead felt it was necessary to go public and emphatically announce the Church's teaching position on abortion, as if it wasn't already known. More importantly why harass the mother and her religious supporter any further on this matter? Hadn't they suffered or punished enough by the Church? Sr. McBride had served at the hospital for more than thirty years – does anyone think she and the mother took the decision lightly and without any consultation with God? Or does the Church's stance on morality trump that of the Holy Spirit? This same attitude was more recently endorsed by Canadian Cardinal Marc Oullette when he stated that there should be no exceptions for abortions.
It is time for the Church (and some militant pro-life groups) to stop pontificating and expressing morals only in strict absolute and judicial terms especially on matters so intensely private. Instead the Church has a duty to guide us towards our hearts where we will find the answers within.
All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in all matters (Canon 748,1). Furthermore, as Catholics we have a moral right and responsibility under Canon Law to express publicly our dissent in regard to decisions made by church authorities (C212,C.218,C.753).
Clearly the Vatican II fathers recognized that obedience to a higher norm takes precedence over worldly authority as follows:
Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law that they have not laid upon themselves but which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid what is evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity lies in observing this law, and by it they will be judged . . . By conscience that law is made known in a wonderful that is fulfilled in love for God and for one's neighbour. Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems that arise both in the lives of individuals and in social relationships. - Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World
Perhaps a new sacrament needs to be introduced, similar to a 'rite of passage' that finally severs our umbilical cord from the religious institution – a kind of graduation ceremony. As adults we need to take responsibility for our own spiritual development including all moral and ethical decisions. Certainly the Church can assist and guide us to develop higher forms of ethics and morals but it must recognize that ultimately it is we who need to take responsibility for our decisions. Condemnation after the fact is not the way taught by Jesus. Catholics and indeed other Christian religious institutions need to defer to the Holy Spirit that exists within each human being. Finally, does scripture not clearly state: "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."(John 14:26)?
The debate about Bishop Olmstead is far from over and resurfaced when he recently stated that the Hospital failed to respect his authority and demanded that it could subsequently no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution.