Today I saw this piece HERE on a “Catholic” philosophy professor at Notre Dame who wants Pope Francis to reconsider abortion. The link I provided includes a very well-reasoned response by a Jesuit priest. I wanted to take a moment to add something to what the site says already and look at another one of the professor’s errors because it is a common one. We have touched on this error a few times on the blog before in passing but I want to point it out directly. The error comes down to the idea that the Church has a ban or prohibition on abortion (or any other matter that the Church teaches is immoral, e.g. contraception or divorce).
It may seem odd at first to say “the Church does not ban abortion,” but in fact, it is entirely correct and every Catholic ought to accept the statement. Even non-Catholics should realize that the Church is not attempting to forbid anyone from getting an abortion in the sense that it is a mere law of the Church. The Church does excommunicate those who are involved in an abortion, and in that sense we could say the Church has a law against abortion, but at the same time, if this excommunication did not exist, the Church would still be opposed to abortion, much like she is opposed to contraceptives without any excommunication attached to the sin of contraception. The main point is that the teaching against abortion goes beyond the specific excommunication, excommunication is a public penalty done to warn the sinner and others.
The flaw in the idea that the Church “bans” abortion and consequently can lift this ban is that the Church in fact has no authority to make any law regarding the morality of abortion per se. Abortion is wrong because it is murder. Murder is wrong because it is against the natural law. In other words, it is bad for us as humans and therefore reason tells us to not do it. Ultimately, the natural law is man’s participation in the Eternal Law of God. For one to support abortion, he does not disagree with a “law of the Church” but with a law of God Himself. God did not give the Pope the authority to change natural law. In fact, the general precepts of natural law cannot be changed by God Himself. The reason is that they are necessarily true given what human nature is. God cannot do what is self-contradictory, and changing natural law is ultimately self-refuting. God can change human nature, that is, He could make it so that we evolved into other creatures of some sort. Maybe then we would have different moral obligations. Similarly, God is not necessarily bound by natural law in the same sense we are (for instance, God has the right to redistribute every earthly good whereas we have no right to steal). But God cannot command us to violate natural law or change what conclusions of natural law follow from our natures. The Church was established by Christ to get us to heaven and part of this was the authority to teach infallibly on the natural law (which we can know through reason alone as well). However, while Christ did give the Church the ability to teach on all issues, He did not give the Church the ability to change them all. The Church does have certain legislative power, but only in certain areas where the natural law is flexible, much like human government has legislative power and the freedom to make laws where the natural law is flexible. (An example of the latter is the government has the natural right to tax and the liberty choose how much an example of the former is that there is a natural and revealed obligation to do penance but the Church can make specific rules e.g. no meat on Fridays).
Since abortion and murder are part of the natural law, the Church has no authority to change these. Since the Church teaches infallibly on the natural law, any attempt to change them is implicit heresy (as it implicitly denies the infallibility of the Church which is an article of faith). Pope Francis simply does not have the power to change the morality of abortion. He, nor any other prelate, made abortion immoral. It is God’s law, not the Pope’s which bans abortion. The Church can change certain disciplines, but the teaching that abortion is murder is no discipline, rather, it is a teaching on the natural law, the law of God not of the Church.
Now, this error is very prevelant. Many people speak of the Church’s condemnation of certain moral issues as if they were legislative bans of these things. Obviously, as I have explained, this entire way of thinking is erroneous. It is more accurate and more honest to speak of the Church as changing her teaching on these issues, not lifting a ban. Now, the Church certainly cannot change the teaching on abortion because this would amount to the Church being false (as discussed in a post HERE ). But at least, this approach has the honesty of using the Church’s own terms when discussing moral issues. Perhaps the philosophy professor and those like him would want the Church to not be infallible and to simply reconsider the issue, to see the light that is. Maybe they believe all along God has not had a problem with abortion and the Church’s teaching simply missed the mark. This is a possible viewpoint but would be logically equivalent to saying they would like to see the Church be a fallible-human organization and not the guardian of the Deposit of Faith, the sure norm of truth, Christ’s Church which the “gates of hell will not prevail against.” If this is the case, these people have an entirely different view of Catholicism. They see it as a forum to discuss and debate issues about God, maybe a nice social club or charity organization, but certainly something vastly different than the ark of salvation and the spotless bride of Christ. The Pope might be the chair of this discussion committee but certainly not the Vicar of Christ and the other Bishops might be nice “shepherds” but not in the sense that they are successors to the Apostles, Christ’s original representatives.
It is this view of the Church which is taking over the minds of many “Catholics” including clerics. It is this view which is battling the traditional view. These views cannot coexist as they are the exact antithesis of one another. These views will inevitably cause strife and anger between those who support each one. This battle will rage on, possibly until the end of time, but since we are not there yet, I will make three points.
1-To the moderns who want the Church to change: why stay Catholic? Why not start an off-shoot religion? Why not start a club where there is freedom to disagree? If you think killing babies is fine, then feel free to believe that, and even argue with the Church about it, but don’t say you’re Catholic. You’re no more a Catholic than a person who roots for the Yankees is a Red Sox fan.
2- Remember, Christ wins in the end. Victory is on the side of truth. “The gates of hell will not prevail” is not a conditioned statement, it is an absolute grantee given by the Son of God.
3- This is a spiritual war of the devil against the Church. The only way to fight a spiritual war is with spiritual weapons. We are weak humans, and the devil has power over us. But remember, “the Rosary is the scourge of the devil.” The devil fears Mary like no other, the simple idea that an angel must kneel before a human is monstrous to him, yet there is no way around it. Mary is Queen of Heaven and earth, lifted above the angels, and “she will crush his head.” When in doubt, go to Mary, because as the prayer says “never was it known that anyone who implored thy help was left unaided.”
Never was it known, certainly this won’t be the first time she abandons her children.