Outside observers may wonder why the public never used to hear from the Vatican about abortion; and why we hear about very little else from the Vatican, these days, *except* abortion.
The Church forbade Catholic women to seek abortions long before Roe v Wade. But it was a matter between the woman and the Church. The Vatican made at best a feeble attempt to influence legislation -- or even to shape public opinion outside the Roman Catholic Church.
For example, if you search the NY Times historical index, for the terms <abortion> and <vatican>, one comes up with the following hits (*including* letters to the editor, and news summaries, not just articles)
In 1962, Mrs. Robert Fishbein received a legal medical abortion, to terminate the pregnancy of a fetus that was deformed by Thalidomide, a prescription drug that caused thousands of birth defects, especially in the UK. The Vatican made a rare public statement, calling Mrs. Fishbein's and her surgeon criminals ("A crime has been committed..." the Vatican announcement began); an announcement that caused outrage around the world, even among liberal Roman Catholics.
Meanwhile, the Church was debating which forms of birth control besides the unreliable rhythm method should be permitted to Roman Catholics. In December 1965, the Vatican Council was still unresolved whether it would approve condoms and the Pill for contraceptive use. Liberal bishops believed they would carry the day, in getting approval; but the Council failed to come to a decision (See The Catholic Gazette, 12/1966, and "Priest Says Catholics Rebel on Birth Control, NY Times 12/31/66)
1966: 8 news items, etc., in the NY Times
In April 1967, the the majority report of the Vatican Council was disclosed to the world press. As it turns out the majority had expressly sought a papal shift on contraception, affirming not just the unreliable rhythm method, but all "decent and human means of contraception." The Vatican at the time declined comment.
In June 1967, the Vatican issued a statement that Pope Paul VI would "study the need for birth control within the context of the church's eternal values."
1968: 9 news items, etc., in the NY Times
In its decision of January 22, 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to choose. The RC church opposed the ruling; continued to assert the Church's right to legislate the rights, family planning, and personal conscience of Catholics; but it did not yet begin the propaganda campaign that has engulfed U.S. religion for the past quarter-century.
In 1984, the Vatican criticized US VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro (RC) for her statement that abortion should be a matter of personal choice and private conscience.
Also in 1984, Catholic nuns in America signed a statement affirming diversity of opinion about abortion, among Roman Catholics. Those courageous sisters were joined by others. The Vatican demanded that they recant; and over the next few years, hardened its opinion on contraception while disciplining and persecuting those clergy and nuns who opposed the Vatican's tyranny.
In 1988, the international order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur defied the Vatican, refusing to dismiss nuns in its order who had signed the 1984 declaration. Outraged by this challenge to patriarchalist fascism, the Vatican strengthened its assault on dissent, and further hardened its position on both contraception and abortion, thereby escalating its commitment to a wrong idea, and for the wrong reasons.
In 1985, clerical sex abuse became front-page news for the first time, as Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe pleaded guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. That led to thousands of fresh complaints around the world, and many new court cases -- an epidemic of abuse and litigation that has not abated.
Rising to the challenge, the Vatican very cleverly diverted public and Roman Catholic outrage, from clerical sex abuse, to the "sin" of abortion rights. For the Vatican, it was smart politics: Hammering on the hypothesis that abortion is a sin, the Church could take the high ethical ground on human sexuality. And since abortion is a "sin" that few Catholics committed, the Church risked few defections over that issue. Abortion was an issue around which Catholics could rally, and one with strong emotional appeal when accompanied by graphic photographs, purple rhetoric, and the language of criminality. Moreover, abortion proved an emotional issue that cold enrich church coffers in donations.
From 1985 to the present, abortion has continued to be the Vatican's frontline issue, for at least one simple reason: it distracts loyal Roman Catholics from getting too concerned over clerical child abuse - which is something that laymen cannot control. But "baby murders" are occurring all over the world -- and that is an issue that the Vatican would like all good Catholics to get exercised about.
Here's the corker: The Church knows that its grounds for prohibiting abortion is one big lie. God's Word is absolutely explicit that the spirit (Hebrew ru'ach, Greek pneuma) begins at the exact moment when the human organism draws its first independent breath. God's Word is explicit, as well, that the organism becomes a soul (Hebrew nephesh, Greek psyche) when that first breath is drawn. That teaching of Scripture is consistent in both Old and New Testaments, right from the get-go:
Genesis 2:7: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [ru'ach]; and man became a living soul [nephesh].
The Old Testament teaching is affirmed in the New Testament. Paul, for example, offers a close paraphrase of the verse I have just cited, from Genesis:
I Cor. 15:45: "And so it is written, The new Adam [Christ] was made a quickening *spirit* [at the birth of Jesus; from pneuma, breath; for OT Hebrew ru'ach, breath], just as the first man, Adam, was made a living *soul*" [psyche, for OT Hebrew nephesh].
Lacking Scripture to support its cynical anti-abortion crusade, the Vatican has directed the clergy to enlist such material as can be cobbled together from the Bible, such as Psalm 139:13-14 ("You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made"), where it is alleged that "knit" refers to the stitching together of the body, soul, and spirit (absurdly so; every Bible scholar knows that the Hebrews of the Davidic era believed no such thing). Another favorite is Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" (which is a verse also cited by the Mormons, to prove that the soul, or psyche, or nephesh, predates birth and the first breath); as if the Lord and David were in communication before the fetus drew breath.
That the spirit of the fetus precedes the first breath at birth is a rubbishy, cynical, and false reading of Scripture - and the Church *knows* that. In denouncing women who have had an abortion as "evil," as "murderers," as "baby-killers," the Roman Catholic Church is cynically covering for its own evil of child-molesters; while perpetrating an additional evil against hundreds of thousands of conscientious woman around the globe, who when faced with a difficult choice, chose not to bring their fetus to term.
What's most outrageous is that the Roman Catholic Church, having ramped up its rhetoric, year after year, from 1985 to the present, has now enlisted copycat evangelical groups, in calling abortion "murder." Fetuses that have never drawn breath, nor ever harbored a single thought in their undeveloped brains, are spoken of as victims of murder. Women who have received abortions are criminalized as the killers of their own human children. That practice is vicious, evil, and unfair to all human life on the planet, not just to those women who are being vilified by the Church.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of living children die unnecessarily every single day, due to poverty, malnutrition, and lack of medical care.
Millions of black Africans have died, or remain desperately ill, whose lives would be saved from HIV/AIDS were it not for the Vatican's hardline position on condoms. For those humans, too, the Church registers its contempt; but they are black, and poor, and are seen as a drain on the Church's coffers.
If it were up to me, I would deny tax-exempt status to the Roman Catholic Church, and to any so-called nonprofit organization that spends more money and energy fighting abortion rights than it does on the suffering poor. Let the Vatican impose its perverse morality, and its non-Scriptural definition of murder, on Roman Catholics; but its authority stops there. And let Roman Catholic laymen stop trying to impose their topsy-turvy moral judgments on the rest of us women, whose bodies, and conscience, are our own. There are now more than seven billion living humans on this planet, most of whom live a hand-to-mouth existence. Pope Benedict: if you truly care about children, then do something about those living children who will be dead tomorrow, if you do not take action, today. And before you call those women "murderers" who are, in fact, making a thoughtful choice, please bite your tongue and begin to clean up your own house.
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