Last November, I wrote an article for The Interim Christmas issue specifically as a Catholic. It was entitles “Let’s put our house in order.” After stating the truism that belief in the Catholic faith is incompatible with belief in the right to abortion, I suggested that perhaps the time had come for action against those Catholics who, while claiming to be members in good standing, repeatedly, obstinately and publicly continue to reject what they know to be the Church’s position.
It should be pointed out (again) that abortion is not just a church issue. Abortion is first a human-rights issue. But because it is opposed to “right reason” on such a fundamental issue (the supposed right to kill a human being innocent of any wrong doing), it also clashes with the “religious” commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” The rational and the religious overlap in this case. Abortion is contrary to both human reason and religion, to science and faith. While the Church has no control over those who believe in science only, it can do something about those who profess its faith.
New York Times
At the time of writing, a full page advertisement had appeared in the New York Times (October 7) entitled: A diversity of Opinions Regarding Abortion Exists among Committed Catholics. This was sub headed “A Catholic statement on Pluralism and Abortion.” It was signed by two groups, the “Catholic Committee on Pluralism and Abortion,” numbering 14 names, and “Other Signers,” numbering 82, all American. It was clear that advertisers did not desire merely to draw the attention of the public to the fact of a diversity of opinion on the matter abortion, but that they aimed to promote such a diversity of views.
The Presidential election campaign was in its last month and much had been said already about the “Pro-choice” position of the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate, Catholic Geraldine Ferraro, not to mention the public exchanged between New York Governor Cuomo and New York Archbishop O’Connor. 55 of the signers had aired their views earlier in the campaign. The October 7 advertisement was meant to influence the election. At the same time it was the most definite and public challenge to the Catholic Church yet.
The organizing of this challenge did not begin overnight. Two of the 14 committee members are Daniel Maguire, a former priest who continues to teach at the Catholic University of Marquette in Milwaukee, and his wife Marjorie a former nun. These two have been actively promoting “Catholics for Choice” for some years. In 1983, Daniel Maguire went one step further by launching the first public challenge to the Church’s position when he set forth his unorthodox views in an article published in the liberal Protestant periodical Christian Century.
Those who signed the October 7, 1984, statement belong to university or college circles, mostly in theology and religious studies. Obviously, they did not sign in a fit of absent-mindedness but truly intended to challenge the Church. By mid-December church authorities in Rome accepted the challenge, beginning with those who belong to religious orders. The indignation of the signers and their media supporters such as the National Catholic Reporter knew no bounds.
There were the usual charges by theological dissenters, accusing the Vatican of seeking “to stifle freedom of speech and public discussion” and of being “a cause of scandal.” A note of secular feminist defiance was also present as reflected, for example in the statement of one of the “Other Signers,” the past president of the National Coalition of American Nuns, Sister Donna Quinn: “We believe we have a right to speak out when we have a differing opinion and this is something European men do not understand.” This kind of statement would be laughable if the reality wasn’t so sad.
Views like this appear to be firmly held, by some people here in Canada. In recent times, some Canadian feminist nuns have been known to refer mockingly to the “all male patriarchal church” and other terms to the same effect.
Impact on Canada
Some of the 14 Americans signers belonging to the Committee, who are not nuns, are quite well known in Canada. One of them is Rosemary Ruether who in the mid-sixties distanced herself from the Catholic position on contraception, divorce and abortion. Since that time, she has rejected a number of Christian beliefs. As one of the foundresses of “Feminist Theology” she has been regular visitor to Canada during the sixties and seventies. In 1982, she addressed the congregation at Ottawa’s Holy Cross Church from the pulpit during the Christian Festival of Light. In 1983, she spoke to a feminist gathering associated with the Toronto School of Theology. That same year, on May 14, 1983, the Edmonton Journal’s outspoken right-to-abortion and anti pro life columnist, June Sheppard concluded her column by giving Rosemary Ruether, “Roman Catholic theologian,” the last word:
“Americans need to be clear that the issue is not pro-life versus pro-choice. It is legal, safe abortions versus illegal, unsafe abortions. Banning abortion does not stop abortions; it merely makes it illegal and kills many mothers in the process.”
The same Toronto School of Theology just mentioned offered a week-long workshop on Feminist Biblical Interpretation for credit in the summer of 1984. It was conducted by Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, Professor, University of Notre Dame and another member of the Committee on Pluralism and Abortion. Schussler-Fiorenza’s latest book has placed her in the vanguard of Catholic, anti-Vatican, feminism. She also belongs to the “Concilium” group which in early 1984 once again challenged the Vatican to become “progressive.” In October 1984, she conducted a short seminar at Newman College, the Catholic School of Theology attached to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Edmonton.
The Maguires are well known in Canada and beloved by the right-to-abortion movement. Daniel Maguire’s September 1983 Christian Century article “Abortion: a question of Catholic honesty” was reprinted in the summer issue of Humanist in Canada (of Henry Morgentaler fame). A one-page synopsis appeared in the winter 1984 Newsletter of CARAL, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League, with a note where to get the complete article (“Childbirth by Choice Trust”).
Marjorie Maguire is even more popular. During the furor of the attempted opening of Morgentaler’s clinic in Winnipeg in May and June 1983, the Westminster United Church was the location for an address advertised in the Winnipeg Free Press as: Catholics for a Free Choice, Marjorie Reilley Maguire, Ph.D., Catholic Theologian, will address the Abortion Issue, Thursday, June 9. When 30 pro-life picketers showed up in protest, United Westminster’s minister hastily pointed out that the United Church was not involved but that the event’s sponsors were the Winnipeg YMCA, the Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women. The United Church, he said, had decided to make space available because Maguire, an American, “seems to be making a credible stance on an educational purpose.”
Earlier, Maguire had been in Regina where Joe Borowski’s court case on behalf of the unborn ran its course throughout the month of May. Here, too, the United Church gave her a forum in which to speak. While nine medical experts were giving testimony in the court that human life begins at conception, Maguire argued that biological beginnings are unimportant. What counts, she said, is the beginning of personhood. Personhood depends on relationship. No relationship can begin unless the mother wants the child. Unwanted babies in the womb are not persons, certainly not before viability, hence no killing is involved. Presumably, Maguire brought the same message to Dalhousie University in Halifax when she visited there in October 1984. While some people in Saskatchewan raised questions about her use of the title “Catholic Theologian,” noting was done.
The current action of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes against the religious involved is to be commended. As for the diocesan priests and laity, women and men, it is to be hoped that their local bishops will take action. There are limits to permissiveness, not only in morality, but in theology as well.