Friday, 29 July 2011

Thoughts on LIFE

During my absence from blogging, LIFE have been taking some criticism (here, and here) over their non-directive counselling of those who make use of their crisis pregnancy services. I have three thoughts on this.

1. From the point of view of Catholics who are active in the work of LIFE, or who support LIFE by financial donations, we are in the area of bringing Catholic faith into contact with the surrounding political and social culture (cf point 4 of this post). LIFE is an organisation that is non-religious in nature, though it does have Catholics among its supporters. The non-religious nature of LIFE means that it represents a different "answer" to the question of faith/culture encounter for its Catholic supporters than those initiatives that are explicitly religious in their origin - the engagement of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life with the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative in Glasgow being a very clear example of this latter. I do not think it is correct to say that one of these approaches represent a "right" answer and the other a "wrong" answer - they represent different answers, and whether an individual Catholic engages with one answer or the other should be a matter for their own discernment, quite possibly a vocational discernment.

2. I do believe that it is correct for those engaged in the counselling and caring areas of pro-life work to meet the expected professional standards in those areas. Catholic engagement with the surrounding political and social culture does not do itself any favours by opting out of professional standards; on the contrary, it gains a voice beyond its own reach by being recognised for the professional nature of its engagement. The high regard in which Catholic childrens' societies are held in the social work field is a good example of this. The potential difficulty represented if currently accepted professional standards conflict with Catholic teaching does, I realise, make this not as simple a situation as it at first appears.

3. The debate about the work of LIFE has focussed around their counselling work. As indicated above, I do think it is correct that their counsellors should be trained to professional standards and achieve the corresponding qualifications. When a client approaches their counselling services, it does not appear to me that that encounter represents an appropriate point for "teaching" or for trying to persuade the client to adopt a particular viewpoint about abortion - it represents the "pastoral" moment and not the "teaching" moment, a distinction I have posted about somewhere on this blog but cannot find as I write. It is a moment for respecting and nursing the freedom of a person at a very vulnerable time; in the end, it will be the decision by the client and not a decision by the counsellor that will determine the outcome. It is not obvious to me that the non-directive counselling undertaken by LIFE does anything else than respect this freedom of the client.

To put my three thoughts into some personal context. Roughly a year ago, I took part in this vigil at the same time as Bishop Thomas McMahon (I was unable to take part this year due to holiday arrangments - I was getting soaked in an airport cark park at the time those taking part in the vigil were being soaked in Buckhurst Hill). And, as you will also appreciate, LIFE are featured on the side bar of this blog, as I do feel able to support them.

UPDATE: See also this report of responses supportive of LIFE in response to the criticism.

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