Sunday 20 November 2022

Abortion: Ideological confrontation or existential question?

 Soon after he was elected to the See of St Peter, Pope Francis descreibed how Christians might come to live as followers of an ideology rather than as followers of Christ. This was at his morning Mass on 17th October 2018, and an account of his words can be found here: Pope Francis vs Ideology. A shorter summary of this meditation on the Holy See website uses the title: Disciples of the Lord and not of Ideology. If I remember rightly, Pope Francis took some criticism for this observation, though it was not original to him. Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense, first published in 1986, contains a passage which explores the risk of ideology in its examination of the content of religious experience.

Ideology is built up on some starting point offered by our experience; thus, experience itself is taken up as a pretext for an operation that is determined by extraneous or exorbitant preoccupations.

Faced with, for example, the existence of a "poor" person, one theorrizes about the problem of this person's need, but the concrete person with his or her concrete need becomes a pretext; the individiaul in his concreteness is marginalized once he has provided the starting point for the intellectual and his or her opinions or has provided the starting point for the politician so that he can justify and publicise an operation of his.

Is it possible to approach the question of legalized abortion in this ideological way, and hence to leave at the margins those affected by the experience of abortion? An expectation that those in public life should be "pro-life" is certainly valid; we should expect them to legislate and to promote policy initiatives that oppose legalized abortion. But care needs to be taken that this does not become just an ideology pursued in politics that is detached from individuals' experiences of abortion. Likewise, the slogan "a woman's right to choose", which assumes that every woman seeking an abortion is making an entirely free choice without constraining conditions, needs to be clearly recognised for its purely ideological content. 

In countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, there has been access to legalized abortion for many years. In consequence there is a significant history of the experience of legalized abortion, of how it actually works out in practice for individuals, rather than there just being a set of arguments for and against. This is what I mean by referring to abortion as an existential question.

I do not have an extensive bookshelf covering experiences of abortion, but it does include books both from sources that seek to support women in having an abortion and sources that are pro-life. The striking thing about the accounts of women's experiences, whatever the source, is the wide range of influences at play, influences which are different for different women. Some of these influences are material - financial vulnerability, housing, future employment prospects - and others more psychological,social or emotional. They might also be traumatic, such as the situation of the woman whose pre-natal scans indicate or confirm a natal condition that will inevitably in time lead to a miscarriage or still birth. But the thing that these influences have in common is that they can act as constraints on the exercise of a full freedom in decision making; they limit the ability to make a decision that is fully informed and made with a genuine choice of will. They limit the ability to make a choice that a philosopher such as Karol Wojtyla would recognise as leading to an action that is fully human. 

In the context of abortion seen as an existential question, there needs to be a more comprehensive care available to women who might seek an abortion. That care should enable responses to that wide range of factors that might be limiting women's freedom in action as they consider an abortion, so that a choice in full freedom is possible. A financial and societal presumption for abortion in the health care sector should change to, at least, a financial and societal neutrality. Abortion providers should not be preferentially funded (via state funding for the abortions they carry out) compared to agencies providing support for women who choose not to have an abortion. The result of such a more comprehensive care would be a signficant change in the practice of abortion, especially on the part of agencies that are abortion providers. The developing programme of buffer zones around abortion clinics, however, suggests that these providers are not open to such change.

The bringing about of such a change would need a particular expertise in using financial mechanisms in order to achieve particular objectives, in a framework that includes both funding from the state and from civil society organisations. Whatever else one might want to say about the appointment of Mariana Mazzucato to the Pontifical Academy for Life, this is an area in which she has expertise.

Saturday 5 November 2022

A measured comment on the Synodal pathway

 I have previously posted on the Synodal pathway: Synodality - without discernment? and   Synodality: Initial reflections of the Bishops' Conference . My key thought from these posts is that, as it is developing to date, the Synodal process lacks that dimension of discernment that I believe is a key component of the idea of synodality.

I recently came across a more complete assessment of the Synodal process. Unfortunately it has been posted on a blog with a strong antipathy towards Pope Francis, but I have not been able to find an original text elsewhere. I link to it in this location, therefore, with considerable reluctance:  Fr. Jon Bielawski on the Synod. I think Fr Bielawski offers accurate and sensible comment on the reality of the Synodal process. 

I observed in one of my posts that perhaps we should never have expected large numbers of the faithful to take part in parish and diocesan based meetings to reflect on the Synod themes. Fr Bielawski makes a comparable point early in his comments with regard to the ability of most faithful to grasp the purpose of the synodal gatherings:

What was at first very vague, gained a bit more clarity as Pope Francis clearly stated that this synod and synodal process was to be clearly based on the principles of, “communion, participation and mission”. He also stated that it was not to be a platform for personal opinions and agendas but a prayerful exercise invoking the Holy Spirit for discernment. This latter point, I regard as a spiritually high level request which the majority of the faithful would struggle to comprehend or carry out. (In this country, at least, good efforts were made to educate people on these points but it is something that cannot be accomplished in one good talk or exhortation).

Fr Bielawski continued:

Despite these good intentions, in practice, the synodal process was carried out in random
manner and method across the country with varying levels of competency and neutrality. Also, it was carried out in the absence of many priests, who perceived their presence would restrict the process. (In my own parish, 20 took part – each person was allowed to speak on the 4 points but there was no discussion. Notes on the points were recorded. For each point we had some quiet prayer time before the Blessed Sacrament).
Due to this reality, the National Synthesis Document (NSD) was, to a great extent, a compilation of opinions and agendas which is exactly what it was not meant to be. 

After observing that many of the opinions expressed in the Synthesis Documents reflect currents of thought from the wider secular world rather than the inspiration of Catholic faith, Fr Bielawski observes:

It is of vital importance that we do not fudge the damaging impact of these opinions by imprecise language or ambiguous general statements that try to have a superficial conciliatory tone that says everything and nothing at the same time. For example, a ”welcoming church” can simply be that; where a church is, for example, open all day for anyone to enter and has a good “welcoming team” for masses and services. This is quite different to another understanding of “welcoming”, which is wanting to be open and inclusive to LGBT ideology and practice which abandons Catholic morality and attacks our very humanity and reason, causing havoc amongst the youth. 

Father ends his observations by suggesting that we focus on the third of the three Synod principles, that of mission. 

Synod/Synodality has to be at the service of mission and evangelisation and as a means to initiate it. Otherwise it becomes a displacement of, and distraction from the essential mission of the Church. Likewise, it must not provide a platform for a voice which contradicts and undermines the teachings of Christ which are integral with that mission/evangelisation. 

It is worth reading the whole of Fr Bielawski's observations and not just my extracts, so follow the link, though with my word of caution about the blog on which they have been posted. I think he has achieved a realism of comment without that element of antagonism towards the institution of the Church that marrs much other comment.